Watch and Read: How Chefs Can Shape the Future of Food

by Gabe Ulla

On April 16th  the World Bank—the UN financial organization that aims to reduce poverty and help developing nations—convened a group of chefs and activists at their Washington, DC headquarters to discuss the future of food. The main question: how can those who work in kitchens help influencers at the international level in the effort to feed the world’s growing population?

The World Bank has a stated goal of ending poverty and hunger by 2030. It is a remarkable challenge: as economies in Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America develop and purchasing power increases, consumers across these cultures are adopting “Western” dietary patterns heavily focused on animal proteins. It’s created a food system in which 60% of caloric intake is covered by only five crops. To add to this, every year between a quarter and one half of all food is discarded—most of it even before reaching its intended market. Yet 800 million people go to bed hungry every night.

So, how do chefs come into the picture? How could they possibly make a significant impact on a problem that goes far beyond their kitchens and the clients they usually serve?

According to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, there is untapped innovation and knowledge in today’s leading restaurants that could be applied on a wider level: chefs are finding novel ways to turn waste into delicious food; they are challenging our cultural preconceptions and redefining notions of edibility, using ingredients that were once thought taboo and finding others people would never have thought to use; they work intimately with those who grow their food and understand the systems that need to be in place to protect them and their product; and, in some cases, they are applying their skills specifically to empower people and improve their lives.

The Future of Food session started out with an informal discussion between Momofuku chef and restaurateur David Chang and Kim, which laid out the general ideas that the World Bank and others should be tapping into. It continued with remarks from MAD’s Mark Emil Hermansen on how the quest for a better meal has far reaching implications.

This was followed by two former MAD speakers, Brazil’s David Hertz and Zimbabwe’s Chido Govera, who talked about their efforts and achievements in improving disadvantaged people’s lives through cooking and agriculture.

At the end of the talks, there was tangible proof of what Chang and the rest of the speakers had discussed: MAD Head of Research Arielle Johnson distributed rye and spent malt miso broth with soba, which had been created by using discarded barley from New York’s Brooklyn Brewery. Johnson produced the food in conjunction with Chang’s Momofuku lab, which for years now has been exploring fermentations and other ways to use waste.

At the end of the event, Kim pledged to keep things going. As reported in National Geographic, Kim committed the Bank to supporting a coalition to examine “social gastronomy” by the time of the Bank’s next annual meeting in Lima in October. “We promise that over the next six months we will engage with MAD very deeply and see if we can start a movement that really will guide us with feeding everyone on the planet.” Kim also promised to bring a coalition of chefs and food people together to address food system problems.

You can watch all the videos from the event here. Please stay tuned in the coming months as we provide updates on our continuing collaboration with Chang and the Bank.