Chefs with Issues - My Hope for Good, Clean and Fair Food for All
December 28th, 2010
10:30 AM ET
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Chefs with Issues is a platform for chefs we love, fired up for causes about which they're passionate. Today's contributor, Rob Weland, is the executive chef of Poste Moderne Brasserie in Washington, D.C. Chef Weland grows approximately 20 percent of what the restaurant uses in the restaurant's onsite courtyard garden, as well as composts about 40,000 pounds of food a year. He recently attended Terra Madre, the international conference devoted to sustainable food, as a Slow Food USA delegate

It’s the time of year for lists and wishes - everyone’s reading and writing about the trends of 2010, what to expect for 2011, and ultimately, what they want to see happen in the upcoming year.  While I love the idea of macarons outpacing cupcakes on the trend-o-meter, what I really want to see is a more valiant effort on the part of chefs, farmers, policymakers and citizens to make sustainably produced food a reality for ALL Americans.

When my U.S. Delegate application to attend Slow Food’s Terra Madre in Turin, Italy, was accepted, I was humbled and honored.  We had few delegates attending from the Washington D.C. area, and it consisted mainly of farmers, artisan producers and food activists.  I was the only chef, and wish that more from our region, the epicenter of policy creation in the country, could have attended.

Some of the most talked about issues at Terra Madre focused on accessibility of sustainable food to all - not only from a logistical perspective, i.e. more direct and efficient transport from farmer to consumer - but from the perspective of “slow food” affordability for all economic levels. I don’t expect this to be achieved in 2011, but I’d love to see us as an industry take those small steps to make it happen - we owe it to our guests, to our staff, to our farmers and to our communities.

I had the pleasure of attending the conference with my friend and well-known farmer, Bev Eggleston, whose ethically raised and grass-fed meats are available at restaurants and farmers markets across the region.  Bev and his wife Janelle are tirelessly committed to a sustainable farming model that is good for the farmer, the animal, the consumer and the environment.  One of Bev’s greatest operational challenges is the logistics, and how he, as a small farmer, must work 24/7 to deliver his product to restaurants and markets throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

While it is a frustrating challenge, his presence in Turin, surrounded by hundreds of inspired leaders, farmers, chefs and advocates from around the globe, reinvigorated him, and reminded us that together, we can all make a difference.  It was then that I had really wished for more government and policy representation within the U.S. delegation - it was our missing link.  Add that to my list of what I want to see next year: some U.S. policymakers at Terra Madre 2011.

Now more than ever, chefs and restaurants are impacting food trends, policy, and consumer opinion on crucial issues within our food system, as we’ve recently seen with the likes of Tom Colicchio and Jamie Oliver on school lunch reform and food safety. Some question our involvement, and while we’re not all as well-known as the Colicchio’s and Oliver’s of the world, I fundamentally believe that we as chefs have a responsibility - to our patrons and to our communities - to serve food that is good and safe, and to do so as sustainably as possible.  If we are dedicated to that responsibility, then by all means, we should take an active role in this movement - inside and outside of our kitchens.

By the very nature of what we do, we are intimately involved in the food system. We feed people, we depend on farmers and producers for what we feed to those people and a lot of natural resources are spent to grow, harvest and transport this food.  As chefs, we may be small fish in a big sea, but we are in every community from Main Street to Wall Street to Pennsylvania Avenue, and we can help deliver the basic mantra of slow food: good, clean and fair. And if I learned anything at Terra Madre, it’s that our pursuit of good, clean, and fair food has come a long way in the U.S., but we still have a very long way to go.

If we as a society really want to move the needle on making sustainable food accessible to all, and not just an elite few, we need the buy-in and support, not only of farmers, but of chefs, policymakers, business leaders, local governments and the people at large.  While Washington may be the center of policy creation, inspiring steps can be made in communities small and large around the country. By showcasing success through these measures, communities will see the benefits, and change can happen.  Take for instance San Francisco’s plastic bag ban, a small measure that has spread to cities like Portland and Washington, D.C.

While bans on plastic bags may appear to be a minor gesture, the benefits are huge.  Chefs and other professionals in the food industry can learn from this and apply small steps to create opportunities for a tidal wave of change.  At Poste, I work tirelessly to find ways to both reduce waste and to source sustainably produced food for my guests and my staff.  I won’t lie, it's not easy - but it is worth every effort.  My wish for 2011 is to reduce even more waste, source even more local and sustainable food and to see even more chefs and restaurateurs join this movement so we can make this a reality for ALL people.

In the meantime, my food-inspired call to action in 2011 is for all of us - chefs, policymakers, farmers, citizens - to get involved in what ultimately affects our food system and our planet.  Recycle more.  Find some reusable shopping bags if you haven’t already. Get involved in a community garden, and find gardening projects that benefit people in low-income communities. Support your local farmers and join a CSA. Eat what’s in season. Compost - restaurants can band together and reduce costs to do this, and for individual citizens in the D.C. area, check out Compost Cab.

Here’s to good, clean and fair food in 2011! Happy New Year.

soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. beckee

    organic food seems to be safer than the hybrids thay come out with. in the last 20 years i have heard more medical problems arise than i did before. hormones in milk causing early puberty in girls... cancer running rampid... various other disorders. so kudos to the chefs embracing local grown fresh good food. everyone can enjoy organic food fairly cheaply. try a fresh tomato you grew and taste the difference.

    December 30, 2010 at 3:05 am |
  2. antiorganic

    1) farmers markets and the grown locally mentality are tricky as frequently the carbon footprint of small producers is greater per piece of produce than conventionally grown industrial fruit of vegetables.
    2) grass fed/free range animals are not sustainable. Every study suggests that the US alone we would need the state of Pennsylvania to produce free range chickens and every last acre of wild land in the US to meet our demand for beef.
    3) free range is a luxury at the expense of wild lands and nature.
    4) if you want to help the environment and produce food sustainable, make food production efficient and increase productivity per acre.

    December 28, 2010 at 10:19 pm |
  3. smartone

    Bans on plastic I have to use those disgusting fabric ones and wash them all the time, wasting water, and you want me to pay four or five or ten times as much for the same food at these local markets that also have inconvenient hours (some of us have jobs), that are outside in the heat. You also want me to do what with my trash w/o bags for it? How about if I bring it to your neighborhood in a paper bag and leave it on your lawn.

    December 28, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
    • Evil Grin

      Are you saying that you use your grocery store plastic bags for your trash? Because that's what the ban on bags is. Besides, you can actually find biodegradable trash bags if you're interested, which you may not be.

      I've been using cloth bags for groceries for quite awhile. I find them pretty convenient, and I don't have a zillion plastic grocery store bags going to waste sitting in a container for me to reuse, or being dumped directly into the trash. I only wash the bags once in awhile and I toss them in with my laundry, so there's not really any wasted water.

      Most of the problem people have with not using plastic grocery bags is that it's slightly less convenient for them. That's just not a good enough excuse for me.

      December 28, 2010 at 2:39 pm |

    I applaude you on your efforts. Composting 40,000 pounds – that's amazing!

    I love hearing chefs trying to make a difference! Great job!!!

    December 28, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
  5. MicheleG

    Agree. Less plastic is better and I like to go to the local "Farmer's Markets" where locally grown produce can be bought.

    December 28, 2010 at 11:32 am |
  6. Evil Grin

    I support bans on plastic bags, wholeheartedly. Don't use them myself if I don't have to. I wish it was not just DC that was spearheading this effort, though I realize that they probably had a much more urgent reason.

    December 28, 2010 at 10:43 am |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants

      Me, too. Paper bags work so much better on fugly people.

      "Awaiting Moderation..." timer: BEGIN.

      December 28, 2010 at 11:05 am |
      • Evil Grin

        Well it's still here for now...

        December 28, 2010 at 11:07 am |
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