Sustainability

I was asked to present a TEDxPinewoodPrepSchool back in March 2013 on Sustainability. Here’s a copy of my presentation:

Here’s the Transcript…

path-to-sustainability

What is Sustainability? Well it’s a big word with a big concept and covers a vast area of our lives. The very definition of which has undergone various changes and interpretations since the 1980s. And as result, sustainability is perceived, on one hand, as nothing more than a feel-good trendsetting buzzword with little meaning or substance but you know it’s important to someone and you should support it… And, on the other hand,  as an important but unfocused concept that everyone needs to do in order to survive not only as a species, but as a planet.

So what is sustainability…at it’s core? Sustainability is the capacity to endure, to maintain or to support each other using the resources available so that we can continue to coexist on this planet. In other words, it is about relationships! It is about the relationship you have with your food, your water, your earth, your family, your friends, your community, your environment. It is about having respect for all of those things and ultimately, it is about the relationship you build and create with yourself.

This is what I do with my sustainable business: L.I.M.E. I facilitate relationships.

Let me take a few steps back and tell you how I came to be where I am today.

I am originally from the Caribbean island of Trinidad & Tobago which is classified as a Developing Country or a Third World Country. You are from the USA, which is classified as a Highly Developed Country or a First World Country. Everyone that comes to the States want to experience the American Dream. The Land of Opportunity. And one of the things that visitors to this First World country wish to experience is its FOOD.

The golden crisp looking french fries of MacDonalds, the juicy meaty burgers of Burger King,  the all you can eat shrimp or crablegs from Red Lobster, the dark steamy Grande coffees of Starbucks…and if you’re from Trinidad…you definitely want to try the Colonel’s crispy fried chicken of KFC. And I did just that…it was my mission to try every single fast food place in this great land of plenty. And I was sorely disappointed with each and every one of them. This was my crash course on the difference between advertising and reality. The portions were smaller, some of the food lacked taste once it cooled, the list is endless.

Of course, I also went to the grocery stores….because as much as I would have liked to…I could not live 24/7 on fast food only…mostly because the novelty of it wore off and my disappointment was growing…So I visited the grocery stores in search of those ripe, awesome looking fruits and vegetables. And I found some amazingly awesome looking fruits and vegetables…red tomatoes, yellow bananas, dark green spinach already prewashed and packaged, not a blemish in sight. I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into them. Only to be majorly disappointed again! The produce weren’t ripe and juicy as their color suggested. They also lacked flavor. I started looking closer.

Mind you…I left a Third World country where we ate fresh cooked meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Where our snacks comprised of what ever fruit was in season. Where our meats were purchased from the butcher or the fisherman…most often having been freshly killed and cut to our specifications. Where fruits like apples, grapes and pears where a treat during the Christmas season ONLY!

I left a Developing country where families went to the Farmer’s market every weekend to buy that week’s produce. Where dogs and cats got the scraps from our tables or if they were lucky enough had a pot of dog food cooking each week made from the scraps and bits and pieces of meat not used during the week. Where avocados are the size of your head and can cause some serious damage if they fall on your car.

So yes…my biggest culture shock coming to the land of plenty was food!

Folks were not only hooked on fast food, but they readily accepted that the produce in the grocery stores were what they should be consuming. Families weren’t eating their meals around a table…but instead either always in a rush to leave in the morning with a cup o joe in one hand and a donut in the other Or in front of the television or in their car in the drive thru. The only “table” dining took place outside of the home at restaurants like Applebees or The Olive Garden…where distractions are plenty and the server is trying to turn the table fast enough to seat the next eagerly waiting family or tourist. Actually…the only food action the family dinner table ever saw was at holidays…like Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Also during this time, I had started to consume more grocery bought produce…and therefore was eating “healthier” …I would on occasion stop at MacDonald’s to get a Mighty Kids Meal…but this time, because I had been off the fast food diet for a while and I was now able to actually taste the chemicals in the food. I would get sluggish and grumpy the next day.  So I knew there had to be a better way, a healthier way…

That’s when I found Slow Food in Charleston. Here were a group of people who were fighting to educate themselves and their community about the importance of the very things I took for granted in Trinidad. I appreciated the irony of the situation. I had left a mecca of nutritious flavorful fresh seasonal food, moved to a country that had a lot of food that was nutritionally poor, flavorless and was covered in chemicals…only to come full circle and search out, at the time, a small organization that encouraged and cultivated the farming practices of Third World Countries!

So I got to meet the farmers, the  ranchers, the fishermen, the shrimpers…I got to see how the food was grown, how the animals were raised. I can tell you about the rainbow carrots from Farmer Karen on Wadmalaw or the truly juicy deep red tomato from Farmer Greg on Edisto, Fisherman Mark who’s currently out in the seas trying to make a good catch before the storm rolls in or the goat milk used to make fresh goat cheese from Cheesemaker Casey or the clover flavored honey from Beekeeper Jim or the frolicking goats and sheep from Shepherd Diane or about the fresh milk from Celeste’s cattle or the gorgeous rich yellow yolks and yummy eggs from John’s happy hens…just to name a few! More importantly, I got to experience food all over again…that is harvested during the right season when they are ripe, chuck full of flavor and smell. You could literally taste the love in the final product.

But I needed to do something more. I needed to find a way to bridge the gap between the two worlds, while educating folks over food in a fun memorable manner and somehow incorporate the non food community as well. And what better way to do that than via a LIME.

Liming in Trinidad is a way of life. Translated…it means hanging out with friends and family anywhere with good food and beverages. So we created an acronymn… Local.Impromptu.Moveable.Evening. L.I.M.E.

I focused on the Slow Food philosophies of utilizing local, seasonal produce around a single large family style dinner table. We started out by featuring student chefs or unknown culinary talents & paired them with mixologists and sommeliers. The culinary talent had to go out and meet the farmers, discuss menu planning with them and determine which produce would best suit their needs… to create a 7 to 9 course tapas menu for 80 to 100 guests. The mixologists and sommeliers had to create beverages that reflected the local seasonal produce available as well. Or offer wines that utilized the Slow Wine philosophies of small production and traditional methods of cultivation.

But it didn’t stop there. LIME was not just about the food and beverage…it was about the experience, it was about the community. So we did each event for a different local charity. Each month focusing on the chef’s choice of charity. We incorporated local non food related businesses via door prizes for our guests. The aim was to get as many things as possible donated…so we could channel as much funds as possible from the ticket sales towards the charities.

This was my grand plan…and as with all new concepts…you have to be flexible, “moveable and impromptu” if you will…in order to grow. It so happened that most of our changes occurred after one very interesting event. We hosted a dinner for the Charleston Animal Society for both humans and dogs! We used Sun Dog Cat Moon Veterinary Clinic’s Crock Pot recipe as our guide… turning each ingredient into a course. So both humans and dogs ate the same exact meal. Because we had the dogs as our guests…we had to limit the number of guests…So we dropped it from 100 guests to 40. For this same dinner, we had the Oscar Mayer Weiner Mobile as a door prize and as luck would have it…the guy that won it was going to get a ride in it anyway the following day…so he offered up his prize for auction. We raised $500 just to ride the Oscar Mayer Weiner Mobile! A lightbulb went on!

Sun Dog Cat Moon

So not only did we decrease our guest size to create a more intimate family feel,  we were now able to offer a potentially larger donation from our auction fundraising.

So what does all of this have to do with sustainability? Well…remember I said  Sustainability is the capacity to support each other using the resources available so that we can continue to coexist. In other words, it is about relationships! It is about the relationship you have with your food, your water, your earth, your family, your friends, your community, your environment.

So, The relationship between the farmer and the produce. The farmer then connecting his passion to the chef. The chef then passing that intimate knowledge through the way he choses to cook that produce. The chef then relaying that passion he felt from the farmer, who now has a name and a story behind the dish he has presented to our guests. The guests consuming 7 to 9 courses of local, seasonal produce and learning how their wine was made by a small family owned and operated vineyard. The guests who arrived as strangers before the dinner are now seated next to each other shouting across the dinner table about some joke they heard or how they can’t believe how awesome the food tastes…or even collaborating with each other and pooling their resources to win an auction item. The local business owner who previously had slow foot traffic in his store now has a group of dedicated fans who remember his participation at a dinner they went to and as a result has repeat business. The local entertainer who now has new contacts for future private parties. The  guests now know how to contact the featured farmers and seek them out at the local farmer’s markets or seek them out directly. The entire crew leaving the event as one big family. Many of whom met at that very first LIME event and still have strong friendships three years later.

Today, we are the only supperclub in South Carolina that are Certified SC and are members of the Fresh on The Menu program…which means at least 25% of our menu has to be local, seasonal produce. I can proudly say that almost 90% of our menu’s ingredients are local and seasonal. We also now have chefs, charities, local & international businesses seeking us out to be a part of events. We have been recognized by the national & international media and by organizations like Slow Food International for our efforts to bring the community together over good food and beverages.

I’ve included a YouTube video of one of our earlier LIME events…ironically enough for an organization called Sustainable Warehouse. All of the furniture was donated by the charity, which we auctioned off at the dinner, all of the decorations were donated by a guest, all of the servers, culinary staff, photographers, entertainers donated their time and labor. The chef is now a Sous Chef at Carter’s Kitchen in Mt. Pleasant and has worked under several famous chefs. Her sous chef in the video now owns his own catering business. The video was shot by a former culinary student who is extremely talented. And because of this video went on to pursue a successful career in photography and videography. The location, a local business on King Street also donated the space in exchange for two seats, giving them the opportunity to talk about what they offer. Most of the guests came as couples…all of them left as one family.

The take home message I have for you is this…

Focus on how to support and grow your relationships.

Your relationship with the land, with the sea, the air you breathe. Grow a garden in your home, your school or your neighborhood. Experience the joy and pleasure of picking that ripe produce and prepare a meal with it. Share that meal with someone you care about.

Your relationship with the food and beverages you consume. Your relationship with your community. Get to know where your food comes from. Know the story behind the food, its history before getting to your mouth. Be able to relate to the smells, the memory, the different tastes and colors…it makes the connection more real. It helps you determine if it’s something you want in your body or not.

Build a relationship with your local farmer, fisherman or rancher…spend a day or a year with any of them and truly understand the passion and gratitude that goes behind planting that initial seed or catching that fish with your own hands or feeding those baby chicks or milking that cow and watching it grow into the food you consume. Join an organization like Slow Food or the Children’s Garden Project…or start one here at your school…something simple can go a long way, like recycle bins or compost bins for the cafeteria or an herbal and vegetable garden that the cafeteria can use to make meals for the school.

Your relationship with your friends and family…have a meal around the dinner table…ask each other how was your day..talk face to face with each other…have a picnic here at school and trade stories about your teachers…put the phone down and talk…experience something truly magical.

Most importantly, your relationship with yourself. If you respect and honor your relationship with yourself…all of these other relationships will fall into place. You will be building…no…you will be sustaining not only a future, but a present day reality for us all.

Thank you and enjoy the video.

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