Chef Spike Mendelsohn Adds Food Advocacy to His Plate
Already a triple threat – celebrity chef, imaginative restaurateur and in-demand culinary consultant – Chef Spike Mendelsohn has been planting the seeds of food access and waste reduction advocacy for years, beginning at his influential Good Stuff Eatery in Washington, D.C. His work with organizations like CARE, Food Rescue US, Food Policy Action, and as the first chairman of D.C.’s Food Policy Council, stoked the passion for using his considerable industry cred to make a real impact on the food system. On a recent visit to his Chicago Good Stuff Eatery location, he graciously shared why this issue resonates deep in his soul, and how others can help solve the industry’s most meaningful challenge.
Q: Tell us about your work with CARE Chefs’ Table program.
A: We contribute to the mission of ending hunger in (developing nations) by helping reform the way food aid is implemented, teaching best practices to farmers, and empowering women to become agricultural participants. The difference we can make is humbling, but the learning goes both ways. When it comes to treating our food with respect, America is actually a very young country. www.care.org/chefstable
Q: Can an individual restaurateur make a difference?
A: Everyone contributes to the food waste problem every day, consciously or not. It starts with identifying how, as an individual operator, you can implement your own best practices in terms of what you purchase, how much you purchase and the brands you support. For example, at Good Stuff Eatery, we aim for empty walk-in coolers at the end of the day. We’re also partnering with Food Rescue US, the ‘Uber of food waste,’ to recover unused food at our D.C. pizza restaurant and deliver it to those in need. On a broader level, get involved in food policy for your state. It’s crucial to develop legislation designed to break down the hurdles to reducing food waste, or recommend tax incentives that encourage groceries to do business in food deserts.
Q: You’re involved in the D.C. Food Policy Council…how would you advise others to participate?
A: Every state should have its own food policy council, and right now about 20 have them in place. If there’s one in your area, volunteer to participate; if there’s not a council, consider starting one. While there are numerous nonprofit organizations working to influence food policy as well, our goals are similar, and we’re hoping they join us. It’s far more powerful to have many voices advocating for change, because that’s when you can actually move the needle.
Q: What is the biggest challenge ahead?
A: The political climate is a little tricky these days, especially when it comes to food. Representatives on the Hill are interested in big agro business and we have to turn the conversation to the fact that their constituents are suffering as a result of the bills they’re passing, such as the $150 million reduction to SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program). Progress in this area is going to slow down, and we need to recognize that, but the good news is that more people than ever before are paying attention to policy decisions.
Q: Do you feel hopeful about the future of food?
A: Very. I think science and research has a role to play and I’m not bashing things like GMOs because they serve a purpose. I also believe that companies committed to shining a light on food costs and food waste will succeed.
Now Available: New Food Waste Action Guide Exclusively for the Restaurant Industry
ReFED, a nonprofit organization committed to cutting food waste in the United States in half by 2030, recently launched a comprehensive 2018 Restaurant Food Waste Action Guide for the restaurant industry, in partnership with the Food Waste Reduction Alliance.
Today, the United States wastes 63 million tons, or $218 billion, of food annually. According to ReFED, prevention solutions are the most cost-effective and could reduce food waste at restaurants by 400,000 tons and add nearly $620 million in business profit potential annually. The benefit-to-cost ratio of food waste reduction efforts in the restaurant industry is compelling: for every dollar invested in food waste reduction, restaurants can realize approximately $8 of cost savings.
“Food waste reduction is quickly becoming a key element of financial and reputational value for restaurants and foodservice providers,” explains Chris Cochran, Executive Director of ReFED. In fact, according to a recent study cited in the guide, 72 percent of U.S. diners care about how restaurants handle food waste, and 47 percent would be willing to spend more to eat at a restaurant with an active food recovery program.
The guide provides best practices and action-oriented strategies to help restaurants develop and embed a food waste reduction culture, and extend it to the consumer. For example, adopting recycling programs such as centralized composting and anaerobic digestion could divert 2.6 million tons of waste from landfills and reduce CO2 emissions by 1.9 million tons. Additionally, serving smaller-sized portion options may reduce the amount of food diners leave uneaten, reported to be as much as 17percent of their meals. Download the complete 41-page Restaurant Food Waste Action Guide at www.refed.com