During the 60s, my mother was an environmental educator (we called them nature teachers back then) in Concord, Massachusetts. As a child, I played in the ecosystems she taught me about, and later as a teenager, got up to no good in the same wood that Thoreau wandered.
In trying to find my path through a forest of a different kind, I dabbled in psychology and philosophy until I found my true passion: Cooking. But my heart never really forgot the things my mother taught me.
An ecosystem is a complicated intertwining of different forms of life, the area in which they exist, and how these two interact. It can be as small as a clearing in the forest or encompass the entire universe. These systems are often changing, and sometimes it’s a challenge to identify each component. Whenever we think we fully understand them, one small piece can alter the system, showing us how critical to the balance it truly is.
Why all this talk of grade school biology? Because ecosystems are the basis for sustainability. For humans, our ecosystems are our homes, our community, our city, and in this era of global industrial expansion, our world. Our actions today can have an effect on an ecosystem on the other side of the planet for years to come. The only difference between a dust storm or a volcanic eruption altering the environment and us is that we have the power to do so consciously.
The biggest burden we have placed on the global ecosystem is ourselves. Our population requires massive amounts of food, and we as a singular collective organism are incredibly creative about meeting that need. We use more and more sophisticated agricultural methods, larger and larger forms of animal husbandry, and even divert resources from one side of the planet to the other.
Our challenge now is to find a sustainable solution to this question. The answer lies in us as a collective organism agreeing as individuals to change our interactions with our global ecosystem. We must examine how our individual ecosystem affects the Earth as a whole, what mechanisms cause change, and how we can change for the better. We must think of ourselves as the catalyst for sustainable growth.
Through the Bread Workshop, I combine my passion for food with my concern for the environment. My focus is on the workspace, the neighbourhood, the city, and the food community of the world. As with all ecosystems, each one is very complicated, but there are some easily identifiable aspects of what the Bread Workshop is doing to help create a sustainable world.
In our workplace, we seek to provide a living wage, not minimum wage. We offer health and dental to promote a supportive environment.
In our neighbourhood, we offer sustainable foods at reasonable prices, so that our neighbours can eat healthily. Sustainability must be affordable to be practicable; all of us have to be able to practice it all the time. We offer a sustainable foods information centre in our café to help educate and promote this.
We also try to make healthy decisions for our patrons, such as using meats with essential and positive fat content and sensible portion sizes. Our new dinner menu, which will be in place by the winter season, will feature vegetarian foundation plates with carnivorous options in place of the traditional reverse menu.
In our city, we support the educational systems as well as multiple non-profit organisations with catering, pastries and coffee, and a place to meet.
In our world, we minimise our footprint through waste reduction, energy efficiency (an area that we must work at harder), and minimising the need for the transportation of goods in our product stream, with pointed exceptions.
Wherever possible, we purchase local products that are produced with an eye to sustainability. Our exceptions are when we cannot offer our products at a sustainable price, or if we have a specific goal, such as purchasing organic dry white beans from China (thus promoting the organic markets of China, one of the largest agricultural growth areas in the world).
This means that approximately 80% of our products are sustainable, with a good deal of our other products locally produced. We have dedicated ourselves to these issues in research development and our purchasing–it is unusual for a business of our size to employ a sustainability coordinator. Though we are not pioneers in the sustainable food movement, we are dedicated to thinking critically about those who are, adopting and adapting to become a business model we are proud of.
The world can’t afford to wait. We hope that our ideas of how a food business should be run will continue to be supported by your beliefs and your patronage.