At the first day of the New York Times Food For Tomorrow conference, Mario Batali, Tom Coliccio, and Andrea Reusing discussed the role chefs can play in sustainable and healthy food systems. Their conversation yesterday was well-timed. Just a few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal ran an opinion piece by Julie Kelly urging Colicchio and policy-minded chefs like him to "please stick to your pots and pans ... And leave the proselytizing to the politicians."
"There's a lot of things that are invisible in our food system, and you can see them and find them in restaurants." - Andrea Reusing
Colicchio, Reusing, Batali, and moderator Sam Sifton, Food Editor at the New York Times, offered an impassioned argument against the opinion that chefs should stay in the kitchen. Reusing — a vocal advocate for farmers' rights — put it succinctly: "There's a lot of things that are invisible in our food system, and you can see them and find them in restaurants." Reusing also highlighted the ways chefs can inspire people to try new and more sustainable foods. "Chefs have a big role in realigning flavor and the idea of what tastes good," she said. "We're on this quest to find things that are edible and barely edible; we talk a lot about bugs, we talk a lot about bones." She also argued that chefs have a role in educating consumers how to cook.
Batali focused on how chefs promote small farmers in the most basic economic ways. He explained that farmers benefit from "chefs, who create a demand amongst both their customers and restaurant, but also by sharing that love for those ingredients, the ability for [the farmers] to charge full price at their greenmarket for farmers market." He also noted that passionate chefs will buy the farmers' produce for "retail prices at wholesale volume." Batali further spoke to chefs' ability to demystify cooking. "My fastest and easiest way to help get this ball rolling is... trying to convince people not to go to Popeye's and instead to buy wings at a very good price at their big box store and cook them at their house."
"Chefs create a demand." — Mario Batali
Colicchio approached the panel from the perspective of food policy, a subject close to his heart as a board member of Food Policy Action. "We don't have political will in this country to fix hunger," he said. "We can be a part of this food movement, and we can come up through the grass roots, and I think that's great, but at some point we need to turn this social movement into a political movement .... We need to address the politics [and] the underlying policies." Video of the panel discussion, which took place at the Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture, is below. Go, watch: