Magazine article The New Yorker

Clean Plate Club

Magazine article The New Yorker

Clean Plate Club

Article excerpt

CLEAN PLATE CLUB

Just after the sun came up one recent Sunday, a group of people assembled on the corner of Forty-seventh Street and Second Avenue. They were cooks. Several had chef's jackets rolled up under their arms like sleeping bags. They were about to be escorted into the United Nations to prepare a "working lunch" for forty world leaders. Except for the heads of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and for John Kerry, the leaders were Presidents. A lunch with so many Presidents was an exceptional event. So, too, was the menu. It was garbage. It was made with ingredients that would otherwise have been thrown away.

"These people, these world leaders, are used to eating for pleasure," one of the meal's organizers, Sam Kass, said. Until last year, Kass was the Obama family's private chef, and he has been involved in the White House's policies on nutrition. "They eat caviar and foie gras. I'm now seeing how badly this could go wrong. 'What is this disgusting food?' Hollande might say."

Francois Hollande, the French President, was important because, in December, he will host a conference in Paris on climate change. The purpose of the working lunch was to prepare for that conference, and the guests tended to be big countries sympathetic to the cause or island nations that are expected to sink below the sea. Kass had an idea that a lunch of this kind might put food on the climate-change agenda: "People don't understand greenhouse-gas emission. But they understand food."

Dan Barber, the chef of Blue Hill, was the other organizer. Barber is tall and very skinny, and has hair like steel wool which, not unlike his thoughts, won't be controlled. He has a degree in English and began cooking to buy time to write a novel. The cooks who had gathered on the corner were Barber's staff and would be not only making the lunch but also serving it. ("They're the only people who could possibly explain the dishes," he said.) Last spring, Barber ran a pop-up operation using only ingredients discarded by the food industry, and has shown an aptitude for making good food out of landfill. "It is all going to come down to the veggie burger," he said. It was the main event and was principally pulp from vegetables after they were juiced.

At the lunch, the bread, made from barley mash from a local brewery, was followed by a salad. …

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