Friday, July 17, 2015

Star chef Rick Moonen: Healthy, safe, sufficient food and respecting Planet Earth

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Expo Milano 2015 is the Universal Exhibition that Milan, Italy, is hosting from May 1 to Oct. 31. The theme of this year’s World’s Fair is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” Understanding the need of keeping the human race fed, safely, is a huge part of what I have devoted myself to over the course of my career.
In 2012, I was selected by the State Department as one of the U.S. chefs to serve as a culinary ambassador abroad, part of an ambitious new undertaking to use food as a diplomatic tool.
Initiated by the U.S. Chief of Protocol Capricia Penavic Marshall and blessed by her boss, (then) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Diplomatic Culinary Partnership was created to “elevate the role of culinary engagement in America’s formal and public diplomacy efforts,” as their mission statement says.
I was honored to represent Las Vegas as a U.S. region with sensitivity toward the health of our planet. Expo 2015 is allowing a platform for an exchange of ideas and shared solutions on the theme of food, stimulating each country’s creativity and promoting innovation for a sustainable future.
On one hand, there are the hungry (some 870 million were undernourished from 2010 to 2012) and, on the other, there are those who die from ailments linked to poor nutrition or too much food (approximately 2.8 million deaths from diseases related to obesity or being overweight in the same period).
Additionally, about 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted every year. For these reasons, we need to make conscious political choices, develop sustainable lifestyles, and use the best technology to create a balance between availability and consumption of resources.
With that in mind, and having lived and preached the message of sustainability for the last two decades, I was excited and honored to be selected as one of the chefs invited to participate as a culinary ambassador as part of the James Beard American Restaurant for several days in June.
Milan has become a global showcase where more than 140 countries are showing the best of their technology that offers a concrete answer to a vital need: being able to guarantee healthy, safe and sufficient food for everyone while respecting Planet Earth and its equilibrium.
On June 8, World Oceans Day, I went to Milan to represent the American Southwest at Expo 2015. From the moment I landed, I was immersed in this event and rushed from the airport to speak on a panel discussion at the U.S. Pavilion. I followed that up by demonstrating a sustainable seafood recipe on Milan Television.
Over the next two nights, I hosted a multi-course, sustainable-seafood dinner at the James Beard American Restaurant. Through clean, healthy and tasty food, the continuing discussion was exemplified in a celebratory manner.
Alaskan Seafood, a sustainable and well-managed fishery, provided a good portion of my menu, and guests, who included a diverse group consisting of U.S. Secret Service as well as U.S. Commissioner General in Milan Ambassador Douglas Hickey, loved every bite.
The menu included local oysters with caviar, brandade of merluzo on a truffle foam and shaved fennel, Alaskan king crab chowder, everything crusted tuna and lightly cured sockeye salmon.
I also was invited to extend my trip to prepare the food during a private function with Secretary of State John Kerry, but a biking accident prevented that from happening. Hopefully we are able to connect with Secretary Kerry at another event, maybe in Las Vegas.
This event was an amazing experience and is helping shed light on this global situation, but we still have a lot of work to do. Not only by realizing a sensible solution, but also by achieving a thoughtful understanding of how to better maintain our fragile ecosystem so we can continue to celebrate the privilege of high-quality food sourcing that’s taken for granted.
Only with a healthy planet can we expect to achieve our goal of providing the world with nutritious and delicious food security as we grow from 7 billion to 9 billion over the next few decades.
I consider myself lucky. I get to help spread this message through creative venues and with supporters of the mission such as the James Beard Foundation by doing what I love to do: cook food. While we still have work to do, we continue to make great strides, and I hope soon we won’t have to worry about answering the question, “What’s for dinner?”

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