Innovation Meets Culinary Diplomacy at Meridian

Special Representative for Global Food Security, Jonathan Shrier with Michael Curtin, CEO of DC Central Kitchen
Special Representative for Global Food Security, Jonathan Shrier with Michael Curtin, CEO of DC Central Kitchen

On April 22, 2014, Meridian hosted a roundtable discussion on Innovations and Advancements in Food Security, Delivery & Sustainability. The Honorable Jonathan Shrier, U.S. Special Representative for Global Food Security, chaired the off-the-record conversation, which included a group of chefs, restaurateurs, culinary trainers, gourmet food specialists and culinary show hosts from Oman, Algeria, Morocco and Egypt, as part of the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP).

Diverse sectors working on food issues both globally and domestically came together to discuss what their respective organizations are doing to be innovative — not just in terms of technology, but also through public-private partnerships and awareness campaigns. Advocacy organizations such as Global Alliance for Clean Cookstovesand World Central Kitchen, policy makers like Bread for the World Institute, as well as organizations working with the DC community - including DC Central Kitchen and Brainfood - shared ideas on what’s working. “Speed dating” pairing farmers and chefs as hosted by Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture; Farmers Restaurant Group sharing information about their entrée’s origins in their menus, and CARE’s recent Peruvian trip with noted DC chefs to highlight sustainable agriculture were just a few of the fresh ideas discussed. Likewise, a course at American University on “Conflict and Cuisine,” as well as a blog from the NPR Science Desk (“The Salt”) dedicated to what we eat and why we eat it are further examples of the increasing relevancy of food and culinary diplomacy.

Special Representative Shrier framed the discussion — which included the principal themes of food security, delivery and sustainability — by sharing highlights of the State Department’s global hunger and food security initiatives including Feed the Future program which takes a comprehensive approach to ending global poverty and under nutrition. This includes addressing the root causes of poverty and hunger, leveraging multi-sector strategic partnerships and incorporating climate smart agricultural practices. The Feed the Future program is supported by Innovation Labs, which links innovative agriculture and health strategies to result in improved nutrition outcomes for the poorest countries of the world. Mr. Shrier added that the Feed the Future Innovation Labs are partnering with U.S. universities to "address the most significant food security challenges and to advance innovative solutions to reduce global hunger, poverty and under nutrition."

In sharing their insights on their experiences and lessons learned in advancing food security and sustainability, roundtable participants underscored the importance of raising global awareness, making connections at the local level, facilitating farmer to chef relations, advocating and educating on sustainable farming practices, and facilitating the responsible distribution of excess food. Many organizations are using a holistic approach to food security by training farmers on sustainable productions, empowering women to incorporate food security and nutrition practices, creating opportunities for girls’ education, training people in culinary skills, food safety and sanitation and nutrition, building capacity and providing technical assistance to produce clean cookstoves.

The important role that chefs play in advocating for food security and sustainability was emphasized throughout the conversation. A number of participants’ organizations are working with chefs to establish innovative connections between local farmers and consumers, train and educate on food and nutrition security, and to spread important messages. Mr. Shrier noted that the U.S. Department of State, through its culinary diplomacy initiative, created American Chef Corps to conduct public diplomacy programs using food to engage with communities around the world.

Divine Chocolate the only fair-trade chocolate company owned by its cocoa farmers, generously supported this discussion by supplying chocolate bars (of both milk and dark varieties) for roundtable participants. During their time in Washington, DC, the international visitors will be rolling up their sleeves for a cooking class at Brainfood, led by their Community MVPs; getting an overview of DC Central Kitchen with Chef Rock Harper; sharing a meal with Busboys and Poets Founder Andy Shallal, as well as a lunch with Chef Maziar Farivar of the Peacock Café (and part of the American Chef Corps); and touring the culinary mecca of Union Market before heading to that other city known for its food: New York.

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