By James O’Hare
There are 20 million people in the world facing famine in South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen. In developed nations, too, people go hungry. Venezuela, for instance, is enduring food insecurity on a national level as a result of economic crisis and political corruption. In the U.S., the land of supposed excess, 12.7 percent of households were food insecure in 2015, meaning they didn’t know where their next meal would come from.
As world governments pursue policies to secure food sources and humanitarian organizations work on the ground to deliver aid, there’s one group of people who may have the expertise to solve problems in the global food system.
Chefs are the most qualified people on the planet to talk about food, not only in terms of flavors, but in the chemistry behind the ingredients they use. In their constant quest for better ingredients, they spur farming best practices to enhance nutritional value, increase efficiency, and get healthy foods to people in the areas of the world most affected by hunger. Many are also working to reduce food waste and improve sustainability, which helps everyone by protecting the environment.
These are 11 chefs saving the world with food:
1. Massimo Bottura
Massimo Bottura is a food waste reducing rock star. In cooperation with Pope Francis, he turned an abandoned theater in a Milan suburb into Refettorio, a soup kitchen that has turned more than 15 tons of excess food into meals for the homeless, working poor and refugees.
In true Global Citizen fashion, he then started a foundation, Food for Soul, to expand the concept to cities around the world, like Rio de Janeiro and London. He’s currently in the process of bringing two Refettorios to the U.S., the Guardian reported.
2. Dan Barber
Dan Barber, who has been praised as a, “philosopher chef,” is one of the leading voices for increased sustainability in restaurants.
Essentially, Barber wants restaurants to increase efficiency and cut down on food waste (not to mention improve taste) by growing their own ingredients, a movement called “farm-to-table.”
Barber walks the walk—his restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns, in Westchester County, New York, does exactly that. What is more, Barber has transformed his other restaurant in Greenwich Village—also called Blue Hill—into a pop-up called WastED, serving dishes prepared with ingredients that would normally be destined for dumpster, like bruised and misshapen vegetables and stale bread. In January, he exported the concept to London.
Barber’s influence is felt beyond the kitchen. He’s written extensively about the importance of local farming and improving the farm-to-table movement in the New York Times, The Nation, Gourmet and Food & Wine. His book, The Third Plate, calls for an overhaul of our entire approach to meals, down to the proportions of meat and vegetables that typically compose a plate (spoiler: dishes should feature more vegetables).
Barber has done two TedTalks and was named to the Presidential Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition by Barack Obama.
3. Hervé This
Hervé This isn’t technically a chef, but his work could legitimately end world hunger.
This is a chemist who invented molecular gastronomy (studying the science behind cooking) in 1988. Now he’s developing what he calls note-by-note (NbN) cooking—creating dishes with foods that have been deconstructed into basic compounds.
The chemical components of a food like texture and flavor can literally be separated and stored in vials. But it’s more than just mad food science. This says that because foods are composed mostly of water, they spoil while being transported over long distances, unless they’re refrigerated (which is expensive and detrimental to the environment). Deconstructed foods, broken down into foams and gels, can be transported and rebuilt, so to speak, bringing nutritious meals to communities around the world.
Last December, he published a book detailing how NbN cooking is more nutritious, energy efficient and environmentally sustainable.
“I work for the public,” he told the New York Times. “NbN is a new art for chefs and art is important. But are we going to feed humankind—or just make something for foodies?”
4. Sam Kass
Sam Kass advocates for healthier, climate smart food. He was the first Senior White House Food Policy Advisor while serving as Barack Obama’s chef and was the executive director of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Campaign, aimed at improving childhood health.
Kass helped the Obamas plant the first vegetable garden at the White House since Eleanor Roosevelt’s victory garden. Like its predecessor, the Obama garden brought the issues of health and food sustainability to the national stage and inspired people to start home gardens of their own.
In 2012, Kass helped found the American Chef Corps, which promotes diplomacy through culinary initiatives. He’s also the founder of Trove, a strategy firm, and a partner in Acre, a venture capital fund, that work to improve health and sustainability in the global food system.
5 and 6. Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson
Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson don’t want people to sacrifice their health for a convenient and affordable meal. Which is why they founded Locol, a fast food chain that serves quick, healthy meals for just a couple of bucks. Furthermore, they prioritize locating their restaurants in underserved areas, also known as food deserts, that don’t have many restaurant options other than corner stores and fast food.
On a grander scale, Locol seeks to restore integrity to fast food by emphasizing “food” over the corporate bottom-line.
“We believe chefs should feed America, not suits,” the website says.
7. April Bloomfield
April Bloomfield’s name is synonymous with nose-to-tail cooking. As the name implies, that means using the whole animal. The Birmingham, UK native is featured holding a whole pig on the cover of her book, A Girl and Her Pig.
Because nothing goes to waste, recipes often call for adventurous eaters.
“I love anything crispy so, you know, it’s very natural for me to have crispy pigs ears,” Bloomfield told NPR.
But not everyone is so optimistic. One of the greatest challenges of nose-to-tail cooking and improving efficiency in kitchens is making parts of an animal that people wouldn’t normally eat taste good—which is precisely what Bloomfield is doing.
8. Joan Roca
Joan Roca, of El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain, has been listed as one of the top-ten chefs on the planet. But he’s also an all-world activist.
Roca joined a legion of chefs who partnered with Oceana, an international ocean conservation organization, to curb overfishing and protect the millions of people who rely on fish as a dietary staple. Fittingly, the effort’s slogan is, “Save the ocean. Feed the world.”
“We have to protect the small fishermen in their little boats, these guys that are fishing every day,” Roca explained, at an Oceana event. “Everybody cares about their own health, so we should also care about the ocean. It is our biggest pantry.”
9. Thomasina Miers
Thomasina Miers won the television show Masterchef in 2005. Ever since, she’s opened more than 20 restaurants in her native UK and is expanding to the U.S., but her celebrity hasn’t come at the expense of social consciousness. Sustainability is a cornerstone of her Mexican street food-inspired restaurants.
An ardent campaigner for reducing food waste, Miers has advocated for, “the Pig Idea,” recycling surplus food into pig feed (pigs’ digestive systems allow them to eat just about anything).
Miers doesn’t just want to find creative uses for food waste, she wants to reduce the amount of food that’s wasted in the first place.
“As a business we always believed in buying sustainably-caught fish, so as not to add of the decimation of certain fish stocks, and we have always tried to put lots of vegetarian choices on the menu so that people had wonderful non-meat alternatives,” Miers told Forbes. “The food industry is the largest, and most energy intensive industry out there—so we have the power to make positive change.”
10. Bruno Loubet
Bruno Loubet’s London restaurant Grain Store was named the London Restaurant of the Year by the Sustainable Restaurant Awards in 2014. It was no fluke. Loubet’s forward-thinking eatery combines almost every sustainable food practice that the other chefs on this list have worked so hard to promote.
Foremost, he emphasizes vegetables.
“Although many dishes have a meat or fish element, vegetables are given equal billing, if not the starring role,” the restaurant’s website says.
Loubet has even removed meat from seasonal menus in the past. In addition to the nutritional and environmental benefits of reducing meat consumption, Grain Store is a shining example of ethical cooking.
The meat the restaurant uses is free-range and the fish is sustainably sourced. Grain Store also uses herbs and edible flowers that come from a community garden next door, the Independent reported.
The drive for sustainability isn’t limited to food. Even the furniture at Grain Store is reclaimed.
11. Anthony Bourdain
Anthony Bourdain doesn’t want to be called an activist (too bad, Anthony).
Bourdain is best-known as a television host who uses food in an educational capacity to study world cultures. But the trained chef has moved to the silver screen, producing, narrating and starring in a documentary called Wasted! The Story of Food Waste, which premiered at the 2017 Tribeca film festival.
The documentary divulges how 40 percent of the food humans produce gets thrown out, the environmental ramifications of this waste and how people can intervene. It features many of the aforementioned chefs on this list (Bottura and Barber, plus Danny Bowien and Mario Batali), but it’s Bourdain’s participation that is the most impactful, however reluctant it was.
“I’ve never liked being accused of having a social conscience or being an activist, so this documentary is not something I instinctively would have become involved in,” Bourdain narrates in the film’s introduction. “But food waste is something that I’ve always had to be conscious of as a professional. I’ve also spent the last 15 to 17 years traveling the world and seeing where all that wasted food we generate in the West could go to feed people.”