Food for Thought

Michael Caines shares his thoughts on current food trends and issues.

Sustainability and the Sea: Michael considers some of the issues and concerns relating to one of our most important natural sources of food, the sea.

"As chefs, in recent years, we have had to become far more aware of our responsibilities to the environment. One area that we chefs especially need to be aware of is the sustainability of the food produce and products that we use. Great ingredients are necessary to the creation of great food, so we need to ensure that what we are using today will be sustainable and therefore available for the chefs of tomorrow and the future.

Fish and seafood is an important example. Over-fishing is widely acknowledged to be an immense threat to marine wildlife and fish habitats. Many of our own fish stocks are in a state of serious decline. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reports that nearly 70% of the world's fish stocks are now fully fished, over-fished, or depleted, a shocking statistic.

So then, what can we all do? We need to be aware above all of the provenance of the fish we use and wherever possible purchase fish sourced from responsibly managed fisheries. Obviously, certain species of fish are at serious risk.

North Atlantic cod is a widely trumpeted example of a fish we ought to avoid. Fortunately, organically farmed cod from well-managed fisheries can be an excellent alternative. Often it's not just a question of type of fish or shellfish, but how it has been caught or gathered from the sea.

Scallops picked up off the seabed by divers may be more sustainable than those gathered by trawlers. Sea bass that is line caught is preferable to that which is netted by the larger trawlers. Demand often fuels over-fishing.

Only five of the most popular fish species (cod, haddock, tuna, warm and cold water prawns) account for some 60-80% of fish sales, so consumers need to become more adventurous and seek greater variety. Dover sole may often come from over-fished stocks, for example, so lemon sole may therefore be a good (as well as cheaper) alternative.

Fish such as red gurnard, hake, wild sea trout, black bream, and pollack are all fish that may be less valued than more widely touted varieties, and so serve as more sustainable alternatives. I urge you when choosing fish to try something new - it may not just be better for the marine environment, it will also help to broaden your taste and you may discover some delicious new flavours. The Marine Conservation Society has a web site, Fish Online, that provides a good starting point for further information."

Traceability: Linking the foods on our plates to the people who produce them

"The South West Excellence Conference, which took place on 30th March as part of the Exeter Festival of South West England Food and Drink, highlighted the important links between those who produce our food - farmers, fishermen, butchers, artisan food producers - and we chefs who make use of such local produce and products to create our dishes.

These days, with new food scares always on the horizon, the importance of traceability, of knowing precisely where our food comes from down to the individual farm or estate or fishing boat, has never been greater. For Michael Caines and ABode, I believe it's essential, wherever we are, that we continue to forge links and partnerships with the best and the most committed food producers.

This is a relationship that often becomes very personal; for we seek to work with individuals who share our visions, values, passions and ideals. Ultimately for us all, producer and chef alike, it comes down to a shared underlying belief that good food really does matter.

The South West Excellence Conference has also highlighted links between food, hospitality and tourism. This is particularly important not just in popular holiday destinations like Devon, but wherever we are. Food today is a major attraction and one of the reasons we all travel Britain and the world: to experience new flavours direct at the source and indeed to see where and how things are made or raised."