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National Restaurant Association - New sustainability event puts spotlight on restaurants’ influence

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New sustainability event puts spotlight on restaurants’ influence

Restaurateurs were encouraged during a new conference on sustainability to use their influence as trendsetters to raise consumers’ appreciation of earth-friendly farming methods.

"The chef, the restaurateur, sets the fashions for the rest of the society," said Julian Cribb, author of the book "The Coming Famine" and a keynote speaker at the first International Foodservice Sustainability Symposium. “You are the leaders.”

The restaurant industry can ignite consumer interest in sustainability, Cribb and others stressed during the symposium. It was held in Chicago on the two days following the annual convention of the National Restaurant Association, which co-sponsored the event with Kendall College, a local culinary school.

Speakers agreed that the world is headed for a severe shortfall in food production.

"It's not about going back to an earlier time," said Fred Kirschenmann, one of the world’s leading experts on sustainable agriculture and the opening speaker at the IFSS. "It’s about taking some wisdom from the past, combining that with new science, and going forward from there."

Like Cribb, he underscored the key role foodservice chefs are playing in fostering respect for earth-preserving agricultural methods.

"When you produce food this way, the flavor is much better," said Kirschenmann, a working farmer who also serves as expert-in-residence for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. “This is where chefs play a critical role. We now have a new ‘idea space’ around food that gives us enormous opportunity for change.”

But society at large has to do its part, too, Kirschenmann and Cribb agreed. Kirschenmann noted that a generational change in mindset is already evident: “One of the resources we have is a new generation of young people who want to farm again.

“If we want to change the food system, we have to redesign it,” continued Kirschenmann, who oversees a 3,000-acre farm in North Dakota. “We all have to be involved.” 

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