I found this article, "Why Award-Winning Chefs Are Still Looking for Unpaid Internships," on Vice's new food blog, Munchies. The title caught my eye, as I'm sure it did yours – successful chefs are seeking out the same kind of crappy, unpaid work as little ol' post-grad me? – and as I read it, I suddenly felt I understood. Though chefs generally work specifically with food that has already been grown, harvested, packaged, and transported, they are in a business that prizes nuance. Perhaps to some, when choosing between leeks from the supermarket produce section and organic, locally grown leeks harvested from a farm down the road, the difference isn't that great; but to others, those details make all the difference. It's a question not only of quality, but of taste – and boy, do chefs care about taste. I think that must be a large motivating factor for chefs like Aprile Ferrer-Taylor, mentioned in the article because she participated in WWOOF, a program that places volunteers on organic farms across 90 different countries. But I don't think flavor is the only reason that seasoned chefs want to get out of the kitchen; working for free on farms also allows chefs to get a better picture of the life cycle of food, and learn about best practices when it comes to choosing and sourcing ingredients. They come to understand the effect that farming and eating have on the environment. Meanwhile, chefs who take side jobs as bartenders or food journalists get to see a whole new side of the food industry. Their picture of the world of food becomes more complete.
If I were a chef, I would definitely want to check out some of these unconventional internship programs, and learn all I could about how my industry works. You know what? Scratch that. I'm not a chef, but I totally want to learn all about that stuff anyway. Even if I'm just a rinky-dink amateur cook, I believe that where we get our food and what and how we eat matters. It's an important aspect America's consumeristic society that sometimes leads us to favor convenience, cheapness, disposability. But those values don't always lead us to sustainable practices that support the health of the Earth and of humanity. I applaud these professional chefs because they're displaying the kind of curiosity and responsibility that maybe we should all exercise a little more of. They're getting out of their bubble, exploring a side of the food world that many of us never see, and becoming better at their jobs because of it.