Food Citizen: Changing the World one Plate at a Time | William S. Dissen | TEDxAsheville

Food Citizen: Changing the World one Plate at a Time | William S. Dissen | TEDxAsheville


Translator: Mirjana Čutura
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven Food citizen: changing the world
one plate at a time. How many of you have ever worked
in a restaurant? Had to serve others? Cooked for someone? Taken out their trash? Sounds glamorous, right? Well, it did for me,
and I got the restaurant bug early. My career started as a dishwasher
and evolved to become a prep cook and then a line cook. Then one day, the chef comes to me and says that Johnny, the sous chef,
isn’t coming in to work today, and he wants me to be the chef, managing people, placing the orders,
running the kitchen. For the first time in my career, I had to come out of my shadow,
and look up from what I was cooking, and talk to people as an authority. Then years go by, and one day, the owner comes into the restaurant and says, “Our executive chef is leaving,
and I want you to take the position.” Whoa! Big time. Moving up in the world. This is the time in your career
when your name goes on the menu. And it’s now your kitchen,
and with the role comes responsibility. You have to manage a team of people, analyze costs, and make sure people like your food. Now you have to not only manage
a team of people, but you have to walk
through those kitchen doors. I had to talk to people now. And with this opportunity, I learned that I had to craft my story and find my voice to tell the message
of my food and my restaurant. No longer was I just
a dishwasher or a cook, I was a chef, a business owner,
a constituent, a member of the community, a food citizen. But the story doesn’t start there. Go back to a quieter time,
before social media and smartphones. Seventy-five years ago,
farm-to-table was a way of life. Remember your grandparents? Most of them were farmers
or grew gardens to feed their families. Our nation lived a more
agrarian culture and lifestyle. And growing our own food,
putting up produce, preservation of food was a day-to-day task. Fast forward to today, and we live in a fast-food,
fast-paced world where almost 20 percent of our meals
are found behind the wheel of a car. Through my work as a chef and owner
of The Market Place Restaurant, I found that I can change
the way people think about food as well as their relationships with food. You can learn a lot about people
by what they eat and how they eat. Food is the gateway to culture,
to history, and to heritage. When was the last time you accomplished
anything in a meeting in the boardroom? Real change happens when we break bread and add some social lubrication
to the conversation. Culinary diplomacy goes further than
any sales pitch I’ve ever heard. As chefs, what we decide
to put on our menus and ultimately on the plate at your table has a great impact on the world around us. Our food culture in America
has grown beyond meat and potatoes, and people are beginning to think again
about their health, and the food they eat, and the wealth and health
of their communities. And now many people
are beginning to vote with their fork. Cooks have a direct connection
between the community, and the people who grow, raise,
and forage for their food. It’s a unique connection
between the people and the land, that most Americans no longer see. But I’ve had the opportunity
to see the shift in how we eat, and, frankly, I think it’s scary. Fleeting are the days
of the home-cooked meal. Now only about half of America
sits down for dinner together every night at the family table. Really, it’s facts like these that have lead me to learning
more about cooking and really more about why we eat
the way we do here in the US. Throughout my travels, I’ve seen both first-world
and third-world countries around the globe. In poor countries, they tend
to make more with very little. While they may not have
the surplus of food or healthcare we do here in wealthier countries, they’re more connected to the land,
and what they’re directly growing, and how they feed their families. They still cook. As our American lifestyle
continues to get busier, we’re eating out more and more, so it’s increasingly important
to make good choices about the food we eat
when we’re out in town or when we’re eating on the go. So, why should you care
about a chef’s voice? Nowadays, media’s constantly filled
with chef interviews, TV cooking shows, the next food craze. Like it or not, we’re out there. And chefs are no longer a blue-collar,
behind-the-scenes profession. We are community builders,
business owners, and large employers in our communities. Through food, we’re able to shape business models
that are sustainable and are examples for other
businesses to model after. We keep our money in local communities. We know that by supporting
the well-being of the community, that, in turn, our community
will support us, creating a symbiotic relationship. And we take time to make relationships
with our growers and artisan producers, so we know how our ingredients are grown. We’ve made a connection back to the land the way our grandparents
and great-grandparents used to. Real food for real people. And we think you can taste it. Chefs can play a role
in becoming active food citizens, helping to shape the health
and the economy of their communities by sparking local food movements, reaching out to our politicians
as small business owners to demand better regulations
for issues like school nutrition, fishing regulations
for more sustainable seafood, and better SNAP benefits, or Supplemental
Nutrition Assistance Programs, for at-risk and at-need communities. And this creates better food for all. Second to doctors, people look to chefs
and those who cook their food for advice and input on their health. That’s a powerful statistic. Our voice as chefs is strong. People are listening, and eating, and now voting with their forks. If we want to have vibrant communities
with strong local economies, food comes first. And if we can shape the health
and nutrition of our local communities, we can shift our economy and truly create
a more sustainable way of living. My town of Asheville
is undoubtedly a foodtopia. It’s a land of plenty. We have many farms,
weekly farmers’ markets, and abundant access
to fresh water and wild foods. It’s great to live
in a Portlandia episode, where we have access to local,
and organic, and farm fresh. But what does it look like
outside our bubble? Just right outside of Asheville
is one of the biggest food deserts in the Southeast, where access to food is limited, and people are not eating
up to US nutritional standards. This doesn’t seem right. Everyone deserves access
to fresh, healthy food. So as food citizens, it’s our responsibility to look
beyond the people who have and look to the people who have not, working together to make change for all. As our world has industrialized, it’s prompted major shifts
in our food system. A few examples here. The rural workforce employed on US farms
dropped by about 50 percent in the ’80s and ’90s. In the late 1800s, over 70 percent
of the American workforce worked on farms. Today, about 15 percent
of our workforce works on farms. Only one percent of all the farms
in the world are larger than 50 hectares, but they control about 65 percent
of the world’s agricultural land. In our country, twenty million school-age children
eat school lunch every day. Thirteen million
of those school-age children are now on fairly subsidized school meals, and the feds only allot one dollar
per day per student. I don’t know about you all, but it’s pretty tough to feed somebody
on one dollar a day. I don’t know if I could do it. The US is the only country globally
to not label products for genetically
modified organisms or GMOs. Most countries globally
give their citizens the right to know what’s in their food. Federal fisheries
are also being depleted from overfishing and ocean acidification
due to climate change. Species like bluefin tuna
are now at only three percent of their original numbers. So, what’s next? It can’t all be bad, can it? We need to take back the land
and take back our health. Rural economies are the key factor
in our food system. Among the hidden costs
of industrial food production, are its effects on small family farms
and rural communities, which include the loss
of nearly four million farms in the US since the 1930s. Sustainable farms support local economies by providing growing jobs
for members of the community and purchasing supplies
from local businesses. A University of Minnesota study
showed that small farms make the biggest contributions
to spending within their local economies to operate their farms. Locally-owned farms
have a multiplier effect. For every dollar the farm spends
in the community, a percentage remains in local economy, contributing to the economic
health of the community. So by eating as close
to the plant as possible, we’re diminishing the process
the industrialized food goes through. So it’s a lot of information, and I’m sure you’re thinking
it’s probably time for a drink. So let’s talk about wine. Take a look at how winemakers
harvest their grapes. As a grape matures and ripens on the vine, its brix level,
or the natural sugar level, in the grape grows. So vintners are looking for
the most mature, ripest grapes to make the best wine. Riper grapes equal more natural sugar, which equals alcohol
and better tasting wine. But the same is true
for all fruits and vegetables. The closer we can harvest from the plant
at the highest level of ripeness, the brighter the color,
the better the flavor, and the more nutrients
in those fruits and vegetables. When we buy food
that’s grown across the world, it’s being grown
to a state of under-ripeness. So that means when you want to eat
strawberries in January, they’re coming
from thousands of miles away and are being picked in an immature state, so the flavor, the color,
and the nutrients aren’t there in the same way
when a vegetable ripens on the plant. So the formula’s simple. Eat closer to the farm,
eat healthy by eating local. Increasing sustainable food production
results from concerned consummers making informed, responsible choices. Vote with your dollar,
and vote with your fork. By purchasing sustainable foods
from your local farmers’ market, local restaurants, or grocery store, you support the farmers
who are raising food responsibly and actively encourage the growth
of a more sustainable food system. Wherever possible, instead of spending
your money on industrialized agriculture, give it to a small, sustainable farmer. Buy foods directly at farmers’ markets,
farm stands, or through your CSA. Tell your school boards
that you want healthier communities and higher standards for school nutrition. Tell your politicians, and tell them to vote with their fork. Get involved, and let your voice be heard. Be a food citizen. Let’s change the world
one plate at a time. (Applause)

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