Years ago I came across a little book called Tyranny of the Urgent. The simple premise implies that most of us give in to urgent demands on our time instead of being driven by more important priorities. In order to be most effective in our work, we need a clear understanding that enables us to distinguish between the two.

Sustainability is the watchword of the day in just about every industry. When it comes to thinking about our energy, transportation, economics and especially food, I believe we are rightly concerned about the ability to keep the supply available for centuries into the future. But where I would diverge in the common conversation is in defining what our main concern should be. I see mainly voices of urgency, while there are much more important concerns needing to be addressed.

The conversation about sustainability won’t be sustained without a sustainable foundation on which to stand.

John Kotter, of Harvard Business School, is an expert on leadership and the change process. He states that within an organization, sweeping change will never take place without first creating a sense of urgency for all those involved. If I am asking you to change a work habit, or a business practice, you need to feel a sense of pressure to do so, and if you don’t, you are less likely to take the change very seriously.

Kotter’s thought makes sense to me, but here is where I see the problem. It’s easier to create that sense of urgency by using urgent demands than important ones.

I awoke Monday with the usual feeling of urgency that any small business owner might feel. Like a bad song stuck in my head, I habitually sang along with all the things that needed my attention; taxes, payroll, balancing the books, blah, blah, blah. It was at point I came to my senses and realized that the most important thing for me to do would be to step away from all of that and take my day off seriously.

What’s the use of creating and building a sustainable future if it is not motivated by a sustained life? The former is urgent, but the latter is more important.

As a chef, I can be a leader in using sustainable agriculture. I can set the pace in purchasing from local sources. I might even compost all my green matter and use eco-friendly take out cups, but if all this doesn’t flow from a sustainable core, I have the proverbial cart before the horse.

The Sustained Chef