Priorities Right Now

For the next several months, I’m going to be focused on a few main projects:

Over the past few years, we’ve been fortunate to work with dozens of restaurants, whose fearless and creative engagement with climate action has been an inspiration not only to me, but to others around the world. In 2019, we committed to a significant expansion of our network, which not only means more active outreach, but also a conscious effort to lower the barriers to participation. We have launched a new, easy-as-pie way for restaurants to contribute to climate solutions: adding a 1% surcharge on diners’ bills, which goes directly into my other big project this year, Restore California. To get involved, please visit zerofoodprint.org.

  • Designing and Launching Restore California

    The State of California’s Healthy Soils Program, which funds the implementation of soil-building conservation agriculture (e.g. compost application on farms and ranchland) has been growing steadily since 2017, but there is still so much more carbon in the atmosphere that can and should be re-stored in the soil, where it supports the creation of healthier, tastier food while increasing resilience to drought, fires, and floods. This year, I am working on Restore California as a public-private partnership that builds on the Healthy Soils Program and engages the entire food system in solving the climate crisis.

  • Setting sustainable patterns

    Zero Foodprint and Restore California are programs of The Perennial Farming Initiative, which is in a growth mode, so I’m working to set up systems that will serve us as we grow, without sacrificing our families or mental health.

Thanks so much for your interest in me and my work, and thank you for understanding if I cannot respond to an invitation to an event or collaboration. To keep up to date with the evolution of my work, please subscribe to the ZFP newsletter (scroll down for sign-up form).

Thanks a million!

Restore California

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I wasn't actually “born and raised” in California, but I sure come close. My family moved to LA when I was a newborn, and that's where I stayed for my first 18 years, and at this point I've lived nearly that long in the Bay Area. But it’s been years and years since I felt this level of California pride, because I’m working with some amazing leaders in the state government to take action on climate change with a program we’re calling Restore California.

The idea is that restaurants and diners can help draw down CO2 by building healthy soil on farms and ranches around California, which means we’re not only drawing down CO2 but also improving flavor, nutrition, and resilience in our food system. This project, which is a collaboration between my non-profit, The Perennial Farming Initiative, CalEPA (specifically CARB), and CA’s Dept of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), builds on the work that PFI does with its Zero Foodprint program, which has been helping restaurants achieve carbon neutrality since 2015. Whereas ZFP restaurants go through a full life cycle assessment, however, restaurants in the Restore CA program can simply add 1% to customers’ bills and pay that money into a Healthy Soil Carbon Fund that we are developing as a complement to the state’s existing Healthy Soils Program. Participation is voluntary by restaurants, and customers can opt out with a simple comment to a server, but 1% really does feel like a manageable amount. At Mission Chinese, we’ve been road-testing the idea for a few months, and no one has ever objected. (Though they probably will now that we’re getting more press.)

All of this Restore CA planning feels pretty exciting, and a confirmation of our decision to close The Perennial Restaurant and focus on The Perennial Farming Initiative. Instead of asking each restaurant (or individual, or giant food business) to change their habits fast enough to really move the needle, we’re just getting right into the main busines of putting carbon back in the soil, where it belongs. We’re thinking of it along the line of renewable energy: instead of waiting for every homeowner to install solar panels, there is now an option to engage in a renewable grid, and Restore CA will offer a counterpart in the food sector.

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But why stop at California? We started here because we live here, and the state represents the fifth largest economy in the world, but there’s no reason that other states can’t do the same. Looking forward to the day when people across the country come together to work on a solution, not just in “lefty” California, but across the United States. Wouldn’t that be something?

What Can I Do?

People often ask me what steps they can take to be part of the climate solution (or at least, scale back on adding to the climate problem). Here are some graphics with ideas. The first is from Environmental Research Letters, for a general audience, and the second is something that we put together for chefs specifically. I think the main take-away from both is that we aren’t being very strategic about our sustainability efforts—for myself, I know I’ll stress about getting every last recyclable into the correct bin and then board a plane to talk more about sustainability. The graphic for chefs, for example, was part of the World Restaurant Award ceremony that I attended in Paris. I have a lot of mixed feelings about going and trying to connect with the international food community about sustainability, with all good intentions, at the cost to the planet of a transatlantic flight. It didn’t help that my flight home got mangled and I ended up being routed through LA, meaning yet another take-off and landing. And all the single use plastic on the plane! We can go crazy just thinking about it. Or we can just square our shoulders and promise to do better next time.

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The Perennial Closes, Mission Street Food Returns, and more

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This morning, I woke up to the news that Anthony and I are on the James Beard Foundation’s list of semifinalists for Outstanding Restaurateurs. That felt good (of course), but also a bit mournful, since we are currently in the process of winding down The Perennial, the restaurant that I’ve been most emotionally invested in for the past few years. We closed for many reasons, most of them personal, but they could all go under the broad category of time management. We felt torn between tending to the restaurant and the advocacy work of its non-profit sister, The Perennial Farming Initiative. We tried to juggle both projects for more than three years (along with everything else that crops up in a life), and we have been feeling pretty worn out.

The Perennial closed its doors about three weeks ago, and already, I’ve had more time to reflect—and to reflect about time. We only get so many hours in the day, and we only have a few years left to turn this climate change thing around. Anthony and I want to put more of our personal energy into systemic approaches to climate change, which we’ve mapped out here (and in the graphic below). I’ll continue to be Executive Director of The Perennial Farming Initiative, with Anthony in the Director of Operations role, until we discover another, better way to make change. In the meantime, Anthony has been getting back into cheffing with Vesterbro Chinese Food in Copenhagen and a revamped Mission Street Food truck operated by Off The Grid every Friday at Fort Mason from March through October this year. But our focus is PFI and building a renewable food system rooted in healthy soil. So, we forge ahead, bridging the worlds of food, environment, writing, family, and friendship. We’ll continue to add items to our to-do lists about as quickly as we cross them off, and that’s the plan until we come up with some way to do more with these lives we’ve been given.

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In Case of Sexual Harassment

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In light of all the revelations of sexual harassment in the restaurant industry, I got the idea of a "what to do" poster along the lines of the choking posters I used to see when I lived in New York. I mentioned the idea to Cherry Bombe's editor Kerry Diamond, and she immediately said, let's do it. A friend put me in touch with the awesome designer Kelli Anderson and we made this happen. It's now available in English and Spanish as a free download and/or printed poster for purchase HERE, via Cherry Bombe. 

My hope is that this will be in the back of every restaurant, alongside the posters outlining workers' rights to a minimum wage and breaks. Sexual harassment is a work safety issue that should be taken as seriously as choking. It's much more common than choking, for one thing, and for another, it needs to be acknowledged before it can get better. 

Mother Jones created a good roundup of the current situation, including this poster, along with a podcast. 

In The New York Times, Florence Fabricant wrote about the poster here. Tara Duggan wrote about the posters for The San Francisco Chronicle here and I spoke about sexual harassment with others in the Bay Area food world at the Golden Gate Restaurant Association conference (Eater covered it here and Refinery29 here). Heritage Radio Network interviewed all three collaborators here

Design Thinking:  Kelli Anderson wrote about our design process for her awesome blog and my old friend Annaliese Griffin wrote about Designing Solutions to Restaurant Sexual Harassment for Quartz here

The Perennial is OPEN!

After almost two years of research, planning, and construction, we have finally opened the restaurant of our hopes and dreams. It's still an evolving project, but I am so proud of what we've already accomplished, not only making a beautiful space with incredible food and lovely people, but also starting a conversation about food and the environment that I hope extends far beyond this single restaurant. Here are some links that should explain more about what we're up to at The Perennial -- many with pictures -- but I hope you'll come visit us in person as well. (Because that's still the only way to taste the food!) 

WIRED

"For the founders of San Francisco restaurant The Perennial, farm-to-table isn’t enough. They’re hoping for farm-to-table-to-farm-to-table, repeating. 'When we got started, we focused on energy and transportation efficiency,' says Karen Leibowitz, one of the restaurateurs. 'But we discovered that food systems and agricultural practices are a huge part of the climate-change equation.' So her team shifted to figuring out how to make an agricultural impact. The results are responsible and tasty."

Bits and Pieces

Construction is finally in full swing at The Perennial, which means we can turn our attention to the smaller bits and pieces on our to-do lists. Meanwhile, I'm trying to keep an eye on the bigger picture. 

Wild Food Week Press Round-Up

Here's what people are saying about Wild Food Week.

(Meanwhile, we're gearing up for dinner at Mission Chinese [with The Perennial] tomorrow, Chez Pannisse on Thursday, and Mission: Heirloom on Friday. Tickets to our dinner: here.)

Mankind is Noodlekind

Today is the 105th birthday of Momofuku Ando, inventor of instant ramen. Google celebrated with a doodle--and here is my article on the man for the first issue of Lucky Peach (i.e. the English translation of Momofuku). Happy noodling!