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Leather Storrs: The Undeniable Politics of Food

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


Concerns about water, weather, pollution and global strife come together in the increasingly political arena of food. In addition, there is a growing awareness about what we put into our bodies; where does our food come from, how is it raised? Need proof? Despite swallowing Chipotle, McDonalds has posted losses for four straight quarters and no one was more surprised than Ronald. Perhaps you’ve seen him scrambling to get on the bandwagon with hormone free chicken and “fresh Haas avocados.” When the biggest boy in the game has to submit to a new culture with new rules, it’s clear we are in the midst of a revolution.

Last week on the radio show I co-host, our guest was William Rosenzweig, the founder of both “The Republic of Tea” (credited with pioneering the specialty tea movement) and The Food Business School at The Culinary Institute of America. During our interview, Rosenzweig articulated a remarkable philosophy: Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is critical to the success of a culinary venture. We have advanced as a culture to a point where consumers demand a commitment to sustainability, carbon awareness and work place transparency. Whoa! 

On a very small scale I agree whole heartedly. My restaurant has a garden on the roof that supplies a significant amount of our produce (40-50% in July, August and September). People always ask about how much money we save by growing our own vegetables and my answer is always the same: “The calculus of our garden is a tricky thing." Mostly it’s because I like to pretend I understand calculus. But honestly, the math is made foggy by the fact that the garden does many things that can’t be monetized.

It distinguishes us in a very competitive market as a restaurant that epitomizes the notion of local, seasonal and farm to table. It allows us to harvest ingredients as needed so as to guarantee freshness and avoid spoilage. It allows us to use vegetables at different stages of their lives, like arugula flowers or the leaves of tender fava beans or the green seeds of cilantro. And finally, it serves as a lesson to my cooks about the time and energy required to bring a product from seed to harvest. Because of this last point, my cooks are more careful in their treatment of vegetables- they know I’ll flip out if they screw up something we grew. So even though it costs us more money to grow our own food, the intangible benefits return a value greater than the higher price tag. CSR in full effect.

Regardless of the moves that corporations make, remember, you are the agents of change. Endorse, with your dollars, producers and products that are committed to sustainability. Making this commitment will cost you more money. Do it anyway. Say no to hormones, antibiotics, dyes, chemicals and ridiculous packaging. Buy less meat and move it away from the center of the plate. Use meat as a garnish rather than an organizing principal and know where your protein comes from. Experiment with lesser cuts, like the magical pork shoulder. Buy local foods from growers that practice smaller footprint, chemical free farming. Grow something! It’s an extraordinary and engaging process. And finally consider this: The next time the arches beckon, drive past, not thru.

Leather Storrs is an Oregon native who has served 20 years in professional kitchens. He owns a piece of two area restaurants: Noble Rot and Nobleoni at Oregon College of Art and Craft, where he yells and waves arms. He quietly admits to having been a newspaper critic in Austin, Texas and Portland. 


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