I Quit My Job As A Chef Because I Realized Our Planet Needs Me

Subham Kar  Chaudhuri Subham Kar Chaudhuri in Bakkar. Chai. Sutta on 16 November, 2019

I learnt to be a chef. As cliche as it might sound, my grandma used to love to see the tiny me cook; I loved the attention, as a result - I looooove cooking. I would get to go to the market with her. She was a widow, so I could go to the fish section with prior stated orders and I could then buy my own fish. I would choose the best one, get it descaled, gutted, cleaned, pay Ramu Kaku and then bring the fish double packed in black polythene bags and back to the grandmother-ship.

I had to carry it separately from the potato thaili and separately from the vegetable thaili all the way back home. She would cook it though, happily, but she wouldn’t let me carry them together. 

I don’t know why, maybe it was the blood?

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What did I learn from all this?

Lesson 1* - Ingredients are different for different people.

Kolkata food was different, as there existed no Kolkata food. It was what was available: বক ফুল (a flower that looks like a stork), করমচা (I don’t even..), কুমড়ো ডাটা (pumpkin stems), রাঙালু, ব্যাঙের ছাতা (mushrooms) - I was a single child, obviously, dishes couldn’t be repeated. Every day was different , I never even had to ask. I didn't even have to pretend to like my food.  THINGS were different back then.

Lesson 2* - Ingredients Come, Ingredients Go

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Chef school, food truck association, corporate job, modern trade for food retail, restaurants, cafes, catering stints, FSSAI, heck I have worked even at a McDonalds for a day to eat fries for free and learn how their systems work. I dropped the corporate job, started my own company after a few years, through that, I learnt farming, ran farmers’ markets, learnt vegetable delivery models, logistics, testing. I can go on.  

In the food space, I have been around the block, the dark alleys, meeting rooms with suits, traffic with AC, traffic without AC, first train to last train. My grandma is not around anymore to point out since last October BUT everywhere I could slowly feel... that...SOMEONE , is deleting my ingredients, and worse:

Lesson 3* - Seasons have changed and water has run out

What good is a chef, if the Gajar doesn’t taste like Gajar in the Gajar ka halwa. If strawberries don’t exist, chocolate disappears, maple syrup becomes a concept, heck chai addas don’t happen as chai can’t be grown at affordable rates and on your menus in Indie-Chinese Restaurants - your options of noodles or rice/noodles + rice is just reduced to noodles as water has runout for rice cultivation. Culturally, the ভেতো বাঙালি (the rice loving Bengali) in me can’t digest it. 

Humans know agriculture for 10,000 years
Christianity for                          2,000 years
Islam for                                   1,000 years
Science for                                  500 years

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And just 200 years ago did we figure out how to change the chemistry of a closed system, which is our planet earth. That’s your dadu’s dad. 2 Generations above yours.

Carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and other gases are in balance for the last 10,000 years (not before that) - Seasons before 10,000 years were not stable. that’s why we have more than one ice age movie. Only post stabilization of the climate did agriculturalists figure that we can plant this plant now, and in 3 months it will not rain anymore and we can grow this vegetable successfully. Preempting how natural conditions are going to be in the coming months is what made farming possible. 

Even 1 hour of rain on a plant that doesn’t need water in that season can destroy the entire crop and if it doesn’t, then the next day could just be too hot to work on the field. This unsurety has destroyed our farming system. Fish boats spend way more money to sail, with a hull full of ice and a pantry full of food for the fishermen who stay out on these trips for 12-14 days ; out of the entire catch only 5 types of fish make money and the rest is ground up to make pet food and egg farming is saving drought-affected farmers as spinach requires water 3 times a day and chickens don’t.

I learnt to be a chef but I shut my company, I stopped my salaried job, my vacations and I paused my dream. Honestly, I guess it’s unrealistic to even think of my ingredients anymore. Little pipe dreams.

The climate and seasons are not changing, they have changed. I have stopped my jobs and I am an environmental activist now, struggling, struggling to even agree to call myself an activist. Struggling to make my parents understand, struggling to make my friends get that jobs have shifted and maybe even we would have to. Trying to justify my present life of temporariness.

I don’t know if you know this but out of 10 breaths you take, 4 come from all the trees and shrubs and bushes and grass in the world, the rest 6 come from the ocean as phytoplanktons are the real drivers of the oxygen cycle. Our scientists tell us that in the next ten years it will be too hot for the phytoplanktons to be alive in the water, along with too much carbon leading to acidification of the ocean and in turn - yes - killing the phytoplanktons again. We are in the 6th mass extinction event of the earth’s lifetime.

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Every story should, however, have a happy ending? Well the industrial experiments/revolutions of steam engines to carry heavy loads, and the steam press to print at record speeds and spread more information to more people and then cars to carry heavy loads to the steam engines and then telegraph wires to spread even more information, all using carbon from previous mass extinctions trapped under the soil in the format of coal and petroleum happened without A MOBILE PHONE WITH CAMERAS.

Based on a Harvard University Study of political movements for the last 100 years, where non-violent civil disobedience has been used to protest, only 3.5% of the population is needed to come down to the streets to have a 100% success rate of a movement. We are all we got and trust me, we got this.&nbsp