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How DC's Restaurant Industry Would Change the World Through Food

How would you change the world through food? Local experts weigh in.

To mark the relaunch of Eater today, the Features team compiled a collection of seventy-two of the best ideas for how people around the world are or how they plan to or how they want to change the world through food. A lot of the ideas are incredibly earnest. Some are ambitious beyond reason. But what they all have in common is a belief that, with hard work and good food, the world is headed in the right direction.

As a local component to this feature, we asked the DC community to chime in. So check out the national responses over here and scroll below to see what local thinkers and doers would like to do to change the world through food. Have a suggestion? Add it to the comments.

Nicolas Jammet, co-founder, Sweetgreen, a fast-growing chain of salad restaurants in D.C., New York and Philadelphia: I would do whatever we can to make sure kids have access to, understand the importance of and love healthy food. I would introduce food/nutrition education into national elementary school curriculum standards and create a healthy/scratch-made school food program standard.

Victor Albisu, chef, Del Campo and Taco Bamba: The world is changing through food, and we, as cooks, have a responsibility to guide that change. We are experiencing extreme growth and awareness about what good food is, and where good food comes from. We all can see what good food can do. So whatever can bind us together through food, charity and hospitality can only help everyone to have a better understanding of our food system.

Iron Gate. [Photo: R. Lopez]

Michael Babin, founder of Neighborhood Restaurant Group, which operates such restaurants as Birch & Barley, Vermillion, and Iron Gate in D.C. and Virginia: Our food system does an outstanding job of providing millions of people with an overabundance of empty calories-calories that are cheap at the point of sale, but which carry a devastating cost in terms of the public health outcomes they create. The system is wasteful, it often fails to pay a living wage to the people employed in it, and it has institutionalized the mistreatment of animals and the degradation of the environment on a massive scale. There is no single silver bullet, but a network of solutions that includes better education at every level, public policies that support and encourage sustainable farm and business practices, and market-based innovations that provide better access to real food while paying farmers a fair price will, in time, change the world.

Doron Petersan, co-owner of vegan bakery Sticky Fingers Sweets & Eats: I would make local and organic farms subsidized as well as vegetarian restaurants, due to their carbon reducing qualities."

Khalid Pitts and Diane Gross, co-owners, Cork Wine Bar (Pitts is also running for D.C. City Council): We would change the world through food by providing fresh, healthy food to kids in schools. Giving kids the fuel they need to learn and grow creates the opportunity for success.  Too often our kids are provided processed foods full of artificial ingredients and flavors masquerading as nutritious meals.   It doesn't set them up for success or help them make and learn about the health choices that will be with them as they grow.  We need to teach kids about good, healthy food and we need to provide healthy food that tastes good so they will make the right choices to foster growth and learning throughout the school day.

Simple steps to change our food programs in schools will have a dramatic impact on all children but will most directly impact low-income families, as they often come from food-insecure households and depend on school lunch programs to fight hunger. Poor nutrition in children has been shown to negatively impact learning and classroom performance.

Providing access to fresh fruits and vegetables in school lunch programs opens up opportunities to educate our children about healthy lifestyle choices, sustainable food production and cooking skills. But most important, improving the quality of the food available to our kids in schools ensures that ALL kids have access to the building blocks of healthy living and academic success.

Jeff Black at Pearl Dive Oyster Palace. [Photo: R. Lopez]

Jeff Black, founder of Black Restaurant Group (which includes such restaurants as Blacksalt, Republic, and Pearl Dive Oyster Palace in D.C. and Maryland): Since the beginning of time, one of the ways we've created peace between people is by breaking bread together. Having a communal event leads people to have reasonable and justified conversations as adults and not as advisories. If there were any food I'd use to change the world it would be bread. When you sit down, you have a chance to meet, discuss and hash out your differences in a civilized way. It could help solve a lot of our world's problems.

Spike Mendelsohn, Top Chef alum, food television star and owner of We, The Pizza, Bearnase and Good Stuff Eatery: I would make the key changes to the legislation that prohibits and cripples the opportunities to provide healthier and more nutritious food in schools.

Aaron Silverman, owner and head chef at Rose's Luxury on Capitol Hill: Basically, our World Food Program donates 25 cents for every diner that comes in, and that 25 cents gives a child a meal plus rations to take home in another country. We cut a check each month once we know how many covers we did. So whether they know it or not, diners are helping the cause. So far this year we've donated close to $10,000.

Andy Shallal, founder of Busboys and Poets, Businessman, Activist and Author: Years ago, I helped start something called Peace Cafe which is bringing Arabs and Jews together over food. [At Busboys and Poets], we have programming that we do on a regular basis...Whatever the current crisis, we try to build a conversation around it at the restaurant. With Ferguson, we had a huge town hall where we invited stellar speakers, and we had over 600 people show up. We had to open up the doors and put up speakers, so people outside could listen in. We're also hosting events about the issues in Iraq and Syria... C-SPAN came in to film [one]. Even with the recent water main break in Hyattsville, our restaurant up there didn't close. We went out and bought water and handed out free water to our neighbors. We've always engaged and been mindful of the larger community. We are part of the neighborhood that we are in.

Billy Shore, founder and CEO of Share Our Strength, a nonprofit which looks to end childhood hunger in America: The general answer is if we made sure all children had the nutritional food they needed, we would probably be impacting almost every other issue that we care about. Certainly, their educational achievement, economic competitiveness, so many things that are tied to early investments in kids. Food is literally the very first investment we can make in a child.

The No Kid Hungry Campaign is based on the idea that kids in the United States are hungry not because of lack of access to food or food programs, but because they're not accessing programs that have existed for a long time, programs like school lunch, school breakfast, summer meals. The campaign knocks down barriers to kids getting those meals... We already have the resources to end childhood hunger in the United States.

Lunchbox. [Photo: R. Lopez]

Bryan Voltaggio, chef and co-owner of such D.C. and Maryland restaurants as Range, Lunchbox, Volt, and Family Meal: If I could take one action to change the world through food, I would end childhood hunger. As a chef and father, I understand the importance of nutrition and a well-balanced meal, and the unfortunate reality is that  many children go without this. For the past few years, I’ve been involved with Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign, which battles this issue by connecting kids in need with nutritious food and teaching families how to cook healthy, affordable meals. I simply can’t stand the reality that children in this country go hungry, and I think that if we can fix this, we can help that next brilliant mind change the world.

Kera Carpenter, owner of Domku in Petworth and NURISH Food + Drink, a cafe and nonprofit center based in Anacostia, which seeks to build a creative culinary economy: When I started NURISH, the nonprofit part of it, I did it for two reasons really. First, I thought there was a need for some sort of support program or group for culinary entrepreneurs that was focused on teaching people about the food business. And second, I wanted to encourage people to open restaurants in places where there are clearly underserved areas, especially for food businesses... Of course an area like Anacostia really requires people to take a big chance. I really look at this as an opportunity to introduce new food, a healthy way of eating and job creation in a neighborhood that needs it.

There's an ability for local restaurants, especially those that are independently owned, to have an impact on community. Restaurants can be a catalyst for larger economic development. Often in the poorer neighborhoods there's not a reason for people to come out together and meet. Everything is carryout or fast food, and a restaurant gives people an opportunity to meet one another.

Meredith Sheperd, founder of Love & Carrots, an organic home garden service in Washington, D.C.: [Urban farming] teaches people how to grow food in their own backyard. People in D.C. are busy and may not know all that much about gardening. There's a generational gap where maybe your grandparents knew how to grow things, and now today's generation doesn't. There's also a whole community empowerment and outreach element to our work at Love & Carrots. We work with businesses, nonprofits, and local churches who want to start a community garden, and we provide our services to help them follow through on it.

Food is everything. It's alive, and it matters where you get it. You can think of food as a decision that you make at least three times a day. What you eat and where your food comes from matters. It gives you an opportunity to make positive change: environmentally, socially and in so many other ways.
—Tim Ebner contributed to this report

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