Mexican chef Daniel Bravo Garibi has worked on the Greenpeace fleet for 15 years, taking part in many non-violent protests and feeding the international crew on long sea voyages. His passion is to reach more people about the effects on the planet of how we choose to live and eat.
It was working in restaurant kitchens and witnessing the waste that set Mexican chef Daniel Bravo Garibi on a path that would see him travelling from the Arctic to the Caribbean.
“I’d been working in kitchens and the culinary world since I was very young, in restaurants and bars and got a little fed up with wasteful practices. I also had a lot of social concerns about the lack of opportunities,” he says.
So he made the decision to quit and set off to travel through Mexico.
“I went to many places to connect with nature. I saw the sun rise one time on the coast of the Playa del Carmen on the Mexican Caribbean and visited a national park in the Mexican jungle and I was completely astounded by the beauty of the ocean, the sky, the planet and nature. And at the same time, I saw the destruction; how humankind could so easily destroy without conscience the most fragile ecosystems and beauty of the planet. So I decided to do something about it, to protect nature. I joined a political party and several movements in Mexico but that wasn’t that satisfactory for me. So, I joined Greenpeace as a volunteer, an activist.”
Since joining Greenpeace, Daniel’s participated in many of their campaigns and protests, including climbing a 60-metre bridge on the Mexico-US border and climbing the anchor of a ship carrying 40 000 tonnes of GMO corn to Mexico .
“I did many other crazy things. I felt that I was really doing something,” he says. “Then Greenpeace gave me the opportunity of joining as an assistant cook on their vessel The Arctic Sunrise.”
A couple of months later they asked him to be cook and now, 15 years on, he’s still sailing with Greenpeace.
He’s been on all of Greenpeace’s ships including The Rainbow Warrior III and The Arctic Sunrise and says he sees them as ‘a bridge between cultures.”
“The ships of Greenpeace are, in a sense the symbols of Greenpeace, especially The Rainbow Warrior. I love it when we call into a place and people are coming to join us to see the ship and see what we are doing – I believe it really brings hope to people.”
At the moment, he’s on the The Esperanza, the biggest of Greenpeace’s ships on which he’s travelled twice previously to the Arctic. With 2 huge freezers and fridges for food storage, it’s a good ship for long trips, he says.
The length they are away for depends on supplies, fuel and their mission.
“The Rainbow Warrior we could be sailing on forever but we also use the generator and we use biofuel. It just depends on what the needs are. The longest I have been on a ship before reaching land is about two months on an Arctic trip from Amsterdam to the North Sea. We spent pretty much all that time in the ice.”
Daniel says, it’s the trees and smell of the soil he misses most on these long voyages. “And of course my daughter. You need your family and your partner and your home. “
Currently, The Esperanza is doing a pole-to-pole voyage, scheduled to take around a year.
“At the moment we are in Bermuda crossing the Atlantic. We are campaigning against deep sea mining, which is something that just came up recently and there’s not much information about, but there are many companies that are trying to get contracts to mine the bottom of the ocean. It’s quite obvious why this could be extremely destructive because we hardly know anything about the deepest part of the ocean. Recently scientists found out about the lost city which is not far from here in the Atlantic. We are just trying to know how rich and full of life is place is.”
The Lost City is a mountain range deep in the ocean consisting of huge white spires that spew hot alkaline fluids filled with hydrogen gas (the building blocks of life) into the ocean. Scientists are studying The Lost City to learn more about the microbes that inhabit it, that may provide clues on the origin of life.
One of the other campaigns Greenpeace are running on this trip Daniel says is looking at sargassum and how climate change is affecting this micro algae.
“It’s very important in the ocean for many organisms and little turtles and fish who go into it to protect themselves and to find food as well. They call it ‘the ocean rainforest’.”
In fact, the Sargasso Sea, 1600km wide and almost 5000 km long and part of a large whirlpool known as The North Atlantic Gyre supports a huge diversity of organisms, but increasingly scientists say is subject to extreme pollution from microplastic.
“Having so many single use plastics affects plant life in such a deep way,” Daniel says. “ I’ve been to the Pacific plastic patch and I’ve been to many places in the world where plastic is everywhere. It is absolutely heartbreaking but as an environmental activist you see the terrible things that we’re doing to nature, but also the most beautiful things that nature does to heal.”
So what about his fellow crew members?
“Right now with the crew we are 36 people. Usually we have about 10 to 15 different nationalities as Greenpeace is such a big worldwide organisation. That’s what also makes this work and this enterprise so rich, because you travel and enrich and nurture yourself by being surrounded by people from so many different countries.”
He admits that those cultural differences are also what makes being a chef on a Greenpeace ship ‘not so easy.”
“There are dietary requirements of course. I do try to provide the most energetic and healthy food and food from every single place. For example, today we had Indonesian tempeh with yellow curry and lemongrass and kaffir. I learnt it in Indonesia and being at the markets and tasting their food from over there so I tried to bring some of that to the crew right now here in The Atlantic. Two days ago we had gnocchi. You need to know who the people aboard are and their dietary needs, which may not be the same for someone from Korea as someone from Poland, for example.”
The food served aboard is mainly vegetarian and plant-based, Daniel says.
“Any animal products we use, we try to get from sustainable sources that we can track. It’s a strong policy and it’s not an easy thing to do when you have to use this product to provide for a long time. So for example, we get really amazing cheeses from Holland and also organic, free-range Stilton from the UK and, beautiful Portuguese cheese from The Azores and those products come from animals with a very low impact.”
Daniel says he tries to meet with the farmers and producers in ports they visit to source directly from them.
“It’s really important that the food is in the purest form that it has been produced in a way that it can give back to nature – unlike industrialised production. We can really make a change, make an impact by consuming food that is coming from small scale farming and biological production with a low if not positive impact on the environment.”
As well as being ethical and sustainable Daniel has to keep an eye on the budget and longevity of the food he buys.
“We were in Jamaica let’s say where you can buy beautiful coffee, but it’s way too expensive for Greenpeace, but in Mexico we have great organic coffee that’s cheap and supports small-scale farmers. In Cyprus last year we got the most amazing organic extra virgin olive oil that was very cheap. You also need to plan ahead for months so you know what you’re going to need and what’s going to last. We would start by eating the spring vegetables first, then the winter produce like carrots and potatoes, onion and pumpkin that last for a long time. You need to be sure by the end you still have fresh and healthy produce to serve. Of course you plan until the next port and what’s available there.”
So how has being a chef/activist on a Greenpeace ship affected him?
“It’s a cliche but the best possible education you could possibly have his travelling. In these 15 years of travelling the world, I’ve been to places that are extremely beautiful and met so many people. As a chef and a food activist I know a lot about the food production of the world and I have seen how destructive it can be. I’ve witnessed people from indigenous communities suffering because of displacement, because of soil depletion. I’ve shared with them I’ve eaten with them, I’ve planted with them. I’ve had the chance to work in The Cook Islands in the South Pacific with small-scale organic farmers helping them with any knowledge I had and in Cyprus and Indonesia.
I feel like it has become a responsibility for me now. I feel like I’ve been given a unique opportunity, a task and I really need to do something with all this information. This task is to deliver the message of all of these farmers and producers and communities – all the people who are not being listened to who need to have a voice. We can completely change the world with every spoon, with every single bite we take.”