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

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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 Seattle 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.

John Sundstrom. [Photo: Renata Steiner]

John Sundstrom, chef/owner, Lark: Don't be so wasteful! It's easy in the restaurant business to be disconnected from the value of the resources we use every day, especially in a busy white tablecloth or high end venue. Whether it's the food we prepare, the water and energy we use, or the labor involved. Think about the impact in your community and beyond just the bottom line.

Manny Arce, chef, Poquitos: I would eradicate food as a status symbol.

Ethan Stowell, chef/owner, Ethan Stowell Restaurants: I would love to see food education be a major part of our education system. I was made to take calculus and I've never used it. Why not make students take an advanced class on what they should put in their bodies, why it's important, and where it comes from?

Ericka Burke, chef/owner Volunteer Park Cafe: I would take over the McDonald's chain— bulldoze all their locations and replace them with community parks, farmers markets, pea patches and quality eateries.

Hitchcock Deli. [Photo: S. Pratt]

Brendan McGill, chef/owner, Hitchcock, Hitchcock Deli: I would provide organic farming education and nutritious meals for public school students, especially in low-income communities. My man Talib Kweli said it: ‘In order to receive, then you need to give; you gotta feed the kids; they gotta eat to live.'

Mike Easton, chef/owner Il Corvo, Pizzeria Gabbiano: Our national food system is broken, and our children lack the tools to fix it. Education has to be the root of the change. So I would make every school dig up one of its ball fields and replace it with a functioning farm, run by the students. It would be beneficial on many levels, not only teaching them quite a bit about running a business, staffing a farm stand, and wholesale distribution, but also about agriculture, nutrition, and the importance of organically grown food. Every student would also have to take cooking classes and work a month in the school cafeteria as a course credit.

Maria Hines, chef/owner Tilth, Golden Beetle, Agrodolce: Have you ever had to go on Food Stamps? Have you ever had to go hungry? To try and gain some insight, I did a 30-day food stamp trial. I thought that as a resourceful and creative chef, that I would be able to eat healthy, plenty, and pleasurably on a food stamp budget. I shopped carefully and frugally. I did big batch cooking to last most of the week. But at the end of the day, it was impossible to get enough fresh fruits and vegetables. If you are on food stamps, you only get $4 a day to spend on food. One organic avocado is $2.33. Organic food is on average 68% higher in cost.

Eating fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables should be a right, not a privilege. Last year the federal food stamp budget was lowered. In order to make sure that all individuals can eat healthy, we need to stop lowering the food stamp budget, get rid of food deserts, and we need to subsidize farms to grow "specialty crops" so farmers can be encouraged to grow them. We have a lot of legislative opportunities that can create a lot of positive change.

To make a difference on the issue as an individual, try a food stamp challenge at home for two weeks. It's a wonderful place to start in getting familiar with the issue. If we come to realize our interconnectedness with all beings on the planet, change will occur to benefit all.

Shanik. [Photo: S. Pratt]

Meeru Dhalwala, chef/owner Shanik in Seattle, Vij's and Rangoli in Vancouver: What and where we choose to eat three times a day is the biggest environmental, nutritional and social act of our daily lives. That's a lot of collective power for world change. The best way to make our food choices is keep food in our personal control, which means regularly cooking at home. When you cook for someone (or vice versa) and eat with them, they feel a subliminal, secure love and warmth that is different from the fun and ease of eating out. Whether you are a simple home cook or a chef, you are interested in food: where it comes from, what's in it, how was it grown or raised, and how does it taste compared to how much it costs. You think twice about wasting it. No one enjoys wasting love.

Grant Lee Crilly, co-founder and head of R&D, ChefSteps People all over the world are excited about food and cooking right now—they're more passionate than ever to try new recipes, new restaurants; to throw dinner parties; to gather around a table and share a great meal. But a big missing piece in the food revolution is true education and learning around cooking. When people actually learn how and why things happen in the kitchen, instead of just following recipes, they become more empowered to make great food more often. When we can educate and inform people around the science of cooking, ingredients, and techniques, we'll enable them to try new technologies, understand heat and flavor combinations, and create beautiful food.

Matt Gurney, Vice President, Social Enterprise, FareStart: For me this question isn't theoretical. My role with FareStart allows me to witness the power of food and how it changes lives, every day. As a 22-year-old Social Enterprise that provides pathways to employment in the food service industries for disadvantaged individuals, FareStart has come to rely on food as the most powerful tool we have to change the world around us.

FareStart harnesses the power of food to create a community. In our context, that community allows students to transform their lives. At its most basic, food is a requirement to merely exist. The awareness we all have of the need for food to survive immediately establishes the power food has over our lives. FareStart has deep respect for the power of food and over time both consciously and in subtle unplanned ways we have adopted the use of food to change lives.

We broaden and expand the community and circle through our other businesses; school meals, a restaurant, catering, a cafe, and Thursday Guest Chef Nights, allowing others to support our mission through dining with us. This allows our mission to spread and often makes connections for our students to chefs, volunteers, donors, and diners.

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