Over the past decade, chefs have increasingly been in the spotlight for creating change in how we eat and the foods we purchase. Consumers today are now asking where their food comes from, how it was grown/raised and who the farmer or artisianal producer is that made it all happen. They are also more inquisitive about what is in the foods they are enjoying. Farmers markets, community supported agriculture (CSA’s), urban agriculture, home and community gardens just to name a few are as popular as ever. Words like “sustainable” and “local” have almost become passé. We are connected to our food in ways I never could have dreamed of growing up in an age of microwavable everything. Chefs have played a huge part in creating this awareness and demand. As Ann Yonkers of FRESHFARM Markets has said to me on numerous occasions, “Chefs are fueling the appetite for the delicious food revolution."
The evolution of chefs and restaurateurs leading this revolution reached a new level this week with the announcement of the first recipients of the United States Healthful Food Council’s (USHFC) REAL seal certification. The first program of its kind in the country, REAL stands for Responsible Epicurean and Agricultural Leadership. The program is designed to help connect health and sustainable minded consumers with restaurants and other foodservice providers who serve food and beverages that meet the REAL criteria. Inspired by the United States Green Building Council’s point-based LEED certification REAL provides third-party verification based upon an index that was developed in collaboration with a panel of independent experts. It covers: vegetables and fruits, moderate portion sizes, local & regional sourcing, special dietary offerings, use of healthier oils, healthy children’s meals, reduced processing and additives, lean meats, organic and sustainable foods, and animal welfare. Restaurants including RIS DC, Restaurant Nora, Soupergirl, Elizabeth’s Gone Raw, Energy Kitchen and more were recognized for their leadership in being “new stewards of the American diet.”
“People are increasingly concerned with health and sustainability when eating out, and REAL Certification provides a holistic way to distinguish between those that ‘walk the walk,’ from those that simply ‘talk the talk,’” said Lawrence Williams, President of the USHFC. “Putting calorie levels on menus may be helpful, but it’s not a good proxy for healthfulness and environmental sustainability.”
We are truly lucky here in the Washington, DC area to have a thriving and growing food community that is bound together by a powerful goal and mission of healthful and sustainable eating. It’s easy to get caught up in the attention garnered by the launch of a new program that salutes brick and mortar eateries that are making it easier for Washingtonian’s to eat this way. However, it’s also important to recognize the organizations, small businesses and the new wave of social entrepreneurs who are making equally as impressive strides to encourage healthier and more responsible eating that is accessible and convenient, while going beyond the restaurant experience.
FRESHFARM Markets, the non-profit organization whose mission is to build and strengthen the local, sustainable food movement in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, has been hosting Chef-at-Marketdemonstrations at their farmers markets for 12 years. Hundreds of chefs, including many of the REAL seal recipients as well as some of the most recognized names in food, have participated through cooking demos, book signings and tastings. Through the popular program, market shoppers and food lovers have tasted, touched and experienced the pleasures of seasonal and locally harvested foods first hand.
Additionally, Power Supply, the specialty prepared meals company that makes chef-driven Paleo inspired meals and delivers them to CrossFit gyms throughout the DMV, has recently made strides to source their protein heavy meals from more local and sustainable sources including Grayson Natural Farms. Through this partnership, Power Supply has the ability to become a reliable and consistent buyer of Grayson’s grass-fed beef, circumventing the challenge that has consistently plagued the farmer - restaurant supply model. They recently celebrated the delivery of their 200,000 meal. Imagine the long-term difference that kind of demand can make for a small family farmer. While not ever meal includes ground-beef, that type of sustained demand could mean the difference between success and failure. Founders Patrick Smith and Robert Morton, along with Chef Rachel Slotnick, are another example of the role chefs in partnership with businesses and socially minded entrepreneurs play in being agents of social change that is as delicious as it is sustainable.
We’ve many tremendous strides over the past 10 years to get to this point and that in and of itself should be lauded. The fact that USHFC is launching this program with almost 20 restaurants on board is significant. It’s also in part a sign of the times. Now that is real change. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
To see the list of restaurants to receive the USHFC Real seal certification, click here.