Chef Mark Jensen from Sydney’s renowned Vietnamese restaurant, Red Lantern, discusses the importance of sustainability in the food industry. Mark is passionate about bringing sustainability to the food classroom too. Here’s what he has to say…

Mark, Luke and Pauline at Red Lantern

At Red Lantern, we have made a conscious decision to limit the impact we have on the planet. We believe that the decisions we make today will benefit the planet and enhance the life experience of future generations. We consider that success in business should not be at the detriment of our environment.

We have carefully looked at the produce we are preparing for the menu, paying particular attention to how and where it was grown. We have decided to use as many organically grown vegetables and herbs as possible. Organic produce tends to be grown by smaller producers who do not use chemical fertilisers or pesticides in the production of their crops. By doing this, they help both maintain the natural nutrient balance of the soil and protect us from exposure to dangerous pesticide run-off and contamination of the water table.

We try to use seafood that has been ethically caught or produced. Some methods of fishing are better for the oceans’ ecology than others. We tend to use line-caught fish as this limits the amount of bycatch. Bycatch is a term given to the tonnes of marine animals caught in nets and killed every year that are then discarded back into the ocean because they are considered to have no economic value.

The poultry we prefer to use is fed organic grains and is free to roam the fields foraging for insects and worms by day and housed in specially designed barns to protect them from predators at night. We believe poultry produced in this way is humanely treated and tastes better.

Pork is the most widely consumed meat and this is especially true in Asian cuisine. At Red Lantern we have made the decision to use free-range pork, which means the pigs are not caged, thereby allowing them to be free to stretch their legs and exercise their natural foraging tendencies. The pork from these pigs has a higher fat content, making it succulent and sweet.

Another initiative that we have at the restaurant is to apply a range of effective and low-cost measures to help our environment. For example, twenty per cent of the energy we use is produced by sustainable technologies. We have managed to reduce our electricity consumption by installing energy-efficient equipment and light bulbs. We are reducing our water consumption by replacing common wok stations that rely on a constant flow of water to cool the stainless-steel surface around the base of the wok with a new type of wok system—stopping water literally being lost down the drain. We have specially marked bins in the kitchen for recycling glass, plastic, cardboard and paper. We also recycle our vegetable waste by placing it in a large compost bin. Using this, we fill used vegetable boxes with the compost and grow a modest amount of vegetables and herbs. On occasion, we have grown enough produce in our backyard to offer our customers a special home-grown addition to the menu.

It’s not hard to make positive changes to our environment. In fact, it is the little things we do from day to day that really make a difference.

Think about the produce you buy, be thoughtful in your use of energy and try to recycle. Have a go at growing your own vegetables and before you know it, you’ll feel great and our planet will benefit as well.