Wolfman and the path to sustainability

The Toronto chef passes down his story of becoming a more sustainable cook

Wolfman took some time out of his talk to host a discussion period, encouraging audience members to talk about their own sustainability stories. (Justin Moore/The Omega)

David Wolfman was raised far away from his traditional Lillooet roots. The self-proclaimed “city slicker” instead grew up around the mountains of towering buildings and the flowing streams of Toronto’s traffic and busy city life.

However, Wolfman’s methods and teachings around his practice of cooking couldn’t be more similar to his traditional background and connections to the Xaxli’p First Nations.

In an IDays presentation, Wolfman talked about sustainability, a word we commonly use today to talk about everything from consuming less to climate change, environmental protection and even food.

For Wolfman’s family and ancestors back in Lillooet, that obligation to protect the land and his people’s way of life is called “N-talk-menth-katha.”

“It demonstrates the connecting of each other, the bonding of the environment, trusting each other, sharing with others, cooperation, caring for strangers, conserving for the future and most importantly constructing love. These experiences opened my eyes to a traditional way of life that is grounded by principles and practice of what we call in the English language sustainability,” Wolfman said.

In his twenties, Wolfman had the opportunity to visit the place his mother called home before moving to Toronto. In Lillooet, he was able to meet extended family and learn from them how to fish for salmon, collect berries during the harvest and prepare traditional Indigenous dishes.

What Wolfman came to realize was that his street smarts and teachings growing up in a big Canadian city like Toronto mirrored what he learned during his visits to Lillooet.

Wolfman has since integrated these teachings around sustainability into his work as a chef and as a teacher at George Brown College in Toronto. During his presentation, Wolfman recalled working at hotels, trying to reuse and waste less food against corporate pushback.

“Sustainability is all about knowing right from wrong and doing the right thing, taking responsibility in other words. Doing the wrong thing traditionally would have led to being shunned,” Wolfman spoke.

Wolfman received the same pushback from fellow staff members and professors at George Brown, where Wolfman successfully implemented new programs focused on sustainability, waste consumption, buying local food products rather than importing them. This resulted in reducing all food waste at the school by 85 per cent, turning the program to a huge success.

“Many Indigenous stories centred around sustainability, they were told to babies children and young youth over and over again. Stories tell wisdom. They were taught that their actions have consequences whether they see them or not. The philosophy is, we do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children,” Wolfman proclaimed.

These traditions of sustainability, using less and not wasting follow Wolfman in his day-to-day life even outside of his classroom. When testing recipes, Wolfman calls up his neighbours to cook for them and in the past has been known to share entire meals with community members and those less fortunate.

This innovation and marriage of sustainable techniques is now a part of Wolfman’s hubris as he continues as a teacher and influencer of sorts, sharing and passing down his traditions to future generations to not only cook better but live both smarter and more sustainably.

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