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Don’t Just Celebrate: Activate for a Healthier Planet

Katherine Miller

September 20, 2018

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Cow Photo by Clay Williams
Photo: Clay Williams

In her latest dispatch, our vice president of Impact Katherine Miller shares upcoming opportunities for consumers and chefs to fight food waste and promote more sustainable seafood consumption at home, in restaurants, and in the national dialogue.

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October is a busy month in the food world: in the United States, it’s National Seafood Month, and on October 16, the globe will celebrate World Food Day. This year, the James Beard Foundation is also launching our Waste Not initiative—designed to educate eaters, chefs, and teachers on ways to build delicious dishes and minimize food waste.

All of this activity is exciting. It’s great to see everyone rally around discussions about protecting our oceans or finding ways to reach #zerohunger by 2030. And it certainly feels good to be part of a global community invested in these issues. 

But how does all of this add up to real change? At the Beard Foundation, we’re challenging ourselves to do more than just talk or post and, as always, we’re turning to the chef community for inspiration.

Last month, chefs in San Francisco took part in the first-ever Zero Foodprint Dining Week, created by Chefs Boot Camp alum Anthony Myint of the Perennial and Mission Chinese. Working to reduce food waste and help start a conversation with consumers about climate change, the participating chefs not only developed unique dishes or menus, but also invested in carbon-neutral projects such as “a sustainable ranch in Marin County that claims a pioneering approach for raising cattle, one that scientists say could help reduce methane from cows and other greenhouse gases from the world's expanding beef consumption.”

This carbon-neutral approach to dining is one way to work to mitigate climate change. But it’s also clear that chefs and restaurants can make additional contributions to this effort by helping everyone reduce food waste.

A new study by the Boston Consulting Group estimates that global food waste continues to grow, and that by 2030 it will reach 2.1 billion tons and result in over $1.5 trillion in lost economic opportunity. This is unacceptable not only for the planet, but also for the food industry, which operates on the slimmest of margins.

More than 100 chefs—including James Beard Award winners, the culinary minds behind Michelin-starred restaurants, and alumni of our Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change—contributed to our new cookbook, Waste Not: Getting the Most From Your Food. All around the country, chefs such as Phil Jones (Detroit), William Dissen (North Carolina), and Tiffany Derry (Dallas) are signing books, hosting demonstrations, organizing fundraisers, and spending time working with their communities to not only talk about ways to reduce food waste, but also to show how it easy it is to do at home. These chefs are also part of an ongoing effort to educate young chefs and students on how to reduce waste at all points in the food system. To reach those chefs, we’re working with culinary professionals to train educators to introduce the topics of sustainability, climate change, and food waste into classrooms around the country.

With the global population expected to rise to nine billion over the next 25 years, reducing food waste is an important part of a strategy to end hunger, but it is far from the only avenue. We also need to diversify what we’re eating and encourage the creation of new jobs to grow local economies.

Promoting the sustainable seafood industry—both here in the United States and around the globe—is a powerful way for chefs, restaurant owners, and consumers to act in support of a more sustainable food system.

In the United States, the seafood industry is responsible for 1.8 million jobs and more than $208 billion in sales. This includes aquaculture, recreational and commercial fishing, and processing. It's clear this industry is strong, but in many cases, we're still eating more salmon, tuna, and shrimp than can be produced.

During October, which is National Seafood Month, look for restaurants around the country who will be showcasing lesser-known options. Restaurants participating in programs such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Restaurant Partners or the James Beard Foundation's Smart Catch are great places to try out something you haven't had before—such as dogfish, lionfish, or high-quality farmed fish.

This act of trying something different shows seafood suppliers and companies that consumers are willing to eat beyond the current, common choices. In turn, increasing demand will help generate new interest in the businesses supplying these new options. It's a win-win for everyone.

Reducing waste. Supporting carbon-neutral restaurants. Demanding new seafood options on the plate. These are all ways that consumers and businesses can act in support of a more diverse, sustainable, and delicious food system.

For more information, follow us at @JBFChefAction and subscribe to our newsletter.

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Katherine Miller is JBF’s vice president of Impact. Find her on Twitter.