Within the Culinary Institute of America, the Strategic Initiatives Group is helping to build a more sustainable and equitable future for the food system.
“Essentially what we do is we lead the restaurant industry in terms of sustainability, nutrition, and public health and big ideas and food all through a lens of empathy, humanity and flavor,” Rupa Bhattacharya, Executive Director of Strategic Initiatives and Industry Leadership at the CIA, tells Food Tank. This boils down to, she continues, figuring out “ways to make the world better with food.”
This may entail helping doctors teach their patients how to prepare healthy meals that meet an individual’s needs, putting on conferences, or providing restaurants with resources to develop recipes that are both delicious and sustainable.
As Executive Director, Bhattacharya spends a lot of time thinking about the small shifts that can have a big impact on the food system. And she believes that because the CIA “is such a juggernaut in the field,” it is a prime place to implement these changes.
At the CIA, Bhattacharya and her colleagues have the chance to engage with young people who will soon serve as the next generation of culinary leaders. And working alongside them, she is raising new, yet simple questions: “Who are we talking to? Who is this [work] for? And how are they being affected by it?”
This kind of direction can help to insert empathy into the culinary curriculum, Bhattacharya tells Food Tank. “If I could build in, on the ground floor, this understanding that food comes from humans and is consumed by humans, what changes?” she asks. The hope is that it can ultimately drive a culture shift that eliminates abusive kitchens and promotes equity in the industry.
Bhattacharya believes that the power of this approach, and the value of small changes, is just as relevant when it comes to consumers. Each year, the CIA hosts the Menus of Change Conference, which focuses on sustainable diets that bring joy to eaters, promote human health, and benefit the planet.
“What I’ve been trying to do there,” Bhattacharya says, “is really shift a little bit more aggressively into the practical.” In addition to identifying strategies—whether it’s labeling on menus or the organization of buffets—that guide eaters toward different choices, it’s just as important to realize what doesn’t work.
The climate crisis, for example, doesn’t serve as a motivator, Bhattacharya finds. “It’s actually terrifying.” Instead, she tells Food Tank, “We can do a lot better tapping into joy than tapping into fear.”
Listen to the full conversation with Rupa Bhattacharya on “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg” to hear more about ways to successfully encourage dietary shifts, the importance of obtaining buy-in from restaurant chains to drive change, and the politics of authenticity.
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Photo courtesy of Stephan Schauberger, Unsplash