The sustainable choice of a Californian chef

 By Anna Volpicelli

San Francisco-based chef Anthony Myint is known in the worldwide restaurant industry for his revolutionary actions…

In 2008, amid the recession, Myint and his wife, Karen Leibowitz, launched Mission Street Food, a business project that initiated the prolific trend of food trucks and pop-up diners in the Bay Area.
The goal—to help chefs and restaurateurs survive during difficult times—went so well that it gave to the couple the opportunity to open their first culinary venture, Mission Chinese Food. It eventually became one the most successful Chinese restaurants in town. A few years later, Myint’s bright mind was engaged again as he sought a solution to a more global problem: how to fight climate change. This became the core of ZeroFood Print, a project that won him the Basque Culinary World Prize, a prestigious award celebrating chefs who demonstrate gastronomy’s positive impact in fields such as culinary innovation, health, nutrition, education, the environment, the food industry, and/or social and economic development.

The beginning of the movement

In 2014 Myint founded the program with Peter Freed, renewable energy manager at Facebook, and Chris Ying, former editor in chief of Lucky Peach magazine, intending to educate chefs and restaurants on ways to lower their carbon impact and improve the restaurant industry’s business sustainability problem.
“Seven years ago, we had a daughter, and we started thinking more and more about the future and most of all, the consequences of climate change. We realized that zero chefs were taking this problem seriously or were doing anything about it. We decided to do it”, Mynt explains.

Chef Anthony Myint

Zero FoodPrint gives restaurants guidelines to create a renewable food system by funding climate-friendly farming practices. The aim is to increase soil health and consequentially to supply better ingredients. According to Mynt, also the ingredients used by restaurants have a severe  impact on the environment.
“We did some research, and we met progressive farmers who were doing amazing work and were trying to change their practices. During our conversations, we realized something that scientists proved four years ago—that good farming can have a positive impact on global warming”, Mynt says.
This innovative approach to agricultural practices, known as carbon farming, supports gentler tilling methods and covers cropping, composting and other measures that pull carbon dioxide from the air, keep it inside the soil or store it in the ground: this tecnique is known as “biochar”.

The power of a carbon-free meal

Zero FoodPrint is opening up a new pathway, enabling chefs and diners to support farmers as they transition from a factory farming to a carbon farming. “We are inviting people to help their producers initiate better practices, which we know can be expensive. We ask customers and chefs to invest 2 cents by choosing a carbon-free meal”. Restaurants that want to be part of this climate-friendly movement must complete a life cycle assessment, which measures a restaurant’s carbon footprint by examining its ingredients, the energy use and other operations. The test is led by 3 degrees, a company that helps organizations incorporate clean energy and greenhouse gas emission reduction strategies into their business operations. In California, a number of restaurants are already participating in the initiative, including Benu, Atelier Crenn, Cala, Commonwealth, Chez Panisse, State Bird Provision and others.

The “Apocalypse Burger Lettuce Wrap” by Anthony Myint is part of the menu at In Situ restaurant at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (Liz Hafalia, The Chronicle)

Investing in a good cause

In addition to Zero FoodPrint, this fall Myint is launching Restore California Renewable Restaurant in partnership with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the California Air Resources Board and The Perennial Farming Initiative. The latter is a nonprofit the chef founded with his wife in support of progressive agriculture, meaning food production that is not only environmentally responsible but also equitably productive. The project will give restaurants the option of charging customers an additional 1% that will support California’s Healthy Soil Program. This particular program aims to help farmers shift their practices of putting carbon in the soil. The result will be a better meal—and a better planet.

about the author
Anna Volpicelli