When one thinks about what it means to be a chef, whether celebrity or not, aiding in the fight against global poverty does not usually seem to be a prerequisite. However, as foodie culture is in its heyday in the United States, chefs are becoming more publicized in the fight against hunger, as well as bringing unfamiliar cultures to Americans via food. In addition, they often play custodians of the world via sustainability.
The history of chefs in the fight against global poverty within the U.S. and abroad is brief but significant. The creativity and innovation that chefs use to aid the less fortunate and encourage sustainability are inspiring and motivating, encouraging people to think outside the box.
Chefs and Other Cultures
The essence of a chef is that they are there to serve or at least there to create a dish for guests to enjoy. Though chefs all over the world prepare creative, exquisite and unimaginable meals, the thought that they can serve something other than food is overlooked. However, when one digs more into the existentially philosophical explanation of what chefs do in the modern era, it becomes apparent that chefs are not just serving food to their guests; they are also familiarizing guests with recipes from other cultures.
For example, when debating the best foodie destinations, many people start by naming the classics like Paris, Rome or Naples. However, when chefs serve dishes inspired by other cultures around the world, they shift the paradigm by making people familiar with places often overlooked. Anthony Bourdain’s show, “Part’s Unknown”, is an example of bringing people’s attention to different cultures; Bourdain used his reputation as a world-renowned chef to showcase the food and cultures of places that food critics do not usually discuss. He brought viewers to Tanzania, Trinidad and numerous other destinations that Americans forget as cultural destinations. Bourdain did this not by visiting the most elite restaurants in these places, but by eating the food of local street vendors and home cooked meals with the locals.
Nicholas Verdisco and No Kid Hungry
Portland chef, Nicholas Verdisco, a Jean-Georges alumni, spoke about the accessibility of other cultures in an interview with The Borgen Project, but speaking about the similarities between cultures: “Most cultures have a stuffed dough whether it be fried or steamed, think ravioli, dumplings or empanadas… [Simply] Flour and water.” Essentially, cultures have much more in common than one may think. People should not stray from various foods because they are different but enjoy them because of their similarities to more familiar foods. This is an important lesson when discussing how to familiarize different cultures to mainstream America.
Verdisco also talked about how he and other chefs fight against global poverty and poor living conditions. Verdisco focuses on feeding children that are hungry by working with multiple charity organizations, such as No Kid Hungry, a charitable organization that is working to end child hunger in the United States by providing children with access to food. Verdisco says that chefs feel that there is still a chance for children to not worry about where their next meal may come from. He also envisions that food may be their way out of poverty and its symptoms.
Other Chef Endeavours and Sustainability
Along these lines, many other chefs have worked with organizations that battle tough issues like hunger and child poverty; chefs have even created their own organizations. Notably, Jose Andres created Think Food Group which is an organization that attempts to bring food to those in need via education and innovation. Massimmo Botura created Food for Soul, which fights “food waste through social inclusion.”
Upon the lines of food waste, sustainability is also an important area of focus for many chefs around the world. Chef Verdiso told The Borgen Project, “I was raised to eat sustainable… Italians shop a couple of times a week. As a kid growing up I seemed to be at the grocery store all the time… It was definitely not a one stop and get all the shopping done… Now as a chef I write menus with the seasons and with the location of where I am cooking, try[ing] to buy from local farms.”
In terms of food waste, Chef Verdisco notes that chefs’ hands are tied behind their backs with the regulation of food disposal. Food redistribution is difficult without an organization like Think Food Group and most food redistribution organizations are understaffed, to begin with.
Never before have chefs had such an important role in reducing poverty and hunger. Advocacy groups and charitable organizations, sometimes created by chefs, allow chefs to reduce hunger and childhood poverty. With sustainability as a focal point, chefs are also, now more than ever, creating less food waste and a more educated citizenry through serving local and fresh foods. What people must keep in mind, though, is that many organizations that chefs work with suffer understaffing. Also, red tape makes it difficult for chefs to send food to various organizations after restaurants no longer need it.
– Kurt Thiele