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Nov. 10: Last weekend I had the pleasure of speaking at the annual conference of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs in Rhode Island. What a delightfully high energy event that was! A wide variety of chefs, farmers, and writers attended my talk on whether climate change is going to redefine what we mean by "sustainable food." Two wonderful Bon Appetit chefs — Preeti Mistry of the deYoung Museum in San Francisco and Mary Soto of American University in Washington DC — joined me and gave practical examples to balance the more theoretical concepts I offered. When I give presentations, I’m always surprised that professionals and students alike assume that discarding disposables — paper plates, styrofoam containers, etc. — are the MOST important environmental issue in a dining hall. The perception of avoiding waste of recyclable materials has really become ingrained since […]

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Politics makes strange bedfellows and even stranger dinner plates. Amidst much controversy, the Farm Bill reached the Senate floor on Monday and created some unusual alliances. As the San Francisco Chronicle put it, “Seldom in Washington do such coalitions develop that unite the Bush White House and the group Environmental Defense on one side, and on the other, Senate Democrats and Republicans who have set aside their ideological hostilities to preserve and expand crop subsidies for a minority of wealthy farmers.” Michael Pollan’s op-ed in the New York Times, Weed It and Reap, does a great job explaining the state of the current bill and how “some nutritious crumbs” have been added “to ensure that reform-minded legislators will hold their noses and support it.” A little money for food stamps and “specialty crops” and we’re supposed to forget that the […]

I had the pleasure of speaking about sustainability to two very different groups this week. On Monday I addressed a set of business executives who work for companies that have signed the United Nations Global Compact – "a framework for businesses that are committed to aligning their operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption." On Wednesday I took part in Santa Clara University’s Sustainability Day and sat on a panel with other Silicon Valley organizations interested in green business. The coupling of both events left me with a feeling of great optimism. The sustainability movement is burning the candle at both ends in a very positive way. On one end, the biggest of businesses, multi-nationals, are looking for sustainable business solutions. Are they doing this because they understand […]

An interesting poll from asks its readers about an environmentalist’s food choices. Yesterday, more than 1,500 people had voted and the results were as follows: "An environmentalist should be…" a vegetarian (12%) a vegan (29%) mindful but not rigid about diet (47%) concerned with things other than food (12%) I just checked back today and surprisingly, the scales have tipped a bit. Of 1,760 people, 35% thought that environmentalists should be vegan and 43% thought they should be mindful but not rigid. Although my vote is included in the mindful category (everything in moderation), I’m pretty fascinated by the poll results. No longer does "environmentalism" mean just "saving trees"; it also encompasses animal welfare, climate change, food. I think our Low Carbon Diet comes at an opportune time as more and more people connect food choices with environmental impact. […]

Someone has just brought me a lovely head of Traviso from her CSA box. This is one of my favorite greens and sadly enough the first thought that came to my mind was…how soon before this flavor disappears in California? At the risk of sounding like an alarmist, I’m afraid that we might be on teh edge of losing wonderful flavors like this from our plates…flavors that for years have been slowly brought back and nurtured through the small and creative family farmer. Americans are finally rediscovering what spinach or tomato or apples should taste like. The have discovered new flavors in greens like Deer Tongue, Curly Endive, Arugula and Traviso. Today, these flavors are being threatened by the magic of well intentioned but unbendable California Big Ag. The Western Growers Association recently implemented a uniform set of growing standards […]

Some months ago, we started toying with the idea of extending business opportunities for our small local farmers by encouraging the local processing of their harvest. Soon enough I ended up with several #10 cans of locally and sustainably grown green beans on my desk to the dismay of my peers and our CEO. The Director of Culinary Support has canned green beans on this desk? What gives? These beans were produced by Truitt Brothers in Oregon and the product had many of the right elements that are important to us: family farms, sustainability, low carbon foot print – except for the fact they were canned. I was lost as to how to approach this, being personally entrenched in our food philosophy that is deeply anchored in using fresh. At the same time, I know the reality that seasonal ingredients […]

A series of new studies reported in the  tells us that the bigger the produce the less the flavor and nutrient value. "Big" produce, grown for its yield, size and color is the hallmark of "Big" ag and the reason we can feed more people for less money. But, the fact that these foods are also less than flavorful or nutrient dense should not be surprise to anyone? Good folks tied to their food system and where it comes from have been telling us this for 50 years or more.  But it’s news when the scientist say it?  Whatever. Our chefs have also been saying the same thing. That’s because they know where their food comes from. They know about the exciting diversity of flavors grown by small farmers. When Micah gets tomatoes from Charlie at Flamingo Ridge Farms […]

The connection between our food and where it comes is at best loose and flimsy for many people that live the Western World. This is as true for chefs as it is for the average Joe.  But not this Joe…Joe McGarry. Joe M is one of our senior chefs in the Northwest Region. Low key in attitude but highly passionate about his food; where it comes from and how it is prepared so that it is respected for its natural flavors.  Recently he encouraged several of his peers to leave their whites in the kitchen and put on their fishing gear for a hands on experience in salmon reefnetting on Lummi Island…all part of the Chefs in Raingear  program that brings culinarians and fishermen together. I am attaching an album of photos from that experience that are a must see, […]

The bite  of sweetness from the raw "just picked" corn was a welcomed balance to the bitter black coffee I was drinking.  It is 7 AM  in Ann Harbor, Michigan (4 am Pacific Time, the zone I’m still on) and I am tasting my way through the farmer’s market with a few peers.  We are here for a round table meeting of a small group called the National Supply and Value Chain Network. But some of us couldn’t help starting our day chatting with farmer’s and literally enjoying the fruits of their labor. A reminder that at the end of day, the goal of our Network is to bring  back and preserve the flavors of the American family farm. I am at this meeting representing Bon Appétit, as a model of what is possible in the business world when it […]

With 400 cafes and restaurants across the country, Bon Appétit chefs must source a significant volume of local foods from sustainable farms to feed our guests every day. As joyfully as we approach this task, the current American agricultural system is unfortunately designed to make our jobs much harder. Despite the recent boom in sustainable and organic foods, it is no secret that small local farms and artisans who rely on them often struggle to keep their farms alive and make a decent living from the land; therefore, for a company such as ours, and for millions of Americans, access to an abundant supply of local foods remains a challenge. Why is this so? Farm subsidies are almost entirely dedicated to industrial farming, even as more and more chefs and consumers shift their purchasing preferences to foods grown in their […]