Editor’s note: The following is a guest essay written by critically acclaimed chef, restaurateur, award-winning author and television personality, Mario Batali. To find out how you can make a difference this Earth Day and to get recipes from renowned chefs like Mario Batali, Carla Hall and Alice Waters visit earthday.nature.org.
When thinking about what to do to celebrate and show support for Earth Day, so many ideas came to mind. Needless to say, we all strive to live every day as if it is Earth Day, but life can get in the way. As I thought, I worried about the approximately 1 billion people without access to clean drinking water. I thought about heirloom seeds in danger of becoming extinct in favor of “better-looking” produce. I wondered about the local farmers that lately we hear a great deal about, and the reality of their struggles to keep up. And I considered the ever-endangered family meal, all members enjoying dinner together around the same table. All of these things have one thing in common: making smart, thoughtful choices. Eat smart.
None of this is rocket science. Water is something that should be free and accessible to all. We have delicious, potable water in our taps here in America, and we should not take that for granted. At our restaurants we have stopped serving bottled water. It seemed logical to me– why ship heavy, glass bottles full of water from halfway around the world, when you can purify, filter and add carbonation to perfectly healthy water that’s already here. Why should I let a multi-national company drill up the water from right under my feet, MY water, and sell it back to me in a plastic bottle at my local deli?
And at the same time, why should I eat the same round, red tomato everyone else eats? Because it’s the prettiest? Because it’s the easiest to grow? The one with the best profit margin? Biodiversity should be revered and treasured, not bred out of existence. Along with each heirloom seed comes a community, a family, a tradition, or a custom that is sacred, and highlights not only earth’s amazing capacity for abundance, but the best of humankinds’ reverence for it. And don’t forget– you can grow food yourself! I’m not saying you can feed yourself from your windowsill, but herbs and greens, for example. Come to one of my restaurants on Earth Day and we’ll get you started with your own packet of BBHG Arugula!
And logically, if we are preserving heirloom seeds, it follows that we are protecting the small farmers who cultivate them. Eating locally has become somewhat of a fad, but it’s not a fad, it’s simple, common sense. I’ve been doing so since I opened Babbo ten years ago, not because I’m some trendsetter (though you can say I am!) but because it was logical. Why eat something flown in from 1000 miles away when you can purchase the same item from 100 miles? And doing this, by default, protects heritage seeds and breeds, and the traditions that accompany them.
And lastly, but most definitely not least, what has become of the family dinner? How will our children learn to forage and shop and eat, if we do not teach them? What will they learn about eating smart, if we are not there to guide them? So much of our life is centered around the consumption of food, we must eat to survive. The choices we make– bottled water or tap water, a radish from upstate NY or California– are informed by our loved ones, our role models, our mentors, our families. Dining together provides a format for discussion, sharing, learning, fighting and growing. And the truth is, the earth will be just fine, she will rebound and start anew, it is her people that are in danger. We need to eat smarter, for ourselves and for her.
(Image: Mario Batali. Image credit: © Melanie Dunea)