Most often, food changes when leading chefs change it.
An inventive chef short on salad ingredients in winter made the world’s first raw kale salad. Chefs are experimenting with seaweed. Dan Barber of New York’s Blue Hill Restaurant encourages farmers to grow a kind of squash he can use every part of, so less is wasted.
Change in food comes from the top, because in cuisine, chefs are at the top of the food chain. But what about when change comes from an ice cream shop?
The idea of recyclable food waste is no stranger to many environmentally conscious cities. A few to name are Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle. For years, these cities and their environmentally sustainable residents and innovators have tried to reduce food waste, largely through non-profit organizations and government initiatives. Yet in 2017, Salt and Straw, a trendy Portland-based ice cream shop, reignited news about recyclable food through a new series of flavors made only through food waste. This idea brought on a multitude of news articles and interested consumers who wanted to try unique flavors made from recycled food.
Does the future of food lie with similar trendy food and dessert joints, with caramel ribbon-laced ice cream flavors that are sustainably sourced? Is the revolution going to be from the bottom up, from storefront to storefront?
It’s important to note that sustainable food is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it’s an existing niche field for many restaurants and food providers, and cities are increasing their involvement in encouraging sustainable food systems (Portland, San Francisco, Austin, Seattle and Salt Lake City, to name a few). An article by Cities Today even suggests that cities act as “brokers” in bringing together solution-seekers to create a better food system. Restaurants have an enlightened self-interest about being sustainable. It saves them money. They can use more of the food they order and throw out less.
But if so many cities are developing better food policies why are we not seeing the change the environment and our food system needs? The number of farms continue to shrink in the U.S.: Larger farms are expanding while smaller ones are dying out, signifying the growth of corporate farming with models that are largely unsustainable. The United Nations still report a ridiculous amount of food wasted each year: approximately 1.3 billion tons worldwide.
The point is: consuming sustainable food has barely become mainstream, or considered popular, in society. People have become increasingly aware of food waste and the environmental impacts of our current food system, but the majority still have yet to shift towards sustainable, mindful consumption.
Hold that thought, let’s bring it back to the hipster trendy food joints (let’s be real — that’s why you clicked on this article).
A popular ice cream shop, like Salt & Straw, holds immense potential in shifting the mindset of its consumers. By simply integrating recyclable food flavors into its already decadent menu, Salt & Straw was able to reduce food waste while creating a buzz around the topic itself. It doesn’t take a complete revamp of a restaurant’s menu to support sustainable goods. Salt & Straw effortlessly shows us how small steps really do matter in this journey towards a better food system.
So that returns to the question — why small, trendy food joints? The social media power that these restaurant brands harness is unique: The ability to snap a photo of your (aesthetically pleasing) meal from a hipster haven has increased the share-ability of food and, arguably, allows for more discussion around meals, replacing the mindless, fast consumption of processed foods popular years ago.
Of course, many would argue that the future of food lies in the hands of corporations and individuals much more powerful than your favorite succulent-decorated, wood furnished lunch spot. Although fast food giants like McDonald’s can easily shift the trajectory of the food industry (just look at McDonald’s commitment to sustainable beef) itself, small food joints are much more localized and personal to food consumers. Large corporations and industries are also quick to assume that their practices are already “sustainable,” without reflecting on the long-term effects of their food production process.
The culture surrounding local hipster, middle-class eateries is different These restaurants have the ability to re-define food, from supporting local farms to using sustainable and recyclable food, and play a large role in the future of the food system.