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How Chicago's Restaurant Industry Would Change the World Through Food

How would you change the world through food? Local experts weigh in.

To mark the relaunch of Eater today, the Features team compiled a collection of seventy-two of the best ideas for how people around the world are or how they plan to or how they want to change the world through food. A lot of the ideas are incredibly earnest. Some are ambitious beyond reason. But what they all have in common is a belief that, with hard work and good food, the world is headed in the right direction.

As a local component to this feature, we asked the Chicago community to chime in. So check out the national responses over here and scroll below to see what local thinkers and doers would like to do to change the world through food. Have a suggestion? Add it to the comments.

Rick Bayless, Frontera Grill, Topolobampo and Xoco chef/owner, most interesting man in the world: I'm not under any delusion that my food can end pain and suffering. But I do think the food I make and write about has the power to make people more mindful-mindful of the world at large, mindful of the impact their food choices have on the planet, mindful that there are hundreds of countries and cultures and cuisines out there, and all of them are worth exploring. If one bite of my food makes somebody more mindful-if it makes them think-that's good enough for me.

Paul Kahan, Blackbird, Avec, Publican, Publican Quality Meats, Big Star, Nico Osteria, and Dove's Luncheonette chef/owner: I hope to change the world through our work with Pilot Light. For me, a young child's relationship in and around food is as important as an understanding of math and science. By making food part of children's core curriculum, I feel we can reverse many of the ills of our current food system, in terms of health, economic and environmental well being.

Billy Corgan, Smashing Pumpkins frontman and Madame Zuzu's owner: If I haven't changed the world through music, I'm doubtful I can affect it with food. But tea? That's another story!

Beverly Kim, Parachute chef/owner and former Top Chef contestant: Changing the world by food starts at home and around you. By taking care of and nourishing my own family, inspiring and mentoring my own employees to enjoy their work, nourishing my customers and neighborhood through fresh and creative food that comes from the heart, staying true to myself, this care will emanate from person to person and change the world.

Kate Maehr, Executive Director and CEO of the Greater Chicago Food Depository: Access to nutritious food is essential to good health and opportunity. But every year, 1 in 6 of our neighbors struggles to put food on their table. Hunger makes learning more difficult for children, affects the health of our community and limits the potential of our workforce. Hunger is a problem we can solve together. We believe no one should go hungry, and we can change the world by making sure everyone has the food they need to live healthy, fulfilling lives.

Jason Hammel, Lula Cafe and Nightwood owner: I believe that creating even a single beautiful memory around food that is true and emotional can change the world. Beautiful memories create a need to tell one's story. And, for me, it's the sharing of stories that make a community out of a tough and lonely world. So I would like to create beautiful food memories in my restaurants for guests, in my kitchen for my cooks, and in schools for Chicago kids through our organization, Pilot Light. Food is ephemeral, restaurants are faddish, the seasons are fleeting, yet our memories of food and the stories we share have the potential to making truly lasting and impressionable connections among us all.

Jason Vincent, former Nightwood chef: I think it's silly for us to think about changing the world through food using the model that we have right now. We need to completely ‘re-rack the table.' The ‘have and have-not' system that is in place is ridiculous. THERE ARE CHILDREN IN THE WORLD WHO DON'T HAVE FOOD.

Healthy food is unaffordable and crap is cheap. Believe it or not, I'm not opposed to GMO foods, I'm just appalled by the greed and indifference demonstrated by the corporations manufacturing them in getting those foods to the parts of the world that actually need them, while screwing the farmers growing them to turn a profit for big agriculture. Fuck those guys. Lower taxes for farmers and give them more distribution support for our foodways.

Greed doesn't feed.

Alpana Singh, The Boarding House and Seven Lions owner, former "Check, Please!" host: I would love to institute an initiative to provide healthy, nutritious and affordable school meals. Educating children from an early age about the importance of healthy eating will set them up for a lifetime of well-being and reduce the risk of health problems such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and other illnesses associated with a poor diet.

Tony Mantuano, Spiaggia, Bar Toma, and River Roast Owner: (I want to) promote farmers markets even more than before and make their products accessible to all by working with government agencies and programs like Wholesome Wave to make high quality, flavorful ingredients a better deal and option than fast food.

Ryan McCaskey, Acadia chef/owner: I think as chefs, not only in the public eye a bit, but also feeding numerous people every day and night, we have a real opportunity to provide hospitality, food, and education to diners through food. A lot of what we do at Acadia is to tell "a story" through our dishes. We talk about the pristine product we use and where it comes from. I think it's important to talk about where the product comes from, who has handled it, why we think it tastes better, and about the product itself. I think with this awareness, and traceability, consumers may eventually want and demand better products, care more about what we eat, and overall care about where our food comes from. I think this is gradually happening now. We want to eat better, know what's in our food, be healthier overall. and I believe this starts with source awareness.

Jerrod and R.J. Melman, Lettuce Entertain You partners: We are committed to making healthy more delicious. Diners are more health conscious than ever and we continue to incorporate that into our restaurants. Wouldn't it be great to make broccoli taste like pizza?

Abraham Conlon, Fat Rice chef/owner: Many people seem to be preoccupied with "New"-we want to be progressive and innovative. For me, personally, I would like to highlight the past and that oftentimes "new" things are rooted in tradition. Through food we find commonality and that our differences are not all that different. I hope that we begin to teach our children our traditions and culture through family recipes in addition to having the courage to further explore our own heritage. Knowledge can be lost in a generation's time and unless we pass it along, it will be forgotten or is diluted by the information highway. Cooking is a craft taught by word-of-mouth and participation. We must communicate and we must participate. I hope that we emphasize the preservation of our individual cultures alongside creating new traditions for our offspring to share with theirs.

Mindy Segal, Mindy's Hot Chocolate owner and James Beard winner: Seasonal, sustainable and artisan products, especially fresh milled grains, are my core value of baking and cooking.  I would change the world by only using fresh milled and ancient grains in all my baking.  I would love to never use anything processed so that my food is always fresh and natural and, of course, seasonal. I would like to train and employ people that are less fortunate than myself and give them opportunities and knowledge so that the giving tree can always be paid forward.

Emily Williams Knight, President, Kendall College: Kendall College's School of Culinary Arts exists to create agents of change, not only in Chicago and the Midwest, but across the country and globe. We teach people with a passion for food how to put that passion in play in ways that extend far beyond creating convivial social experiences for people.

Our graduates have the power to greatly enhance a community's health and well-being. They leave our campus with ardent commitment to serving and protecting the environment that sustains us. These newly minted professionals, trained in the art of culinary and the business of securing and preparing high-quality food for others, can also help alleviate that which keeps populations worldwide adequately fed yet severely malnourished.

Given the immense potential of trained culinarians to bring significant, positive change to all corners of the planet, we in the United States and many other nations are fortunate that a relatively newfound respect for chefs coupled with increasing love of and fascination with all things culinary extends throughout our respective cultures-making it easier to enact real, worthwhile change.

Yet if I could impact anything, it would be that parents in still-developing societies appreciate the pursuit of a career in food by their children as a viable, rewarding life plan rather than less-valued, uninspired labor. It would be that more women in every culture be encouraged to man the stockpots as executives in commercial kitchens, achieving their dreams of a balanced life that embraces the joy of cooking professionally.

Through the Laureate global network of universities, which includes Kendall College, we see changing attitudes toward young people and women entering and excelling in the culinary and baking/pastry arts. That's a great thing. Because professional training offered to more people with an inherent passion for food will only spread good throughout the entire world.

Jimmy Bannos Jr., The Purple Pig chef/owner: The problem with our era is that many people are either suffering from starvation or people are obese. I want to encourage healthy eating, lower prices for unprocessed food, buying local or providing school meals globally.

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