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're asking the New Orleans community to chime in. So check out the national responses over here and add your own thoughts about how to change the world through food to the comments below— or send them through to email@example.com.
Rob Bechtold, pitmaster and owner of NOLA Smokehouse: I would like to change the world by what my food is on. We use bagasse plates and togo-ware. Our utensils are made of corn plastics. These things decompose within 60 days. Yes they do cost more than Styrofoam but the WORLD is worth it.
Poppy Tooker, author and host of Louisiana Eats: Food CAN change the world. I believe that in some unknown human anatomy - your taste buds are directly tied to your heartstrings. That is why the taste (or scent) of some long forgotten dish can evoke deep memories of grandmothers, lost loves and happier times.
Food brings out the best in everyone. We all have to eat to live. That's the thing that unites all humans no matter their race, religion or nationality so the place where we can all come together is the table. Leah Chase has long said she believed world peace could be achieved if she could just get the warring parties to sit down at Dooky Chase Restaurant over a bowl of her gumbo.
After Hurricane Katrina, in the fall of 2005, when the L'Hoste Citrus family had a bumper crop of Louisiana citrus to sell but no markets to sell them in, Slow Food USA asked members across the country to buy $25 boxes of citrus to help them out. That holiday season, Linda L'Hoste shipped hundreds of boxes of delicious, juicy Louisiana citrus across the country - all on the promise that "the check is in the mail." It's a testimony to the inherent goodness of mankind that Linda received every single payment!
Food CAN change the world. Those who have ample food should remember those who go hungry. A full belly is a happy one and happiness makes the world go round.
Ti Martin, proprietor of Commander's Palace, Cafe Adelaide and SoBou, and spearhead of the upcoming New Orleans Culinary and Hospitality Institute: Every night at Commander's Palace I watch the magic of "breaking bread together." People from all sorts of backgrounds getting to know each other - along with those that know each other well. There is no better way to get to know someone than over a leisurely meal.
So, what if....... in a pay it forward style we all agreed to have a meal ( 6 people or less) with someone we don't know well that has a different viewpoint than us? What if we committed to do that within 3 weeks? What if over great food and wine....we truly listened. That is what members of congress used to do. Argue the good fight all day, then go break bread together and often come together on important issues.
What if leaders of warring countries did this? Not a big scripted formal dinner, just 2 or 4 or 6 of us talking in a civilized thoughtful way?
Could they really start a war if they had just had a crawfish boil together or broken bread over an haute creole meal?
I think not.
John Besh, celebrity chef, owner of August, Domenica, upcoming Johnny Sanchez and more: The best initiative to come from our current presidential administration ironically wasn't derived by the President but rather our First Lady, who in my view, is improving the lives of countless Americans by the raising of awareness of diet and exercise of our nation's youngsters. Her actions have sparked forums aimed at stemming the epidemic of childhood obesity from one end of the country to the other. It was under this pretense that I was invited by our New Orleans' Mayor Mitch Landrieu's office to participate in part of an ongoing workshop tasked with laying the groundwork to transform not only our image but also the health of our younger citizens to the point that we become a model of good health for other cities to emulate. A lofty goal? Yes, but hey, look at what New Orleans has done in the years since the federal levees failed us on that fateful day six and a half years ago. After all, who ever thought we'd see a New Orleans void of corrupt politicians, now that's progress! Seems easy to create a healthy city out of over-stuffed and dressed oyster po-boys in comparison.
As a proponent of our region's food culture, who has never shied away from Mauthe's Creole cream cheese, Smith's butter or Blue Plate mayonnaise, some might think it ironic that I'd be given the stage to pontificate on the values and virtues of eating, or rather, cooking healthy foods. Apparently some in the audience felt that such a paradox was too great and didn't hesitate at a chance to let me know just how they felt, even though it looked like they hadn't missed a slice of king cake this Mardi Gras season, but that's besides the point. Be that as it may, I was in fact super excited to have the pulpit, in an attempt to tell my side of the story as a father of four boys ranging from elementary to high school. I see the effects of a society that has run amuck when it comes to diet and exercise everywhere. I often speak at schools all over the city and whether it be public or private, inner city or out in the wealthier suburbs, our children are quickly becoming both fat and sick and I dare to say it's not because of the over-stuffed fried oyster po-boys or even the dressed ones at that. It's because we aren't cooking any longer and certainly not sitting down with our little ones at a table, using silverware and having a proper meal. Instead we are surrendering the most important part of our children's physical wellbeing to multi-chain international fast food outlets and then crying ‘fowl' play!
Being a self professed hypocrite, I can understand those who may doubt my sincerity by preaching that foods are more often than not meant to be prepared and consumed at home, all the while I have obtained at least a small amount of fame for cooking or inspiring the cooking of one feast after the next in my beautiful New Orleans restaurants. I do realize the need for us to slow down, sit down and break bread at the family table to the point that it's the premise of my second published book MY FAMILY TABLE, by Andrews McMeel. The genesis of which came about by my questioning what my wife was feeding our boys, to her counter that if I cared half as much about feeding my family as I did about my restaurant guests that I'd travel around the world in search of the best possible ingredients, both she and the boys would be much better off. So you see, I was failing at feeding my own family and if I, a fancy pants chef can fail at this anyone can.
So to make a long story short, I shared various anecdotal stories of our time in France with pregnancy and young children verses here in the States, in particular of the lack of rules and the rule of common sense verses our hardcore rules that pertain to diet that don't seem to be working. In France, where calories aren't counted, children are more often than not sitting down to meals. They're not eating on the go, out of a paper bag and Styrofoam boxes, and many of those same children walk much more and play video games much less. I also shared other stories, ones of my childhood and eating as a New Orleanean, which means red beans and rice, pork chops, sausage, shrimp, crabs and crawfish often all fried, gumbos and gravies. We ate our food, but we ate it as a family. Boy did this roll some eyes. I know, I know we can't talk about my traditional childhood family, suddenly that's a bad thing, but can't we pretend our children are at least important enough to eat real food at a real table and play, preferably outside, real hard. Aren't some of these remedies just that obvious? As a product of the New Orleans metropolitan area, we ate without rules, but with common sense. Of course chicken didn't have fingers then, they had bones and if you ate fried chicken then you'd have to figure out how to negotiate the gambit of vertebra and wing bones. French fries were eaten at most once or twice a month rather than each day. I mean really, is it this tough to figure out? So I went on to address a complex issue in very simple terms only to only be "heckled" by those that feel we can regulate restaurants to the point that our children will be happy and healthy. In response to these suggestions, I pointed to a variety of other options that may be more conducive to ridding ourselves of this evasive disease. And yet time and time again, I was scathingly lectured and interrogated about nutritional menu labeling and dietary analysis of each dish we serve at all restaurants which I reputed wouldn't solve the problem of childhood obesity until I finally threw my hands up to ask the gathering if they wanted a chef to raise and feed their children or are we to take on the responsibility ourselves. Another "doctor" of something or another stood up and accused our culture of celebrity chefs and over the top forms of cooking for influencing the way our children eat today as if to blame both Bravo and The Food Network for the high caloric diets and low exercise outputs of "little Johnny".
Now after much discernment, perhaps chefs should raise and feed our nations youngsters after all! How exactly will we do this? Much logistical effort would have to be made as well as changes to our current child labor laws, because I haven't meant a chef worth his or hers salt that didn't have an incredible work ethic and while on that thought just think of how much exercise "little Johnny" would get from just being on his feet all day, lifting, cutting, peeling, cleaning, scrubbing and heaving heavy pots all day. Yes chefs would certainly see to it that the children got a bit more exercise than they are currently used to and they'd receive OJT to boot, complete with an enthusiastic work ethic, we wouldn't have to worry about the next generation if we chef's were raising all the children. Now down to what they would eat. I haven't seen a "family meal" in any one of our restaurants that didn't include fruits and vegetables, no body drinks soft drinks, no that's way too expensive, however the children would have the option of water or ice cold water with every meal and perhaps a little iced tea if a jolt of caffeine is needed. Being raised by chefs, our newfound children will certainly be bilingual, learn to work with others, to play nicely and to have manners and respect for others, especially our guests. "Little Johnny" will also learn how to open a bottle of wine, how to drink it and how to pair it with great foods and cheeses. Real cheeses, not the processed stuff. Some might cite an elevated risk of being prone to alcoholism, but I'd counter with the fact that "little Johnny" would be a lot less likely to become that binge drinker in college who, for the first time in his life, is able consume alcohol and thus doesn't have the tools to drink responsibly. Come to think of it, our country might just be a bit better off should we confiscate all children to be raised by top tier chefs. Maybe I'll push this agenda if I should ever be invited to participate on such a forum again. I love it and I could just hear the public service announcements already. Trust me, children, I'm a chef!
Jack Petronella, owner of ManhattanJack and upcoming Altamura: One bite of my Spiedini ala Archers will change your world! With Anchovy lemon caper sauce.