Photo: For the love of food

Ian believes that food needs to be eaten mindfully with appreciation and reverence to those that prepared, harvested, procured, fished and farmed what sits on the plate before us. (Credit: Ian Lai)

By Ian Lai, David Suzuki Foundation volunteer

"Have you eaten yet?" This is a common greeting amongst Chinese people.

My name is Ian Lai and I am a chef with Cantonese ancestry but was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa. Food has always been an integral part of what defined me, from the humble beginnings in my father's fish and chips shop to the five diamond kitchens of the Four Seasons Hotel and the U.S. Consulate General's Residence. My relationship with food is sacred.

"Why do we eat?"

Do we eat for enjoyment, for survival, for sustenance or to fill a void? I believe that food needs to be eaten mindfully with appreciation and reverence to those that prepared, harvested, procured, fished and farmed what sits on the plate before us.

I am currently involved in food sustainability and teach children how to care for our earth and to give back to community. Prior to this I studied issues relating to ocean stewardship and even considered a career in marine biology. It recently dawned on me that my two passions affected one another. Food security issues cannot be studied in isolation without studying the impacts and implications of marine issues.

Disciplines of land, sea and air are part and parcel of the global challenges we face.

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As a chef I use fresh, simple ingredients and make sure that what I cook is accessible to the public. Pretentious food no longer holds a place at my table. Ostentatious menus and contrived food is no longer food; it is art, a luxury that is beyond the reach of most pocket books. Nature provides us with raw ingredients that are perfect. Why taint them and create for the sake of manipulation through technology?

I purchase seafood from people like my friend Rob who fishes sustainably. Rob rings me up with what's in season. I never ask the price because I am willing to pay him fairly for his catch. I am astounded at how Rob handles his catch, how he treats each fish as if it were a priceless artifact. I have never seen Rob mishandle a fish in 6 years. I know that the fish I purchase is respectfully and mindfully caught, dressed and stored. If all seafood were harvested in this manner, our oceans would be all the richer with enough of a bounty that would be in balance to feed people for generations.

Food sustainability and food sovereignty are challenges that we currently face. We must be willing to pay a fair price for pristine locally harvested product. To do this I suggest that we live with less. Minimize your possessions. Living with less reduces stress. Eat fresh, eat local foods, volunteer and make an impact in your community. You will find a happier "you".

Being happy is simple. Living simply is difficult. But try.

Ian Lai is a chef, consultant and educator who is focused on food security. He will join DSF for the sustainable seafood presentation at the Richmond Earth Day Youth Summit on Saturday, April 21.

April 19, 2012

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