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How NYC's Restaurant Industry Would Change the World Through Food

How would you change the world through food? Local experts weigh in.

To mark the relaunch of Eater today, the Features team compiled a collection of seventy-two of the best ideas for how people around the world are or how they plan to or how they want to change the world through food. A lot of the ideas are incredibly earnest. Some are ambitious beyond reason. But what they all have in common is a belief that, with hard work and good food, the world is headed in the right direction.

As a local component to this feature, we asked the New York City community to chime in. So check out the national responses over here and scroll below to see what local thinkers and doers would like to do to change the world through food. Have a suggestion? Add it to the comments.

Ruth Reichl, author, former editor of Gourmet, and former New York Times restaurant critic: We’re all born hungry. But we live in a world in which half the population gets too little food, the other half too much. It’s a dangerous situation, which will grow more dangerous as water becomes increasingly scarce. If we don’t do something, and quickly, water wars will be our future.

The quickest fix, as I see it, is education. Eating is learned behavior, and we need to teach our children — all of our children — how to eat better. So much is wrong with our food systems: the way we grow it, distribute it, tax it, manufacture it, sell it and advertise it are all problematic. But if children all around the world learned how much their food choices matter, we could change much of that in the next generation.

And if we don’t? We’re in trouble.

Bill Telepan, chef and owner of Telepan and Telepan Local: Food has the power to change the world. It brings people together. I love to cook for people; not only at my two restaurants (Telepan & Telepan Local), but also during my time off at home. It just makes me happy, so why not spread the happiness? The way I would change the world through food is by teaching people to cook. While I already teach children how to cook as Executive Chef of Wellness in the Schools, I also want to teach adults. A lot of people have gotten away from cooking because they are either too busy or simply overwhelmed by all the choices. Cooking for oneself has become lost, and I want to bring that back. Not only is it healthier, but there’s a great social aspect to it. And you have to admit that the instant gratification from cooking a delicious dish from start to finish is priceless.

Anita Lo, chef and owner of Annisa: Food is culture. It is an expression of identity. Perhaps if you can get people to open their minds to new foods, you have opened the door to further acceptance. After all, they say food brings people together.

Erin Fairbanks, executive director of Heritage Radio Network: Everything about our world is shaped by food. Since the beginning it has determined where we live, the design of our cities, the shape of our landscapes, the width of our midsections, the size of our brain, it's a reflection of our humanity — our production of it separates man from beast. How would I change the world through food? We're all eaters, with every bite we're selecting our future world, our future selves. The food system is facing some big challenges as we look to feeding a population of 9 billion by 2050. In my life, whenever I've been confronted with big problems I've trusted in the power of people — get enough smart, passionate people in a room and solutions will emerge. My job at Heritage Radio Network is to fill the room and to ask good questions. That's what I'm doing.

Amanda Cohen, chef and owner of Dirt Candy: Before we start running around trying to change the world I’d like to see chefs and restaurant owners change some of the lousy working conditions in our own restaurants. Where’s the conversation about raising the minimum wage and paying our dishwashers better? Why aren’t more chefs advocating for reform of the immigration system? I’ll take a conversation about changing the world seriously when New York City’s restaurant industry has addressed the massive income disparity between back-of-house and front-of-house, when we have maternity leave and health care and real benefits for our workers, and when we find a way to fix the problems inherent in commercial leases.

Jonathan Butler and Eric Demby, co-founders of The Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg, co-owners of Berg'n: In Brooklyn at least, food has empowered small businesses to grow quickly, hire locally, and source regionally (and responsibly), while boosting the borough’s brand nationally and globally. We’d love to see that kind of food chain take root all over the world — it makes for a stronger economy, and more delicious food.

Laura Maniec, owner of Corkbuzz and master sommelier: I think that change always begins with education. Our goal at Corkbuzz has always been to inform our guests, from the wine their drinking and what region it’s from to where the cheese they’re eating came from and what farm their produce was grown at. It’s not enough anymore to just put down a dish and say, "Oh, this is chicken with hazelnut and farro. Enjoy!" You need to tell them how the farro is prepared and what’s special about the hazelnut. Now, I’m not saying to go to Portlandia extremes and leave your restaurant to find the farm your chicken was raised in, but people are thirsty for this information; they want to know where their food is coming from. The only way that we’re going to bring about innovation and amazing quality is through educating people, but not turning them off. It can’t be something pretentious or preachy. We realize there’s a need for classes like the ones offered at Corkbuzz, but we also realize that they need to be approachable and unintimidating conversations. So we’re trying, in our own little, humble way, to change the world through our food and wine education programs.

Floyd Cardoz, chef of White Street, former chef of North End Grill: 1) Something my grandmother told me: utilize everything and waste nothing. Get creative ways to utilize every cut of meat available. Use the whole animal. 2) Eat seasonal and local. It's nice eating strawberries from South America in the middle of winter, but nothing beats what a strawberry from New York State eaten in New York State tastes like in middle of summer. 3) Balance your meals. Eat all food groups— protein, vegetables, carbs— in the way and proportion that they are designed to be eaten. Eat more vegetables. 4) Cook at home. You'll bring your culture to your family. It keeps age-old recipes and tradition alive. Follow traditional ways of doing things, which will sustain small businesses like butchers, bread bakers and fish mongers.

Kerry Diamond, co-founder of Cherry Bomb, restaurateur, editor-in-chief of Yahoo Food: Everyone should support any women making, baking, serving and sharing food around the world. Women are peacemakers and everyone can come together around food. Go spend your money with small female-run and -owned food businesses. It will make a difference.

Mario Batali, chef, restauranteur, and co-owner of Eataly: The only way to crack the code to solve hunger in this country is to reduce food waste. We produce enough to feed every person in America, but still 1.4 million people in New York City are hungry.
—Devra Ferst contributed to this piece

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