El Celler de Can Roca and the politics of food

June 5, 2023

Critically acclaimed chefs, the Roca Brothers, shop for local, sustainable produce at New York City's Union Square Market.

Photo: UNDP/Freya Morales

We are living in the most extraordinary moment in the world of cuisine. It represents countries, identities, cultures, promotion, expansion, and showcases territory. It is an opportunity that we, as gastronomers, must seize; adopting a responsible, ethical code from the kitchen and giving back to society what it provides for us. 

We must enhance authentic values and principles for a sustainable future. Our unsustainable economy generates social inequalities and contributes to climate change. As the psychologist and author Daniel Goleman says, we will soon transition from the 20th century mindset of 'the cheaper, the better', to values more fitted to an awakened society; 'the more sustainable, the better', 'the healthier, the better', and 'the more humane, the better'. It's an emo-ecological intelligence. 

Today, what happens in distant places affects us. Our actions have global repercussions. We want to be active agents and promoters of the change our society needs. We are deeply concerned about the worldwide loss of food biodiversity. It is saddening to witness the abandonment of autochthonous, or native, crops and the loss of culinary traditions. This generates poverty and exclusion. In 1996, the Food and Agriculture Organization, during the Leipzig Conferences on Plant Genetic Resources, identified new crop varieties as the most significant cause of this massive loss of species diversity. However, diversity is not only threatened by monocultures but also by monopolies. Industrial agriculture promotes profit-driven use over food production and distribution. This is how monocultures and corporate monopolies reinforce each other greedily and dangerously. From our kitchen, we embrace diversity and support local producers, advocating for conserving antique seeds and fighting against the proliferation of seed monopolies and industrialized food systems. 

Terra Animada and Sembrando el Futuro 

Terra Animada and Sembrando el Futuro are two projects developed from our research and development centre to recover lost or forgotten seeds. They collect 400 varieties of plants, leaves, stems, sprouts, and flowers from our local environment. The food industry - from production to distribution, consumption, and preservation - should not be a threat to sustainability but a source of sustainable development. 

In the last 50 years, the way of producing, processing, and distributing food has not been done well. We have seen the mechanization of agriculture, and with it a growing dependence on artificial fertilizers, pesticides, and plastics. 

Nature does not know the concept of waste. Only humans produce things and systems that do not integrate. As a result, there has been a huge increase in highly processed and packaged food, as well as the globalization of the food industry. 

Agriculture is the primary source of employment in many parts of the world. There are traditional food preservation techniques - accessible, affordable, and simple - that can significantly reduce food waste. The mandate of the Sustainable Development Goals is clear. We cannot leave anyone without access to healthy, nutritious food that contributes to prosperity. We must achieve an environmentally sustainable, socially fair, and economically inclusive food chain that guarantees food for all people. Let's advocate for genuine ecological democracy and environmental justice. The goal for the next 30 years should be to build and cook for a more equalitarian society. As the ecofeminist activist Vandana Shiva states: "Saving the seeds is our responsibility. Sharing them is our culture."