Sam Kass Wants to Put the Climate on the Menu Before it’s Too Late

Author: Twilight Greenaway and Michael R. Dimock

As the world prepares for critical climate negotiations in Paris this December, the former White House chef hopes to put food and agriculture on the global climate agenda—and on world leaders’ plates.

Since Sam Kass left his position as assistant White House chef and executive director of the first lady’s “Let’s Move!” campaign late last year, he has had no shortage of things to do. For one, he’s preparing to join the NBC News team as a senior food analyst. But first, Kass is planning some very important meals.

This December, 25,000 delegates from 190 nations will be meeting in Paris for the United Nation’s Conference of Parties or COP 21. The goal is to ensure every nation takes action to keep the average global temperature increase below 2 degrees centigrade by achieving a “binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world.”

“Many who are paying attention are saying these are the most important negotiations of our lifetime,” says Kass, who hopes to bring together the leaders of as many nations as possible over food. But not just any food—he’s planning meals that send a clear message about the crucial role food and agriculture will play in either mitigating climate change, or adding to its snowball effect, in the years ahead.

From the methane produced by livestock and food waste, to the nitrous oxide that escapes from manure and fertilizer, to the carbon dioxide left unabsorbed when rainforests are cut down to make way for cattle and soybeans, food and agriculture add significant quantities of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. And yet, says Kass, they are often under-represented in climate negotiations. But, he adds, “there will be a massive cost to pay if food isn’t in that mix.”

Food Waste and Beyond

Kass’ climate campaign began in September when he and Dan Barber, author of the Third Plate and chef at Blue Hill and the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, prepared an unprecedented meal at the UN for a significant number of world leaders including General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon and French President Francois Hollande, aimed at highlighting the fact that food waste is a major contributor to climate change. The meal included a burger made from vegetable pulp and “French fries” fashioned from starchy corn used to feed cattle.

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