Nate Green from Rhoda wants to help educate people on how to consume food better by debunking the hype around terms like organic and approaching eating in a more holistic way
Sustainability is slowly gaining momentum in Hong Kong with fashion, food and beauty outlets curating products that are less hurtful to the planet. Here at Honeycombers Hong Kong, our staff is made up of proud meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans, and we all know how hard it is to be mindful of the earth. One chef in town who is a big believer in sustainable cooking is Nate Green from Rhoda, so we sat down with him to chat about sustainability in restaurants, why he doesn’t believe in organics and Rhoda’s monthly Whole Hog event.
Hey, Nate. Tell us a little about your philosophy on sustainability and how that affects your menus at Rhoda.
Well, I have a young daughter now, so I believe that we inherit the earth to leave it in a good position for the next generation, and in the last seventy years, we’ve pillaged our planet. You know, before we invented combustion engines, the world was sustainable purely because we could only take so much from the land by hand. But now we have machines and factories and everything is done en masse, so the waste level is huge.
The problem with Hong Kong is that it’s a city that buys by label; everyone wants Iberico, Wagyu and Foie Gras, but they don’t know that there are good versions and shit versions, and lots of the stuff used in Hong Kong is the shit stuff, as everyone is trying to cut their costs, and that’s just not good for the planet.
My life would be way easier if I stuck Wagyu on the menu, but I’m not going to sell something that I don’t ethically believe in. For example, I use purebred Mangalitsa and they’re part of a nationally funded conservation project in Hungary. They’re a lard pig, so they are 70 per cent body fat, but they taste amazing. It’s the equivalent of the highest type of Wagyu beef that you will ever eat, but because people don’t know about it they complain about the price.
When it comes to our seafood, we use things that we know are in abundance: farmed salmon from New Zealand that is ecologically controlled for example. Another problem with Hong Kong is that people want to know where the next Alaskan King crab or Blue Fin Tuna dish is coming from, but should we really be eating these? Everything we use is seasonal, and we listen to the fishermen.
What are your thoughts on the organic revolution?
The thing with organics is, that people have no idea. Every country controls its own organic certification, so if you read the USDA certification standard… it’s hilarious! You can still use chemicals to grow organic food in America, it’s just the ones you can use have to be on the approved government list. Also, animals only have to have access to pasture, so it’s not necessarily the dream life for these animals that people are led to believe.
I don’t believe in organics. I believe in knowing where products come from and knowing who raises the crops. I believe in doing my due diligence and visiting the places where I am sourcing from, so I can learn how the farms are run. Animals should be free roaming and eating a diverse diet, so that’s what people need to be thinking about when they are buying their food, and it’s our responsibility as chefs to be educating our guests on things like this.
So then, what about vegetarianism?
I don’t think veganism and vegetarianism is the way to save the planet. Yes, we need to be more responsible in what we are eating. We need to eat meat and fish less often, and when we do eat it, we need to eat higher quality products that are farmed properly. And we also need to be willing to eat more cuts, so there’s less wastage.
Tell us how your monthly Whole Hog event came about?
We’re really into using the whole animal, so having a lunch once a month, where the whole animal gets cooked off and eaten is a really nice way to get people together in a communal environment. For me, if we are going to take a life, then we should make the most of it, right.
We can feed 90 people with it, so it also shows how many meals you can make if you are willing to buy a whole animal. Along with that, the sides are all made with seasonal ingredients, so it’s about responsible abundance. I mean, if I could fit a whole pig in my freezer at home, that would be pork for me for about six months, and I would have only had to kill one animal. Whereas, if you sit there eating your lamb chops or your pork belly – well… a pig only has one belly.
When I grew up, my dad had a spit in the garden, and it would get brought out for big family occasions and everyone would come round, you know, 50, 60, 70 people. You get the same thing in many cultures and in the States too – especially in the South, you know, cooking the whole pig; it’s a really special way to bring people together.
What’s the atmosphere like?
So, The Whole Hog is our way of showcasing to people that actually you can get a lot out of just one animal and how every part of the animal tastes different. And it’s good fun too. We put on the rock music and get the beer flowing, it’s almost like a lock in.
It’s just a fun day, and I get to chat with the guests which is cool. Especially because I stay up all night the night before watching the pig and the fire, which is quite exhausting, so it’s good to see it all come together.