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Conscious Capitalist Cooking?

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I can't wait to go to San Francisco this weekend, where I'll be with kindred spirits devoted to making the world a better place. We'll mostly work to transform a core human activity, but the food alone may be worth going for: an "amazing farmers' market style lunch with lots of local purveyors."

Am I talking about the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference (April 6-9), the huge gathering of food writers, publishers, and chefs? Sadly, no. This year's conference has several presentations on sustainable food, but completely overlooks the most encouraging food trend of our time: the move to plant-based food. Many studies show it's the healthiest way to eat and a significant way to slow global warming. The IACP's banquet menu doesn't give attendees that choice amid the pork cheeks, pork belly, brisket, halibut, crème fraiche, and caviar. The lone legume will be garbanzo beans buried under "lamb lollipops," with no mention of options for special diets.

Even though I'm a cookbook writer, it's the Conscious Capitalism conference (April 5-6) that has my mouth watering. The core human activity is business, not eating. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey will be the keynote speaker. Mackey's new book Conscious Capitalism urges businesses to find synergies for multiple stakeholders, not just profits for shareholders. He makes a strong case that free-enterprise capitalism can improve our lives and provide benefits for multiple stakeholders.

The Conscious Capitalism lunch menu reflects that approach. Caterer Laurel Timms tells me that one of the three featured entrees will be "Roasted Beet and Spring Green Salad: tender baby spring greens tossed with roasted beets and shaved fennel, drizzled with a pomegranate-lemon vinaigrette, served with our brown rice and red quinoa and lentil salad (Gluten Free, Lactose Free, and Vegan)."

What does this have to do with cooking and small businesses like the Cook for Good project? I came to understand this while underlining my way through his book last month. I flew up to Storrs, Conn., to encourage students at Mansfield Middle School to eat healthy, real food. The further I read, the more I saw that the event had all the elements of Mackey's win6 philosophy, which seeks synergy among a business and five groups of stakeholders.

My business was excited about using our menus and recipes in cafeterias. We uncovered an unexpected need too: even sixth graders are interested in menu planning. Their enthusiasm could inspire other members of their family to buy and cook more healthy food. Our investors (just my Taster and me for now) know that the new contacts and feedback will help us be successful in the long run.

Our customers won too. The school engaged students in a fresh learning experience that could lead to healthier kids who do better in school. Three hundred youngsters devoured the mushroom-and-greens lasagna, green salad, roasted apples, fresh-baked bread, and cocoa cookies. They eagerly took home recipes and menu plans to share with their parents. Although the cafeteria staff and I wondered before the lunch if the kids would try anything new, by the end of the second seating we were worried we might run out. The food lasted, but we had to print more recipes and menus.

Most business analyses would stop there, but Conscious Capitalism looks at three more aspects. The team members (cafeteria cooks) enjoyed using their amazing cooking skills on new recipes and seeing the kids' responses. They also got a chance for professional development when I gave a talk for the Yankee Chapter of the Connecticut School Nutrition Association.

Our suppliers and partners won. The food vendors and local farmers sold more fresh fruits, vegetables, and other wholesome ingredients. Students at the Meredith College Food and Nutrition Program got a real-world test of converting family-sized recipes to cafeteria quantities. The force behind the event, Meredith's Dr. Beth Gankofskie, inspired more people to eat better.

The community and the environment gained at least three ways. The local health food store that donated ingredients may get more business when kids urge their parents to try these recipes at home. The whole local economy can get stronger as residents buy more fresh, local food. Finally, the community can reduce its carbon footprint by using local, seasonal, mostly plant-based ingredients with minimal waste.

Many food projects can achieve similar benefits. I encourage my IACP colleagues to consider how their culinary activities can benefit all of their stakeholders. A quick look at Amazon's best-selling cookbooks should tell the culinary pros that it's a popular and lucrative topic too.

At least last year the IACP invited Dr. Neal Barnard to speak, although panelists who preceded him said they wouldn't trust findings from vegetarian researchers. This year, no session shares the splendid new techniques for plant-based cooking. It's time for the IACP to put down the lamb lollipops and pick up plants to fight obesity, chronic disease, and global warming.

Are you going to one or both of these conferences? What do you hope to get out of them? If you're not, what goals would you like to see business and food leaders work toward?

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