Evaldas Žaliukas is a chef, conscious nutrition advocate and food activist pushing for food revolution in Lithuania.
“… food is a phenomenon that runs like a red thread throughout our entire lives.”
In one word, chef Evaldas describes his food philosophy as ‘Sauvage’. Meaning wild, non-conforming to the norms, natural and free.
This relates to how the chef views food in a holistic manner – including the use of wild plants in cooking, combining traditional Lithuanian cuisine, food prepared by grandmothers and mothers, and applying the acquired experience and knowledge, combining everything into a whole. “I am looking for inspiration in the wild forest, from which I bring not only plants, but also bark, branches, which I use to serve the dish. Also, the idea of a dish is born while walking, the success of what I dint depends on what I cook, it remains an effect of surprise.”
“As the climate changes, so does the nature of the plants, as well as the seasonality of the plants, their distribution areas and habitats, so it is very important to choose responsibly and take form nature without harming it. We need to respect what our ancestors left us to preserve and leave for future generations as much as possible.”
Challenges and opportunities
These days Chefs, in general, have multiple roles and expectations from society. To introduce organic foods, take care of people’s and planet’s health, source environmentally friendly produce, and support small farmers while still making it affordable to people. However, there are many challenges associated with this expectation and more support is needed to enable chefs to utilize their knowledge.
The restaurant industry is particularly struggling right now now according to the chef. Increasing energy, gas and rent prices, disruptions in the global food supply chain, the war in Ukraine, economic state quo of a country, all of these macro factors put pressure on the restaurant industry.
Consumers faced with rising food prices often opt to drastically reduce eating out bills and choose cheaper produce. Unfortunately, this means that bigger players win who are able to maintain ‘affordable’ prices due to the industrial nature of production. This leaves small-scale farmers, and smaller restaurant players extremely vulnerable to an already severe situation. Regulations in Lithuania are also quite strict when it comes to hygiene, which is usually not in line with the EU average, making it even harder for smaller players to remain in business.
‘Given that the hospitality industry is suffering the most in the moments of crisis anyway, state regulations when it comes to hygiene are way too strict for the hospitality industry in Lithuania compared to the EU regulations on average.’
Another aspect of our food system that is overlooked and should be foundational to our society – investing in school meals.
Everything starts with children – and quality nutrition is at its base. Very few schools have cooking classes, or so-called “food literacy lessons” that would improve connection to real foods. Unfortunately, these ideas get very little or if any state support.
We need to include food education from an early age. We need to systematically bring our children to farms, go wild mushroom, herb and berry forging. This requires resources but only through experiential learning our children will be capable of making informed decisions when they grow up, and continue teaching their own children.
Unite globally but do not make ourselves the same. Baltic heritage is unique, and we do not celebrate and value it as we should. Lithuania retains traditions that have been kept alive for years. On average, we still go wild mushroom foraging, we know our herbs, we preserve our vegetables in our own ways. The knowledge is still there, mostly with our elderly people. The question is – how do we ensure this knowledge is not lost through generations? How do we ensure we revalue what really matters to us and learn to be proud of our wisdom?