American Cuisine at the Intersection of Food and Social Issues

Interview by Billy Shore

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

This episode marks the one year anniversary of Add Passion and Stir, and we celebrate with a special introduction from the legendary Jeff Bridges, who serves as national spokesperson for Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. How can you make a difference if you are passionate about the intersection of food and political, social, and environmental issues? “Mindfulness and inquisitiveness, which go hand in hand,” says Mitchell Davis, Executive Vice President of The James Beard Foundation. “The more questions we can ask about where food comes from, the more mindful we are about the decisions we make. By asking questions, you force change and transparency into a system that is otherwise opaque in so many ways,” says Davis. Michael Anthony, long-time Share Our Strength supporter and Chef/Partner at the landmark Gramercy Tavern in New York, agrees. “The future is restaurants that are tuned in and listening carefully. The questions can be profound about where does the food come from, how is it produced, who works in your restaurant, how are they paid, where do they live?,” he says. We can all make a difference by asking these questions.

These social activists also discuss the legacy of James Beard, the father of American cuisine, and delve into how his namesake foundation is continuing his vision of building a vibrant and unique values-based food culture in the US. One of the pillars of the James Beard Foundation’s work is the Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change, where chefs get training and support to use their platform and celebrity to impact issues important to them like hunger, sustainable agriculture or immigration. “Cultivating leadership and diversity and infusing values is what we want American food to be,” says Davis. Chef Anthony was a participant in the first Chefs Boot Camp thirteen years ago. He models his activism at Gramercy Tavern. “Everyday we’re focused on engaging, listening to our staff, articulating our point of view and vision,” he says. The Boot Camp now has 200 alumni, many of whom are using the skills they learned to be active in national and community level social issues. “[There is] tremendous work going on across the spectrum of issues and policies. One thing that was really important was the idea that we could grow a network… that leads to systemic change,” says Davis.

Get inspired by the past, present, and future of American cuisine and the power of chef activists.

Resources and Mentions:

No Kid Hungry

Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign is ending child hunger in America by ensuring all children get the healthy food they need, every day.

Root Cause Coalition

The Root Cause Coalition is a national, member-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing the root causes of health disparities by focusing on hunger and other social determinants leading to nationwide epidemic of preventable chronic health conditions.

The James Beard Foundation

The James Beard Foundation’s mission is to celebrate, nurture, and honor chefs and other leaders making America’s food culture more delicious, diverse, and sustainable for everyone. A cookbook author and teacher with an encyclopedic knowledge about food, the late James Beard was a champion of American cuisine. He helped educate and mentor generations of professional chefs and food enthusiasts, instilling in them the value of wholesome, healthful, and delicious food. Today JBF continues in the same spirit by administering a number of diverse programs that include educational initiatives, food industry awards, scholarships for culinary students, publications, chef advocacy training, and thought-leader convening.

Gramercy Tavern

One of America’s most beloved restaurants, Gramercy Tavern has welcomed guests to enjoy its contemporary American cuisine, warm hospitality, and unparalleled service for over two decades. Chef Michael Anthony’s fiercely seasonal menu consists of elegant dishes with a rustic influence that showcase the restaurant’s relationships with local farms and purveyors. Union Square Hospitality Group has created some of New York’s most beloved restaurants, cafes, and bars, which offer outstanding food delivered with our signature warmth and hospitality.

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