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At Climate Dinners Hosted by Chefs Sam Kass and Andrew Zimmern, The Meal Is The Message

At the dinner, in a solutions-oriented talk earlier that day, and in an interview with Civil Eats, Kass and Zimmern said spurring culture change and cultivating economic support and prosperity for food-focused climate solutions is the driving force behind their efforts. But save for references to companies under the umbrella of Kass’ Acre Venture Partners investment fund, the night was more focused on headline-grabbing examples of foods that have been impacted recently, such as peaches in Georgia and wild oysters in Florida’s Apalachicola Bay.

Voting, talking to family members and co-workers who refute climate change, eating less meat, and a broader conscious-consumerism about the food we put on our plates were the main suggestions offered. To the extent that solutions were discussed, business and the market economy were the main levers.

“General Mills is putting [money], I think it’s up to about $500 million a year, into researching drought-resistant grain,” Zimmern said during the talk, mentioning the company’s profitable grain-reliant cereals division. “As much as we might shake our fist at some big companies . . . they really need to be our allies, right?”

Dr. Margaret Klein Salamon—a clinical psychologist, executive director of the Climate Emergency Fund that supports climate activists, and author of Facing the Climate Emergency: How to Transform Yourself With Climate Truth, who was not at the dinner—takes a different view.

“Luxury food is at risk and that’s one kind of loss, but rice production, wheat production, and the basic stables getting hurt by climate is a much greater risk to basic global stability.”

“What I steer people towards is the disruptive climate movement, where they throw soup on paintings or interrupt politicians’ speeches, sporting events, or whatever,” she says. “Things are not normal. We should not be limited to using normal political channels.”

The Last Supper’s less-than-disruptive messages seemed to resonate with the dinner’s guests, however, particularly during the Q&A session near the end. “Other than eating less red meat in our everyday lives, what can we do to help the situation?” one teen dining with her family inquired. Kass responded, “I would say, companies that are proclaiming to care about these issues and their supply chains, how their ingredients are being produced and with what practices—supporting anybody who’s making a claim is a good start.”

One of the co-founders of the Great Northern brought up induction cooking. “For a lot of the high-profile chefs we have in the room tonight, I would love to see you all make induction cooking cool,” he said. Praising induction as a cooking method, “some of us in the room are working with companies right now to make induction cooking cool,” Zimmern replied. “Gas creates a lot of problems, especially in low-income housing where the HVAC system can’t get all of the toxins and chemicals out of the house.” Plus, induction can be powered by renewable energy sources like solar.

Andrew Zimmern at The Last Supper. (Photo credit: Jayme Halbritter)

Overall, Zimmern and Kass are certainly correct that coffee, wine, and chocolate are under threat from global warming. While costs will very likely increase, research suggests that we’ll see a shift in the regions capable of production and a change in flavor rather than a complete end in production—at least in the near term. But that loss might also be the least of our worries.

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