Ned Bell, Ocean Wise and the sustainable fight
When Ocean Wise Executive Chef Ned Bell was a child, he didn’t know that he would one day become one of the top Canadian chefs advocating for sustainable seafood practices. All he knew was that he truly enjoyed cooking.
“My mom … didn’t love cooking that much because she was out there raising the family and working at night,” Bell explains. “I started cooking for my brother and sister when I was 12, and I realized how food brought us together as siblings. I quickly fell in love with the food business, with what food does. It’s the one thing that connects every human.”
While Bell is now passionate about sustainable seafood, he wasn’t always aware of the issue. “When I first moved to Toronto in 1997, no one was talking about sustainability. No one was talking about the fact that some of the species we were celebrating were at risk,” Bell explains. “Really the global sustainable seafood movement is only about two decades old.”
“It’s important to me on multiple levels. First, as a father of three, and somebody who cares about the environment and the ecosystem and the world that we live in,” explains Bell. “Secondly, as a chef, I am only as good as the ingredients and the access to those ingredients. What if I’m in love something specific, then suddenly because of climate change or an unreliable season or extinction or over-fishing, I can’t cook with that ingredient anymore? I cannot continue to be a part of the problem by doing nothing,” he explains. “We have to start challenging people to do more. They have to pay attention to where the ingredients are coming from, how they’re ending up on their plates.”
When Bell was offered the job with Ocean Wise to be their executive chef at the Vancouver Aquarium, he just had to take it. “I’ve risked it all to dive as deep as I can into this,” Bell says. “I had a dream job and I left to work here. But the value that I get from doing the work I’m doing is so much bigger than me. I wake up every day and I can’t wait to chase the next opportunity and spread the message.”
“I feel like people say ‘What can I do?’,” Bell mentions. “You can do a ton. I’m one chef, who has, in a short decade, raised awareness for sustainability because I dove deep. But there’s a lot of spirited, passionate environmentalists out there who are doing more, going above and beyond to affect change. Baby steps are good enough, but I wish that we would take some larger leaps.”
Bell’s journey from award-winning chef to fierce advocate for the seas is an inspiring one that encourages everyone, from the home cook to the professional chef, to really analyze what they’re eating every day. The future, for him, is one where Mother Nature has recovered from our pollution and consumers are conscious of what they put on their plates.
“It’s kind of extraordinary to think about the world’s oceans and this resource that Mother Nature gives us. It’s not our right to just go harvest it at an unsustainable rate,” Bell says. “The work that I do today has nothing to do with next year; the work that I do today has everything to do with a hundred years from now. I want to make sure that we still have wild salmon in 100 years.”