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How Boston's Restaurant Industry Would Change the World Through Food

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How would you change the world through food? Local experts weigh in.

Michael Leviton. [Photo: Official]

Michael Leviton, Chef/Owner of Lumiere, Area Four, and A4 Pizza; Chair of Chef's Collaborative: Cheap food is killing us. While we are enjoying dollar menus and $10 all-you-can-eat buffets, we need to think about things like:

· Who pays for the environmental destruction and clean up?
· Who really bears the cost of subsidizing unnecessary corn and soybean production?
· Who ends up paying the health care costs of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and so many other diet-related problems?
· What are the far-reaching economic and social costs of inner city and rural food deserts?

We need to make folks aware of all of the impacts of our current agricultural system. Environmental degradation; the loss of biodiversity; the economic and social justice problems inherent in our efficiency at all costs model; and especially the health problems caused by the foods we currently eat. I believe that every chef has a powerful voice in the conversation around food. We are uniquely positioned in the food chain, in that we can have a profound influence on both our customers and the public at large, as well as on the farmers, ranchers, fishers, and artisans who produce the ingredients we use. As cooks and chefs, we sometimes forget that when we're working alone in our individual kitchens. But if we want to continue to be able to provide delicious, healthful food to our customers and our families, we are going to have to come together, to amplify our voices and to both demand and inspire change in the way America eats — way beyond the four walls of our restaurants. I truly believe that chefs and those in the food industry working together can create a better food system, which means creating a better way for all of us to eat and live.

Chris Sherman [Photo: Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater]

Chris Sherman, President of Island Creek Oysters: Efficiently produced protein can change the world. Meat is the most costly part of our diets (and likely the first to be skipped when someone living in poverty goes hungry). It is resource intensive — requiring massive inputs of land, water, antibiotics, fossil fuels, and grain — and one of our largest polluters, with animal fecal decomposition contributing massively to both greenhouse gas issues and nutrient runoff into our bays and rivers. It takes between 12 and 20 pounds of grain to grow one pound of industrial beef. As a result of this inefficiency, we feed 60% of the grain we grow in this country to animals, driving up the price of grain (and thus, of all food) worldwide.

Responsibly farmed shellfish is the only protein we produce that is a net benefit to the environment where it is grown. Shellfish remove nitrogen to prevent harmful algal blooms; they filter particulate matter to improve water clarity, which adds oxygen to the water; and they provide habitat for other estuarine flora and fauna. I love a great steak or burger as much as anyone, and we can't live on shellfish alone, but by choosing shellfish just one in every few times you'd go for the beef, you're making a restorative choice. Not only are you avoiding the high cost of terrestrial protein and the food access issues that accompany it, you're making an improvement to our coastal ecosystem.

Eat oysters.

Ken Oringer (left) and Jamie Bissonnette. [Photo: Daniel Krieger]

Jamie Bissonnette, Chef/Co-Owner of Coppa and Toro: If I could try to change the world through food, I would do so by teaching people how to cook. From the rich and affluent in cities to the poor and hungry around the globe, educating people on cooking, health, and utilization will help lessen the waste and hopefully show us that there is enough food in the world for everyone. We just need to help the food get to where it's needed.

Ken Oringer, Chef/Co-owner of Coppa, Toro, Clio, Uni, and Earth: I would change the world through food by educating families everywhere to understand how food grows and where it comes from. To be excited by it as parents and to use this education and enthusiasm to raise their children to respect and understand food. To maximize seasonality and the adventurous spirit of loving to cook and eating together as families and friends.

Tony Maws, Chef/Owner of Craigie on Main and The Kirkland Tap & Trotter: Food brings people to the same table — some of the best deals have been struck while breaking bread. I'd cook for any groups in conflict so they could sit down and work it out over soulful cooking, thirst-quenching wine, and rolled up sleeves.

Jeremy Sewall. [Photo: Row 34]

Jeremy Sewall, Executive Chef and Partner of Island Creek Oyster Bar, Row 34, and Lineage: Food is one of the few things that all humans have in common; we all need it, love it, and sometimes crave it. I think change starts early. Teaching younger kids and young adults about where food comes from and how what we eat directly affects our lives is a great place to start. Collecting eggs from a coop, catching a fish, or growing a vegetable are powerful ways to teach young people that real food does not come from a drive-through or from opening a bag. Developing a taste for that food rather than convenience food is a great thing.

Matthew Gaudet with Alexis Gelburd-Kimler

Matthew Gaudet. Photo: Chris Coe

Matthew Gaudet, Executive Chef/Owner of West Bridge: Spreading the gospel of less is more. Simplifying our dishes and being prudent about quality. Using animal proteins with restraint and as a garnish to vegetables. Continue to focus on sustaining a plant based diet and healthy, yet creative cuisine, that incorporates responsibly raised or caught animal protein.

Getting the word out to home cooks and children that extravagance and richness, abundant and irresponsible fats are not necessary and actually the antithesis to/for delicious food. The younger we can start the more responsible the adults of our future will be. Teaching the basic cooking skills to children will certainly set table, so to speak, of a healthier lifestyle for generations.

Clark Frasier (left) and Mark Gaier. [Photo: M.C. Spiedo]

Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier, Co-Owners of M.C. Spiedo in Boston and MC Perkins Cove in Ogunquit, Maine: In reality the world is being changed by food, not the other way around. With the amazing rise of prosperity in China, India, and other parts of the emerging world, we have seen a rush to embrace the western diet. With the constant increase of population (China's population has increased by the population of the U.S. in just 30 years) we as chefs must promote a more sustainable diet that emphasizes vegetables rather than meat. Otherwise we may not have the ability to change the world with food in the years to come!

Roger Berkowitz, President & CEO of Legal Sea Foods: We can change the world through food by embracing non-traditional foods. Sea vegetables are a great example. Although we haven't been exposed to them in America, and may get squeamish at the thought of consuming them, they are unbelievably healthful. In fact, they've been a staple in Asian cuisines for hundreds of years. By developing sustainable methods of harvesting such non-traditional food sources, we could go a long way toward feeding the world's population.

Christine (left) and Carla Pallotta. [Photo: Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater]

Carla and Christine Pallotta, Co-Owners of Nebo: We would use the tag line: ‘Just one more!' Growing up in the North End, we had a full house every night. Doors were left open, and everyone was welcome. Our mother was the master of miracles. Any given day of the week we could have five or 15 people at our dinner table. Some guests just came for the company, and we are sure others were probably just a little less fortunate. No matter who showed up, our mother always said ‘What's just one more?' Whether she made a quick spaghetti aglio e olio, a potato and egg frittata, pizza, or mozzarella in carozza, she did it with the ease and class of the ultimate hostess, no one ever thinking they were a surprise or a bother. If everyone thought ‘just one more!' just think how easy it would be to change the world.

Matt Jennings (with Kate Jennings).

Matt Jennings, Chef/Co-Owner of Townsman: For me, food is connectivity and relationships. Always has been. I try to bring my guests closer to their food sources and those who work tirelessly to produce it. Maintaining a focus on showcasing the importance and significance of thinking sustainably as a chef is paramount, and if I can get a few people a year to consider making better choices in their lives about demanding higher quality, naturally grown foods on their table, then I’m on the right track. Supporting small, family-owned farms and the overriding principles that these farms operate by is an endeavor we should all be able to get behind.

Brian Poe. [Photo: Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater]

Brian Poe, Chef/Owner of The Tip Tap Room, Estelle's, and Poe's Kitchen at the Rattlesnake: How would I change the world through food? One plate at a time... As for the industry itself, I'd like to see a continued effort to end childhood hunger through education and organizations like Share Our Strength: No Kid Hungry. All levels of the food industry should make it mandatory to be involved in the nonprofit side of teaching families how to cook healthy meals.

As for food consumption and cooking: with all of our restaurant concepts, I'm a strong advocate for humanely raised and alternative fish and wild game. I personally am still not ready for insect tasting menus but I do believe that we can find more positive approaches to enjoyable eating by trying to ease the effects of overfishing and the mass produced meat and poultry industries through creative dining cooking and menu concepts.

Josh Lewin. [Photo: Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater]

Josh Lewin, Owner of Bread & Salt and Executive Chef of Bread & Salt @ Wink & Nod: I'm too tired to change the world, personally. However I am impressed daily by the influence that cooking has afforded me. This is a profession that the public continues to be interested in in a big way. The lives, opinions, and preferences of the professional cook are regarded closely. In building a professional, structured, and supportive environment for my staff, our farmers, and even our customers we create strong and influential relationships on a daily basis. When a cook takes it upon him or herself to walk their kids through our kitchen, and show off their work environment and show them some of the meat or produce that is being processed and explain to them where it came from, who brought it, and how we will use it... I take a lot of pleasure in that and work very hard to preserve that sort of environment. I have no plans to change the world directly. But I can't help but wonder, in building these strong positive relationships across industries, creating upward mobility and education for staff and vendors, supportive and highly hospitable environments for guests and celebrating cultures, traditions, and histories through our modern application of cooking and serving... maybe if I keep all that up for long enough, just maybe... I will influence someone along the way to do something great for this world.