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A Sustainability-Focused Food Summit Puts Change on the Menu


For three jam-packed days in June, the Culinary Institute of America played host to the 7th annual Menus of Change Leadership summit. 

Launched in 2012 as a collaboration between The Culinary Institute of America and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the conference aims at discovering links between the latest research into environmental science and nutrition. Its advisory council features scientists from institutions like Johns Hopkins, Tufts, and UC Davis, as well as business leaders from Google Food, Panera Bread, and Sweetgreen.

While Menus of Change does not produce any original scientific research, it does collate the best available information to produce guidelines for businesses and individuals, like its Principles of Healthy Sustainable Menus, which includes advice like “think produce first” and “celebrate cultural diversity and discovery.”

Additionally, its annual State of the Plate report analyzes such factors as climate change, water sustainability, supply chain transparency, and caloric intake in the global food industry. 

Menus of Change holds its annual summit, now in its seventh year, at the CIA, bringing in experts from throughout the United States and across the world. At this year’s event, Johan Rockström of Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact stressed the importance of agriculture with regards to global climate change, on a panel which argued that food waste needed to be halved across the board by 2030.

There were also presentations from figures like Anahita Dhondy, a New Delhi-based chef who advocated for “plant-forward” diets with a heavy focus on regenerative crops like millet, which require vastly smaller volumes of water and restore the soil they are grown in. Presenters also trumpeted The Chef’s Manifesto, which advocates for, among other things, sustainably grown ingredients, reduced food and agricultural waste, plant-based diets, and a focus on local and seasonal ingredients.

So how are we doing? According to the 2018 Menus of Change Annual Report’s dashboard (which provides a snapshot of the food service industry’s progress to improve nutrition, sustainability, and profitability) there is “Good Progress” in all but three of 12 categories, a hopeful note for an imperiled world. As noted by many at the conference, these gains are hard-won, but tangible. Following the Principles, they hope, will make it even more progress feasible.

Hudson Valley Restaurant Week is back this April 8-21!