Last month we sent our Student Director (Emily Robinson) to the CIA’s Menus of Change Conference. Here is a brief recap of Emily’s experience.
From June 18th-20th, an international collection of business professionals, academics and chefs came together for the 7th annual Menus of Change Conference at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Menus of Change focuses on sharing tactics towards sustainable development in the restaurant and food-service industry by analyzing trend development, current research and technical issues. This year’s event felt a bit different as the conference was overshadowed by a newfound sense of urgency to push sustainable development in our industry as supported by recent findings in climate change emergency. On Day 1, you could feel the delegates lean in to the words of the speakers awaiting an imaginary bible of environmental solutions to combat our global food crisis. As it turns out, this bible exists, and it’s called the EAT Lancet Commission on Food, Planet and Health. The Commission answers one of the most pressing questions of this generation: “Can we feed 10 billion people on a healthy diet within planetary boundaries?”. In bringing together more than 30 scientists from across the globe, they have reached a scientific consensus on the ideal diet for both human and planetary health. In the interest of oversimplifying the overwhelming data and support that EAT Lancet entails, we can essentially narrow down our direction into two instructions. We must:
- Shift towards a globally plant-forward diet, and
- Reduce our food waste by half.
Moving into Day 2 of the Conference, we were given the tools to tackle these movements through various panels, talks, and breakout sessions. We discussed tapping into pre-established diets that have proven successfully in-line with plant-forward such as the Mediterranean diet. We examined the multitude of benefits to human and environmental health that this diet has exhibited over centuries. We also discussed how a shift in our mentality and consumption of carbohydrates can positively affect plant-based dining, human health and crop diversity. Sources of whole-grains, ancient grains, and vitamin rich starches are excellent, calorically efficient plant foods that are beneficial to human health in providing lasting energy and micro-nutrients. By expanding our grain portfolio and reducing consumption of refined grains, we are also promoting a diverse agricultural landscape. This brings us to another solution: increasing biodiversity. Species extinction is an inevitable byproduct of climate change, however by incorporating more diverse foods into our diets we are supporting different crops and enriching the soil. Another point we focused on is the obstacle of converting to a plant-forward kitchen and exploring what that looks like. We discussed how this is an opportunity for chefs to explore different flavours and to increase their skills and power of the Chef’s Voice. We also looked at the differences between plant and animal proteins, and (shocker!) there really isn’t any difference! Plants are an equally viable source of protein and arguably more beneficial in that they also contribute dietary fiber and vital micro-nutrients. In the interest of a more sustainable kitchen in general, we also acknowledged that we need to move towards a fair, responsible, and comfortable kitchen environment with a better work-life balance and open-minded, development-focused leadership. Education is arguably the most important component across these platforms, as we need to continue to educate staff, patrons, and leaders to feel empowered to move forward with sustainable initiatives.
On Day 3, we continued learning how to practice sustainable restaurants through workshops on reducing food waste in kitchens, and hearing from inspiring organizations such as the Chef’s Manifesto; a group working to connect chefs across the globe and gain momentum on sustainable kitchens. We analyzed some of the reasons people make food purchases and why these differ across countries. For example, in the United States most people rank their food choices based on:
- Weight loss
These reasons are all for self-oriented purposes with no focus on global well-being. We also dialed in on the massive role sustainable fishing has in the climate change epidemic. Shifting towards a diverse amount of fish species and practicing ethical fishing is critical, especially as the plant-forward movement promotes seafood over red meats, so long as they are sustainably sourced. We found that overall the most important thing we can do is educate our customers and our public about the drastic impacts their food choices have on the planet every day.
In wrapping up the conference, we were left with an overwhelming amount of inspiration to move forward with sustainable choices. In this position, it’s difficult to know how to translate your inspiration so that others will be equally passionate in changing their own behaviour. The best way we can create this movement is to lead by example, to educate those around us, and ultimately by cooking delicious, sustainable food. Let us mindfully eat our way into a bright future.