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A Crisis of Energy: Plant Work and Sustainability in Professional Kitchens

Hill, David; Maclean, Gavin


David Hill


Professional kitchens find themselves at the forefront of ‘polycrisis’: a recruitment crisis born of tightened borders; a cost-of-living crisis based on soaring food and energy costs that pose an existential threat to the entire hospitality sector; a climate crisis that threatens supply chains and makes kitchen work unbearably hot. Efforts to produce more sustainable practices in response to these crises are limited by the interconnected and compounding effects of the crises themselves. While public discourse slowly turns towards these crises, little energy is spent in that discussion on what it all means for the people who feed us. Drawing on ongoing qualitative research in professional kitchens in the North of England and the Central Belt of Scotland, we set out to understand the experiences of those who work with plants, vegetables, herbs and plant-based produce in their working lives. We find that these crises are written into menus and into working practices. When workers are hard to recruit, dishes are simplified, menus made less diverse, and vegetables reduced to sides. Energy bills have forced chefs to cook differently, turning off ranges, turning off fridges and turning instead to canned over fresh produce. Tumultuous supply chains are making it more difficult to provide the authenticity consumers demand, whilst extreme heat shortens shelf lives and working days. Using the lens of ‘photosynethics’, which conceptualises environmental responsibility in terms of our relationship to light and energy, we explore the limits to creating sustainability in the kitchens of our polycrisis.

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Conference Name BSA Annual Conference 2023: Sociological Voices in Public Discourse
Start Date Apr 12, 2023
End Date Apr 14, 2023
Deposit Date May 10, 2023
Publisher URL