What will be on the menu and on our plates in five years – and for that matter, decades from now? That question is at the core of an ambitious initiative recently launched by The Culinary Institute of America and the Harvard School of Public Health. The program, dubbed Menus of Change, aims to do nothing less than draw a roadmap for the American restaurant industry for the next 40 years. We’ll be closely watching, since so many of the trends that first take root in restaurants go on to influence what goes into our pantries and fridges, and on our tables at home. Think farm-to-table and “Healthy Mex,” and you realize the close relationship that dining in and dining out share.
There are many challenges facing the ever-growing, $600 billion “dine away from home” sector of the U.S. economy, with big ripple effects on retail grocery and related sectors. Menus of Change’s scope is unlike any undertaken before, in considering the entire spectrum of relevant nutritional, business, environmental, demographic and social challenges – not least, a dwindling water supply, dangerously escalating global population growth, and a domestic obesity epidemic that has millions of lives at risk.
The brilliance and promise of the effort is in its hypothesis, which holds that chefs are where all of these lines cross, and therefore, are the agents best equipped to make effective and lasting change happen. Not only do chefs possess deep knowledge of nutrition, flavor and what it takes to run a successful business. Chefs are America’s true new rock stars, commanding a pulpit like they’ve never had. Today’s most influential chefs have not only our palates. They have our ears, eyes and minds, and possess power to make lasting change happen, improving how well we eat, how much we enjoy the experience, and blazing a path for industry to do well as it does better for those it serves.
Among Menus of Change’s board members and contributors are some of the foremost visionaries from academia, public health and policy, business and the culinary arts. Among them are Chef Rick Bayless (Frontera Grill, host of Public Television’s “Mexico”); Chef Dan Barber (Blue Hill at Stone Barns); the CEOs of Chipotle, Jamba Juice and other forward-thinking food retailers; and Andrea Illy, CEO of 360PR client illy, a longtime leader in sustainable coffee production.
We’ll be closely monitoring this groundbreaking initiative – a literal crystal ball into our dining future, both home and away.