February 17, 2022

Culinary Program Embraces Sustainable Food

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Gabbi Chavarria
Staff Writer

NMC’s Great Lakes Culinary Institute (GLCI) is revamping the Culinary Arts program to focus on sustainability. Starting in the fall semester of 2022, two new certificates are being added to the program. The new certificates, Culinary Arts Certificate Level 1 and Baking and Pastry Certificate Level II, were created after input from various groups including students, local employers, alumni, and faculty. The certificates will cater to the new generation of students who are “more interested in sustainability, in health and nutrition, [and] in plant-based menus,” said Nick Nissley, NMC President, in an interview with the Traverse City Ticker.
Sustainability is becoming increasingly important in our society. Agricultural sustainability is centered around good stewardship of the natural resources that farms rely on. Walk into any grocery store in town and you’ll see crates upon crates of produce. Some will look more viable and fresh than others: some apples have bruises, some spinach is drooping, but all of it will be there, available to you for a few dollars per pound. Industrial agriculture causes some of this inconsistency.
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCA), a nonprofit group that fights for better science education and world health, defines industrial agriculture as large farms mass-producing the same crops year after year and using chemical pesticides and fertilizers that end up “squandering and debasing” the natural resources that farms rely on most. According to the UCA, soil health, water management, minimizing pollution, and promoting biodiversity are the ecological goals of the sustainable agriculture movement.
The GLCI works with the food community in the Traverse City region, including local restaurants, food industry workers, farmers, and agricultural workers. Sustainability in agriculture is a complex issue. Farms need to be profitable and able to support the economy they’re in. Sustainable farming strives to do this by treating its workers fairly and creating a mutually beneficial relationship with the community.
Les Eckert, Director of GLCI, attributes the sudden focus on sustainability to “big shifts” in the foodservice industry and cites the COVID-19 pandemic as “a chance to look at what GLCI was doing.” Sustainability came under a microscope during the pandemic when people were paying more attention to where their food came from. Eckert noted a change in not only the students signing up for the program, but the workforce in general, which seemed more focused on sustainable and environmental stewardship. “It’s a booming subject in many areas and it’s important to make that a part of every class,” Eckert said. “We can’t train students just to work in a restaurant, they have to be able to go anywhere food is.”
The GLCI is now focused on weaving sustainability into their courses (the format of which is also changing), and making sure that program graduates know how to find and utilize sustainable products grown close to home while also making the most of products that can only be imported. The GLCI is also committed to reducing waste in the classroom and recycling as much as possible into compost that goes to a local farm.
According to Eckert, these are the same philosophies that sustainable consumers should employ: try to shop at farmers markets and talk to the farmers when they can, and look for grocery stores that have a local or regional section like Oryana, Tom’s, and Olsen’s. “Keep spending locally,” Eckert said. “And keep the money in Michigan.”