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How Maine'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 Maine 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.

Joe Ricchio, Maine Magazine food editor, intermittent web series host: I would abolish the concept of the children's menu. Giving kids a recognizable alternative at all times breeds picky eaters, who tend to be distrusting of any foods that are foreign to them. This, in turn, makes them equally distrusting of the cultures that produce the exotic foods. If kids don't know about the option of chicken fingers or spaghetti with butter and marinara sauce on the side, it will force them to expand their horizons, in turn making them better people all around. Imagine a world where no one makes the scrunchy upset face when they don't like the idea of a dish they've never had before! It lowers my blood pressure just thinking about it....

Jason Loring, Nosh Kitchen Bar and Slab Sicilian Street Food: I think it’s simple. We need to change the way our kids eat food in schools and at home. Educate them and their parents about what they should be eating and how they can balance a diet. Not that kids should go on diets, but that they should adopt balanced diets that last their entire lives. This would start at the top governmental level with new laws and bills that would require tons of money to ever get lobbied through. Finally, we need to make a huge effort to end the epidemic of hungry children everywhere. These are crazy big goals! And I help in very, very small ways.

Matt Brown, Good Shepherd Food Truck: I've spent a lot of time thinking about food over the course of my life, since my mother started taking me to farmers' markets and teaching me how to cook. It's easy to point fingers at what is wrong with our food and food systems. For example, the over-consumption of animal proteins and the over-usage of pesticides and GMOs. There's also our farm bill, which gives subsidies to big farmers to produce large amounts of inexpensive sugars and grains for giant corporations to mass-produce garbage to sell in flashy wrappers. That is all complicated. But my idea to change the world through food is simple. First, make sure nobody in the world goes to bed hungry, ever. There's enough food; this can be done. Second, to slow down, take time, and think about our food choices. Where is my food coming from? How was it produced? I want us all to spend more time with great food in the company of friends and family, and less time in the drive-thru.

Cara Stadler, Tao Yuan and upcoming BaoBao Dumpling House: Having an impact on our community through food is something that has been in the works since we had the idea of starting a restaurant in Maine. So how do we hope to affect the world through food? By attempting—and I have no idea if this will be successful, but I have to believe it will be—to create a restaurant that can reach a near-zero carbon footprint. We want to grow our own produce, farm our own fish. We're looking into generating our electricity through the solar panel greenhouse glass that will house production. We also want to address the issue of food wastage—restaurants can be so incredibly wasteful. I'm looking into a fermentation partnership to process excess produce from our greenhouse. We've been feeding pigs down the street with our food scraps. And then there's the idea of vermiculture, and who knows what else after that. From sourcing ingredients to disposing of waste, there is the potential for so much product to be used and reused for so many different purposes. It's a lot to bite off, but our farmer, Kate Holcomb, has been working with Fluid Farms on aquaponics, and we are starting to suss out the building plans for a greenhouse to be built next spring. We want to create a restaurant and system that can do all of the above under one roof, and look forward to the day when this model can be accessible to more restaurants.

Raymond Brunyanszki, Natalie's: People need to become more conscious of what they are consuming. We need to focus on reducing food waste; we are moving into a future when access to food will become a huge issue. We all have to help feed the world. We are far more focused today on reducing our carbon footprint. We should treat food the same way. As my parents used to say "make sure your eyes aren't bigger than your stomach." By teaching new habits about how you eat and treat food, emphasizing smaller portions, only eating when you are hungry, and not throwing away food, we will be able to make a huge difference. We should also create an easier path for individual households to share food with food pantries. Many restaurants, including Natalie's, have zero waste (or close to) policies, let's make this the norm in households as well. Let's see an end to the $9.95 all you can eat buffets and a return to quality food and realistic portions, reducing food waste.

Briana Warner, Maine Pie Line: We eat food to nourish ourselves. That seems like a pretty basic fact, but it’s one that we often forget when we talk about the newest "food trends" in America. One in every eight people in the world are suffering from chronic malnourishment—they are hungry. Its about time we all begin to take a look at our food system in general. There is enough food in the world to feed everyone 1.3 times over. But almost a third of the food we grow in america goes to livestock existing in massive industrial farms. Up to a third more of our food gets wasted. That is not a food system—that is a catastrophe. We need to assess how we can better use our land and, as a culture, how we can begin to limit food waste. These are some of the first steps to making the world just a little less hungry and a good start to changing the world for the better.

Tim Labonte, Eve’s at the Garden: Hotdogs are truly one of my all-time favorite foods. It’s one of those foods that always seems to put a smile on my face. No matter how hard my day has been, one bite of a loaded dog with extra mustard, and out comes the happy face. One of my favorite dogs is the Chicago dog; love the sport peppers & pickle. There is much to say when a dog is recognized for a particular flavor profile in a certain demographic area. It’s a great concept, and states should follow suit and have their own state hot dogs. Maine would of course have lobster dogs, Florida would perhaps have a Cuban dog with chorizo, avocado, and key lime mayo, and Hawaii could have an Ahi dog with pineapple relish and sesame macadamia ketchup. Who knows, perhaps countries would follow the trend and create their own dogs. We could then set aside one specific time frame on an annual basis where the entire world sits with their region’s unique hot dog in hand, and shares in a "dog smile." The whole world, sitting and sharing a smile through food!

Ilma Lopez, Piccolo and Blue Rooster Food Co.: I think a good way to start is at home, teaching our kids about food, then educating our community. That would create a good base so we could then teach other people. The result of that, hopefully, would be healthier, happier people with strong social skills.

David Turin, David’s, David’s 388, David’s Opus 10: "Let food be thy medicine." I didn't say that, it was Hippocrates. But with the whole prevalence of food additives and engineering, the food that should cause us to be healthy is instead contributing to the deterioration of our health. I'd like to encourage people to return to eating real food, because that's where health is derived.

Michael Brennan, Mayor of Portland: First, by 2016 we expect to have 50% of the food in Portland’s schools locally sourced. I want to have 100% of the food at Maine’s schools grown and sourced locally. Second, Maine imports 80-85% of its food, which makes us extremely vulnerable and food insecure while creating a large carbon footprint. I’d like to drop that number to 50% within a decade. Finally, I’d like to engage the groundfish industry and develop a truly sustainable fisheries program.

Colleen Hanlon-Smith, formerly Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets: I would strengthen the connection between producers and consumers. When considering a sustainable agricultural future, it is paramount to focus locally. Perhaps an easier question to swallow is, How would you change your community through food? I see my role as connecting producers and consumers and strengthening the public's sense of connection to the land and water. My immediate ambitions are focused locally and regionally...on more optimistic days, I'd like to think fostering these relationships close to home will have reverberations on a larger scale. Participating in the local food movement as a consumer or professional is the most hedonistic and altruistic way to improve our communities and world socially and environmentally. I see food as the gateway drug to a more sustainable human race. The more we can encourage people to participate in the local food movement, the broader the impact will be.

Brian and Shanna O’Hea, Academe: During our recent culinary trip to Greece we worked with Greek chefs and really connected our worlds and cultures through our shared love of food and culinary techniques. We feel that food, and sharing food, is about bringing people together, and about tradition, which in turn creates respect for individual cultures. For us, one of our biggest passions is traveling and tasting the world. Food can create great understanding about the place you're visiting, and then what becomes equally exciting is trying to recreate those flavors when you return home. Food crosses borders and encourages people to learn more about a new place because it is accessible, social, and just tasty!

Alex Steed, Knack Factory and Steed: My suggestions for how we use food to change the world here in the United States are not offered out of myopic self-interest, but because, despite the waning prowess of our global stature, we still have our hands in everything. Our guns are the biggest, our bombs the most plentiful; we remain the world police. What happens here affects everywhere on the planet. First, we need to end childhood hunger. It is rampant in this country, but that is especially the case here in Maine. It is our moral obligation to fulfill this goal, and we should be embarrassed that this still remains a problem. Hunger helps to further compound income inequality, and it interferes with the education of an emerging electorate. For the sake of world stability, American voters must be as analytical and literate as possible. Creative extensions of school nutrition programs appear promising, as do other innovative solutions. If we can subsidize indefinite detention prison camps for $500 million per year, we can find the resources to solve this problem. The second objective is already being realized. I would like to see the trend of community cultivation by way of food and agriculture continue. The reemergence of farmers’ markets and programs aimed at making them an affordable option for all is helping to bring together individuals and households that had resigned themselves to the siloed living habits of the 80s and 90s. I see this making its way back into food-centered events in ways that remind me of the church and Boy Scout potlucks of my childhood. Expectations that we break bread together, not exclusively over our individual meals, are making their way back to us. Family-style service and seating is on the rise. We who are not forced to do so in major metropolitan areas need to learn how to be together again, especially since those that control the money and guns thrive on our comfort in being apart. Food will continue to be essential to making this possible.

Kevin Gadsby, Portland Food Co-op: It’s a beautiful thing to see so many people who care about the source of their food. It’s great as well to see the success of organic manufacturing and the rise of local food production. Yet still the food industry remains a multi-billion dollar marketing racket where a few huge, multinational firms are taking hold of our food system, producing vast quantities of overly processed junk food, much of it dressed up as health food. The labels "organic," "natural," & "local" have lost meaning in a food world dominated by huge corporations. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for companies expanding and working toward success. But what if the food business was centered on the merit of goodwill toward people and planet as first priority, and in doing so turned a profit as well? What if farmers and food producers were actually supported primarily by the regional retail and foodservice environment around them, helping to produce vital communities that reaped the benefits of the growth of a local economy? What if the cost of organic and sustainable foods was lowered because the demand for it was raised and we did away with the great divide of those that have and those that have not? What if more people really understood that food is medicine, and therefore focused on eating foods that promote wellness, vitality, and longevity, and in turn stopped filling themselves with food choices void of value and integrity? And what if that awesome food was grown and produced on farms by people that really cared about what they’re doing? By people who are passionate about bringing goodness to others, like, hey, what we’re seeing here in Maine? Food is culture, it brings about community, and it is at the center of what gathers us together around the table for fun, for fellowship, for celebration. During my four years in Maine I’ve been fortunate to get to know many people like those I’ve described here. There’s a revolution happening here and at the center of it is food and with it we’re gonna change the world.

Chellie Pingree, Representative (D-ME 1st District): Food — what we eat, how it’s grown, how it affects our bodies, our environment, and our economy — impacts the world every day. And while we sometimes just take "food" and its purchase and consumption for granted, every time we are engaged with the process, we are also participating in whether those impacts will be positive, negative, or neutral. It's as simple as knowing that by buying food from the farmer who lives down the road, we are putting money in that family's pocket and we’re reducing the environmental impact of moving food across the country. It's as simple as having the opportunity to ask the farmer exactly how they grew the food, and to know firsthand what chemicals and practices were or were not used. It's as simple and profound as making our own decisions about how that will impact our bodies and the environment around us. Those decisions are both personal and political — representing our own values and the public policies that reflect those values. For most of my adult life I have been involved in growing and supplying others with fresh, local, organically grown food. At the same time, I’ve been fortunate enough to be working on food policy for much of that time — from the very local to national and international level. For me, both are critical ways to be engaged in the process of changing much of what needs reform in our society: From making it easier for consumers to have access to healthy food not laden with chemicals, to making sure tax dollars are spent to encourage practices that will be healthy for our environment, to restoring balance to our economy. There is a lot that needs to be changed in our world, and food is at the core.