In recent years I have struggled with the knowledge of problems in our world that I as a cook have felt unable to address. I had come to regret not pursing science as a career, and wondered if I should change my whole life around in order to work towards solutions for our planet. Then I began to try and rethink my problem. Maybe I don’t have to drop everything and start over. What if I can be a part of the solution from within the restaurant and wine industry? So: What CAN a cook do? The answer is, quite a lot actually. Food is an integral part of our world. And our influence on it as Chefs, and as Winemakers and Servers, is bigger than we give ourselves credit for.
I began to research food systems and the place of restaurants within them, and I became overwhelmed with the dire feeling consequences of what our future looks like in the face of a climate that is rapidly warming, and a population that is rapidly growing.
National Geographic had published the series Feeding 9 Billion, and the information felt broad and immense in a way that was at first difficult to take in. I was filled constantly with anxiety about our food future, and my friends were often the sad subjects of my rants about the importance of grains or the overabundance of restaurants in a world that needed less carbon impact and not more.
One thing that I have learned from life in high stress, busy kitchens, is that when the task seems enormous, the best way to tackle it is to break it down and to work towards a goal in small steps. Prioritize what must or can be done first, and then triage from there. While I continue to try and educate myself on the many facets of what sustainability can mean to a restaurant and to our environment, I have also started to break down the information that I do know that I can make an impact on now. Small steps. Not ignoring the big picture, but also not letting it feel so overwhelming that I become stagnant.
So let’s start with something easy:
- All of us can reduce what goes into the “trash/landfill” fairly simply. It just takes a little extra organization, training, and practice. Start with sorting: You may be surprised by how much can go into compost or recycling before you have to resort to the trash.
- The next step is rethinking why we can use what we are putting into compost/recycling/trash in the first place. Are we buying more than we actually need, or not finding a use for the trim?
- Then start asking what what we can do to reduce what we bring in or purchase. Less packaging for example, or buying supplies from producers that use less packaging, lighter wine bottles, and use other “best practices”.
And as far as the bigger picture:
I have had the pleasure of meeting amazing people who are concerned and also asking themselves and their customers the question “What can we do?” and who have given me examples of a myriad of exciting possibilities. Anthony Myint and his wife Karen Leibowitz of The Perennial in San Francisco, CA are two such individuals. Anthony is passionate about the real world applications of solutions that restaurants are capable of implementing to make an impact. The initiatives that their non-profits have supported and created are already making a difference. You can read more on The Perennial’s Projects page. If you’re in San Francisco, I would also encourage a visit to their restaurant. The kernza bread is delicious.
More big picture ideas:
A renewed interest in soil health and the possibilities for Carbon Sequestration using Regenerative Farming has begun to find support among Bay Area Chefs and restaurateurs. The Soil Solution, a program from The Center for Food Safety, is one of the organizations pushing for education of soil restorative practices. One of their promotional videos brings in the help of several well known chefs, many from the Bay Area, such as Dominique Crenn, Jeremy Fox, Tanya Holland, Anthony Myint, and Corey Lee. Kiss the Ground began in 2013 with a group of friends meeting to talk about soil solutions. Now they are an organization dedicated to encouraging public engagement and creating global soil restoration. The organization’s book was published in November of 2017.
Chefs, restaurant owners, industry staff can also become involved and learn more through targeted non-profits and guides such as: A Chef’s Guide to Healthy Soil , where several restaurants, non-profits, farms, and research partners have come together in order to provide education and “to encourage chefs and consumers to reward farmers for using sustainable practices.”
The The Marin Carbon Project is a consortium of independent agricultural institutions in Marin County, including university researchers, county and federal agencies, nonprofits, and John Wick, owner of the Nicasio Native Grass Ranch. They are working together to encourage soil sequestration through farming practices, to research and develop better ways to be stewards of the environment.
With the current “farm to table” movement not only staying on trend but increasing in
popularity- it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine seeking out and supporting the farmers and suppliers who are making their own efforts to be good stewards of the land.
We can all be looking at where our food comes from, and how to reward the practices that encourage sustainability for more than just the reason that it is good for the environment. Healthy soil grows healthy food grows healthy people. Ideally.
Don’t Panic! Help is coming.
It feels like information about what is going wrong is all that’s out there. It may be less sensational to hear that there is positive news, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. People from many fields are already working towards solutions and implementing them. There are also small things that each of us can do in our everyday lives towards improving our carbon footprint, regardless of who we are or what we do for a living. You don’t have to be a scientist to reduce your own personal impact on the environment. And there are solutions that the restaurant industry can encourage and address from within our businesses and communities. I am no longer quite so fearful, and while the anxiety still lingers; I feel a renewed sense of hope. I endeavor to seek out more people who are working on these issues and to share their efforts.