Image via @matthewkenneycuisine
Matthew Kenney on why chefs are a powerful advocate for change.
This excerpt comes from PLANTLAB: Crafting the Future of Food by Matthew Kenney, a vegan chef with eight plant-based restaurants around the world. In PLANTLAB, Kenney offers recipes and techniques inspired by his experimental kitchen in Belfast, Maine. Here, he argues that chefs have as much—if not more—power than doctors and politicians when it comes to improving global health.
The role of the chef has evolved dramatically over the years. Once relegated to basement or back-of-house kitchens as the well-dressed restaurateurs stole the spotlight, chefs eventually came into their own as food critics, and gourmands began creating—and crushing—the careers of these creative cooks. There has been a major shift happening for chefs in recent days, a transition where they are now seen as influencers, leaders, teachers, and visionaries. They have a real voice. And this is a great opportunity, but also a great responsibility.
Chefs have historically dealt in pleasure, indulgence, and foods that ultimately do more harm than good to our health and the health of our planet, and cause extremely poor treatment of animals. We have a responsibility to do what is right and what is best for the world. I believe chefs have the ability to improve global health more than doctors, politicians, and educators, combined.
Most food served these days is a product of overindulgence, overprocessing and largely addictions to food that have skewed what our body really needs and wants. I feel fortunate to have learned, through years of yoga and mindfulness, about what I put in my body and by listening to my body, that what actually tastes the best is also what is good for us. Food is not meant simply to satisfy our cravings, addictions, and indulgences. It is meant to fuel us, to sustain us, to give us positive energy and create one big sustainable ecosystem. But many have gone so far off track that the only way to get back is to empower change, to educate, to inspire, and ultimately to create a full-on paradigm shift in the global food world. That is what we aspire to do.
Image via @matthewkenneycuisine
Many believe that filmmakers and journalists will be the most influential in creating this shift. Others feel that writers will educate us about this need for change, and that new, innovative brands will create alluring products to change our behavior. I believe chefs are the most powerful advocates out there. The one thing most of us do every day is eat. Billions of people, every day, are making choices about food. Those food choices are influenced by what we like to eat, economics, what the media tells us, and what is put in front of us—at home, at school, at work, and on the street, or just wherever we encounter food as we go about our daily lives.
The tipping point will happen when enough influential chefs let go of the old standard of “flavor first,” while at the same time realizing that healthier food—plant-based food—is indeed even more flavorful than conventional cuisine.
A world that largely thrives on plants, that at least becomes plant-centric, is a better world, a happier world, a healthier place, and it is a world changed. I firmly believe that chefs have the ability to do this. They are the ones buying, cooking, and serving the food, and creating choices for people. Chefs are the tastemakers. The upside for chefs is that they, too, will have longer, more sustainable careers that offer far more opportunity than just cooking. Chefs can be the educators, thought leaders, and the health influencers of the world ahead.
I like to think often about what it will look like when a couple hundred of the world’s most influential chefs (a small number, really) embrace the plant-based lifestyle and apply all their efforts, and all their influence, toward this way of living. The world would change very quickly. The planet would thank us. Animals would be saved from merciless treatment. That is the beauty of this way of life. It is in harmony with the universe. Chefs owe it to us to lead the way.
Excerpted from PLANTLAB: Crafting the Future of Food by Matthew Kenney (Regan Arts, November 2017)