When Indian-born chef and restaurateur Vikram Vij first came to Vancouver, it was common to buy whatever was cheapest at the Punjabi market.

Today, at his namesake Vij’s, the chicken comes from Langley, while the goat meat and vegetables are grown in the Fraser valley. At My Shanti restaurant in Surrey, even the wine is exclusively sourced from BC. Spices are still imported from India, and Vij has become known for combining the best of both worlds.

Mediaplanet: How did your focus on local food begin?

Vikram Vij: It just didn’t make sense to me to buy frozen fish from India when I had beautiful, sustainable, local fish in my own province. When I first put a local beer, Storm IPA, on my menu in 1996, people were asking, “Where’s the Kingfisher?” But why would I bring that all the way from India on a ship when we have local craftspeople making delicious local beers?

MP: What are some of the benefits to consuming local food and drinks?

VV: It all comes back to the Indian village mentality. Some grow tomatoes, some grow ginger, some have chicken, and others have turmeric.

At seven o’clock they all meet and buy each other’s wares and then everyone can make chicken curry.  The farmer sells me green onions, and I use them in my cooking. Then he comes to my restaurant and enjoys my food. This helps support an employee who is putting their kids through school. So we help each other.

As for customers, who doesn’t like their own backyard’s carrots and tomatoes? They taste better, and have a better shelf life. You’re also supporting your own community.

MP: What trends do you predict for local food and drinks consumption?

VV: I think the biggest trend will be restaurants and chefs breaking down food into smaller regions. So, it will be food from Laos, northern Vietnam, and northern India. Thirty years ago, you just wanted a Chardonnay. Now you say I want a Chardonnay from Sonoma County in California. The same will happen with food. People have traveled, they have neighbours from Uganda, they understand the differences between South Africa and eastern Africa. They’re more educated about food.

MP: How can consumers determine if they are purchasing food and drinks stemming from sustainable ingredients?

VV: Ask the server. It’s like when you go to a store and find out where a t-shirt is made. Was it a sweatshop? It’s the same with food. It’s your right and responsibility to ask. It’s a two-way street.

MP: At the grocery store, how can consumers determine if they are purchasing food and drinks stemming from sustainable ingredients?

VV: Reading the label is important, but it won’t always give you the bigger picture and packaging can sometimes be misleading. If you’re interested in sustainability - and I would suggest you should be - then it might be good to do your research before you even go to the store. Get to know the brands who support and promote sustainability with their products. That way, you know anything they create in the future should come from the same place both physically and ethically.

MP: How does purchasing local foods help local farmers and boost the economy?

VV: That’s the ONLY way to help local farmers. We need to increase demand. If we are not buying from our smaller producers, who are usually self sustaining, organic and non GMO, then who will? The big box suppliers? I’d like to think in the future, this will be the only way forward, so we are all buying the freshest, most natural products possible and maybe the larger retailers will have to do the same thing.