These Projects Are Changing the Way We Eat for the Better: Global Vision Awards 2022
The Travel + Leisure Global Vision Awards aim to identify and honor companies, individuals, destinations, and organizations that are taking strides to develop more sustainable and responsible travel products, practices, and experiences. Not only are they demonstrating thought leadership and creative problem-solving; they are taking actionable, quantifiable steps to protect communities and environments around the world. What's more, they are inspiring their industry colleagues and travelers to do their part.
Sometimes, it feels like food is everything: love, life, fuel, medicine, culture, comfort, community. Much has been written about how it can bring us together. But take a closer look at how food gets to our tables, and it's clear that the systems built around it have just as much power to separate — whether it be marginalizing and segregating neighborhoods and cities, or creating a growing disconnect between humans and the plants and animals that nourish us. These Global Vision Awards honorees want to bridge those gaps: between people and land, diner and kitchen, and a food system that creates abundance and one that works equally for all. — T+L Editors
In 2013, chef Rodrigo Pacheco and entrepreneur Dayra Reyes took over an abandoned green-pepper farm on the coast of Ecuador and began restoring the degraded land. They called it Bocavaldivia: an 80-acre experiment that now includes a renowned restaurant that draws from the surrounding "edible forest," as Pacheco calls it; Tanusas, a small luxury hotel, which just reopened in December after extensive renovations; a new cluster of residential villas; and a research institution that integrates science and sustainable community development. At its heart is Pacheco's vision: "To be fully connected with the ecosystem around us. To create harmony."
An eight-hour drive southwest of the capital, Quito, the reserve covers four distinct types of ecosystem: marine, transitional shoreline, dry tropical rain forest, and cloud forest. Pacheco celebrates their biodiversity on his menus. Nearly all of what he serves is foraged, grown, or fished there, from the pineapple and pumpkin to the snapper and sea urchin. Seafood or produce might be slowly smoked using different woods, a technique he learned from the area's Indigenous people. "Many of these products I had been using in France," says Pacheco, a graduate of the Institut Paul Bocuse, in Lyon. "When I started investigating my own land, I realized: We are the origins. There is so much wisdom here. Yet we haven't been recognized for it — and we haven't recognized it." The team has just opened a second restaurant, Foresta, in Quito. — Jeff Chu
The most interesting chefs working today are not just dreaming up Michelin-star worthy menus or tinkering with ingredients in their kitchens. They are also students of foodways and passionate activists who champion the environment and local farmers. Some have even opened laboratories that invest in scientific and agricultural research. Think: Alex Atala in Brazil, Dan Barber in New York, and Rene Redzepi in Denmark. In Chile, the pioneer is Rodolfo Guzmán, the chef and founder behind Boragó in Santiago. Trained at Mugaritz in Spain, Guzmán went on to study nutrition so he could better understand the connection between food and health. In 2006, he opened Boragó. Over time, he has developed connections with 200 foraging communities throughout the country to supply ingredients such as arrayán, a wild fruit that is available one month a year, and more than 30 types of mushrooms that grow only in Chile. Each of his dishes is typically born out of a new product encountered on his many trips throughout the country. Short Ribs in Brown Sugar Loaf with Nettle "Moss," for instance, resembles textured coal, while Frio Glacial — a dessert of menthol granité, mint ice cream, and lemon foam — looks like a tiny glacier topped with fragile purple flowers from the Atacama Desert. In 2019, he relocated his restaurant to a new contemporary glass building at the foot of Cerro Manquehue, the highest peak in Santiago, with a garden and a culinary research center dedicated to the education and promotion of Chilean ingredients. — Gisela Williams
The FoodLab Detroit team, led by activist Devita Davison, sees how we eat as deeply political. You can't understand food without also reckoning with, for instance, immigration policy, poverty and gentrification, real estate, or the effects of climate change. Food is a lens through which one can view the dynamics at play in society — as well as a vehicle for strengthening a community. Since 2014, FoodLab Detroit has helped to incubate more than 200 locally owned culinary businesses, including catering companies, bakeries, and restaurants — half of them owned by BIPOC women. In 2019, it established the Fellowship for Change in Food and Labor to provide special support, mentoring, and solidarity to a smaller cohort of food-sector change makers in and around the city. So far, 15 women have received fellowships, including Ji Hye Kim, the chef-restaurateur behind Ann Arbor's celebrated Miss Kim, and Top Chef veteran Kiki Louya, cofounder of Detroit restaurants Folk and the Farmer's Hand. — J.C.
One of the most important ingredients in Kentucky bourbon isn't the whiskey aging inside the barrel, but rather the material of the barrel itself: American white oak. That's why eighth-generation distiller and Maker's Mark scion Rob Samuels is determined to preserve the trees native to North America at the label's Star Hill Farm in Loretto, Kentucky. More than 300 white oak varieties are being planted in what will one day be the largest repository of the species anywhere. Scientists from the University of Kentucky are working with Maker's Mark to study the new plantings, as well as MM1, Star Hill Farm's oldest tree, estimated to be between 300 and 500 years old. Their research aims to identify current and future threats to the oaks, which add billions of dollars to rural economies each year.
Maker's Mark has also installed a solar array, established the region's first widespread recycling program, and converted to a regenerative farming system that will eventually make the distillery energy-independent. Samuels hopes the new initiatives will help to create a greener standard for whiskey producers throughout Kentucky and the United States. "We realize that the greatest proven farming practices — no matter how amazing for the environment — must still be profitable for farmers," he says. "By modeling these practices on Star Hill Farm and sharing our findings, we believe our growers will want to adopt them as well." — Heidi Mitchell
When restaurateurs Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz, both veterans of San Francisco's famed Mission Chinese and the Perennial, started the nonprofit Zero Foodprint in 2015, its goal was to help restaurants analyze and reduce their carbon emissions. But they quickly learned that the vast majority of the emissions did not happen in the kitchen. "It started to feel almost pointless to analyze restaurants," Myint says. "About 70 percent of the carbon footprint was from fertilizer, plowing, all those things — an empirical reason to shift to how ingredients are produced. But if California is on fire and has a mega-drought, that's not solved by a few people shopping at the farmers' market."
So Zero Foodprint pivoted. Its core activity is now what Myint calls "a table-to-farm effort" toward structural change in agriculture. Myint and Leibowiz recruit restaurants to add an (optional) one percent surcharge to customers' bills, and those funds are pooled and funneled to subsidize regenerative practices. Farmers and ranchers bid for grants; after their proposed improvements are rated for climate benefit, local conservation experts are hired to help implement the projects. "Our goal is really to create a scalable funding mechanism to change acres," Myint explains. "We're changing how food is grown to restore the climate. It's a win-win for any community: water conservation, carbon sequestration, better food."
Zero Foodprint, which won Humanitarian of the Year in the 2020 James Beard Awards, remains relatively small: Fewer than 100 establishments around the world are currently signed up. But Myint is encouraged that nearly no customer opts out of the fee — "most people don't even notice" — and participants include not just high-end restaurants like Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, and Barley Swine in Austin, Texas, but also five Subway locations in Boulder, Colorado. Up next: Zero Foodprint's annual Earth Week Campaign, which will see even more restaurants around the world donating a portion of the week's profits to regenerative agriculture projects. Their model shows that change is possible, if we invest together. — J.C.
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