During a recent conversation at the Future of Food @ SXSW in Austin, Texas, chef, restaurateur, and television personality Andrew Zimmern discussed the future of the restaurant industry and the interconnectedness of food systems issues.
According to a survey from the Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC), 60 percent of independent restaurants in the United States are at risk of closing if they do not receive additional monetary relief.
“Restaurants have been very brittle from an economic standpoint for the last 50 years,” Zimmern says.
IRC reports that 278,304 American restaurants applied for over US$72.2 billion in relief through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) established 2021, but just 101,004 small businesses received funding. Zimmern explains that this has put restaurants on unequal footing, with businesses that received relief faring better than those that did not. The Coalition is therefore lobbying Congress to replenish the RRF to help keep more businesses afloat.
Zimmern argues that this relief is crucial to strengthening communities. “Who’s the number one employer of returning citizens from jails and institutions? Restaurants,” Zimmern says. “Who’s the number employer of single moms? Restaurants. Number one employer of new Americans? Restaurants.”
Zimmern uses this point to underscore the intersection of food systems diverse food systems issues. “The fact of the matter is we all have to work together pushing 100 different levers at the same time if we’re going to make a difference.”
Willful collaboration also requires engaging stakeholders of all political affiliations, Zimmern argues. “Today, the thing that depresses me the most is the literal inactivity of our governments and the inability to get done what is neither left nor right, red nor blue, but really is simply forward for humankind.”
“I don’t understand how any politician can be against feeding hungry children,” Zimmern continues. But, he says, despite having enough food and money, hunger in the U.S. still persists.
He calls on everyone to work toward a better food system that will, in turn, be better for people, animals, and the planet. “We have to not be screaming, yelling, and throwing rocks at people on the other side. That doesn’t make anyone want to talk to us,” Zimmern says. “We need to find ways to engage and try to co-regulate with them.”
Watch the full conversation below: