clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How Portland'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 Portland 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.

Bamboo Sushi. [Photo: Avila]

Kristofor Lofgren, owner of Bamboo Sushi, a certified-sustainable sushi restaurant: The world is rapidly changing. It is globalizing and industrializing at a rate never before seen in human history. Nine and possibly eleven billion people will share this planet in the next 50-100 years. One of the most important sectors to focus on during this time will be food security and nutritional density. We are learning that vegetables and sustainable protein sources are naturally supposed to be the foundation of a healthy diet; not oils, grains, and sick animals. Coincidentally, a healthy human diet often correlates with a healthier planet; one with less carbon in the atmosphere and cleaner rivers, oceans, and land.

As more and more people need two jobs in a family to stay afloat, the restaurant industry is becoming less of a luxury place to simply "go out," but more a necessity to save time in this ever busier and more crowded world. If restaurants can lead the charge by offering affordable healthy foods, not only will it have a tremendous impact on our global societies' health crisis, but it will also make the world a better place: One where productivity is higher because people have more time and energy from eating "the right diet" and one where our planet does not suffer as a consequence of our nutritional desires. The best way to change the world through food is to buy and sell food that changes the world by it's very nature, making the planet and people healthier.

Bryan Steelman, owner, Por Que No?: I would say start small and simple: Focus on respect for employees, taking care of your community, and earning sustainable profits. This is all basic stuff, but start with knowing how to manage food costs. Make delicious food at a value that makes sense that allows you the capital to take care of your employees. Give them paid time off, give them the opportunity to get the best health insurance that you can afford, pay them a living wage. These aren't wild ideas, these are concepts that are attainable by running a sustainable business that pays attention to the bottom line.

Have intentions of taking care of your employees, and get through the struggle of the first few years, and work your tail off, always get better, and don't rest on your laurels... and always be looking at the bottom line. That is what makes the business sustainable for everyone involved, the owner(s), the employees, and the patrons.

It's also important to take care of your community. Give food or gift certificates to every cause that resonates with you or your employees and that you can afford. Stand up for local causes.  Be a voice for good. Once you are taking care of your employees and community, and your restaurant is succeeding as a sustainable business, you can start to take on larger issues that are near to your heart. Restaurants are great because they serve food, which is a basic need, but they offer art and culture and community and a meeting place. Restaurants have the opportunity to be beloved and inclusive - and the sky is the limit with possibilities for restaurants to change the world. The possibilities and passions are truly endless. But start small and simple.

Biwa. [Photo: Avila]

Gabe Rosen, chef/co-owner of Biwa, which implemented a "health and wellness" charge in 2013: I am assuming that we are talking about changing the world for the better, because I have a few different, conflicting at times ideas... When I was a little kid I wanted to be a chef and I wanted to be in restaurants. I didn't particularly aspire to be the de facto HR person for a 25-person food service business but so, it seems, is the way wishes and dreams work sometimes.

So yes, Kina [Voelz] and I own and operate the small restaurant of my childhood dreams! Along the way to getting here we have both had all manner of jobs in food service. When we were about to make the big jump from employee to employer, we realized that we wanted to have a place where we worked with folks that got paid well and had things like health insurance. Our approach has been to bring the health, wellness, and living wage conversation directly to our guests with the greater hope that it might influence the way people think about traditionally low-wage workers. It is one thing for us to insure our staff, it is another altogether to train our guests to expect other restaurants to.

Adam and Jackie Sappington, chefs and co-owners of the Country Cat: All beings need sunlight, water, and some sort of nourishment to survive. It's a question of how the world changes through food and food changes the world. We are believers that change first comes from the individual and the individual acts like a ripple in a pond, lake, or ocean to help spurn change on a more massive level.

Adam and I as individuals, and as a couple who are both cooks, believe that just the act of cooking changes the world. When you cook, you stop the hustle and bustle of the day and think about what to put into your body, perhaps your family's bodies, and your friends' bodies. When you cook, you are learning and/or remembering: Learning a new technique, a new cuisine, a new way to use a familiar product is an important catalyst to spurn change. When we cook, we remember certain tastes from our past - be it what our mom, our grandma, our friend made - and through that we pass on the memory and personal culture to others. Cooking relates to our culture. Cultures that have a rich history of food preparation, food tradition, and food preservation typically have a culture and heritage that is rich in community, family, art, and creativity.

When a person is able to go through the thoughtful process of cooking, it helps build tradition within themselves, within their family, and ultimately within a civilization. The culture of the microwave dinner, the fast food restaurant, the canned good at the market have all spurned huge change within the world and culture. By returning to cooking with our hands and creating relationships with our farmers and ranchers, and fish mongers we have the ability to enrich our culture, our civilization, and our world by telling their story through cooking, and that, can change the world.

Irving Street Kitchen. [Photo: Avila]

Sarah Schafer, chef of Irving Street Kitchen and advocate for anti-hunger organization Share Our Strength: It was like of like an oxymoron: I'm a chef and there are people that can't eat, or don't eat, or can't afford to eat. And my mother always told me when I was going to culinary school - because she wanted me to do something else— she'd always say, "Well, I guess you'll never go hungry." So I took that to the next level: I wanted to make sure that I could give back.

For me, it's about education. Everyone is so about the "rock star" chef, and less about educating people about the right way to eat. So, if I could show people how to eat in a more healthy fashion - talking more about GMOs, local, and sustainable, how that affects the world as a whole, I would do that. I think we, as chefs, can do more... I do what I can every day. I was in New York City when 9/11 happened, and from an emotional standpoint, it was the first time in 13 years I stopped and thought [about things]... I called my mother and basically said, "How can I remember all these people I've lost?" And she said to me, "Well, you already have. You give yourself every day and you give back every day and that's all you can do. And you do that in remembrance of them." As chef, every day I try to give a little more back to my guests, a little bit more back to my community, and my staff.