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Cooking Up Solutions to Undernourishment in America and Beyond

When we cook with a spiritual compass, we are cooking with intention in order minimize waste and be as efficient as possible. In America, we throw away roughly 40 percent of our food, but if you truly know how to cook, you know how to reuse food throughout the week in order to reduce waste and be cost-efficient.
11/24/2015 07:05pm ET | Updated November 24, 2016
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Woman cooking in kitchen with ingredients around her

This Thanksgiving, millions of U.S. families are anticipating the comforting meals to come. But the holiday is also a reminder that insufficient access to adequate food -- otherwise known as food insecurity -- still plagues vast numbers of people around the world. As someone who cooks for a living, I'm interested in exploring the most effective ways to feed our planet's ever-growing population.

Lately I've been thinking about a panel discussion that I joined a few months ago at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Annual Meeting, where we discussed the role that chefs and others play in the face of global poverty and hunger. I walked away inspired by the forward-looking ways that members of the CGI community are fighting food insecurity. There was Hellen Keller International's work that uses sweet potatoes to fight Vitamin A-deficiency in Mozambique. I also felt encouraged by Hershey's commitment to empower smallholder farmers -- an impoverished population that produces 80 percent of the food consumed in developing countries.

WATCH: Marcus Samuelsson discusses how to meet the nutritional needs of the growing global population with Hugh Grant, chairman and CEO of Monsanto, and Sylvia Magezi, Uganda Program Leade of HarvestPlus, at the 2015 CGI Annual Meeting.

Finding smart ways to fight food insecurity is more important than ever. Over 800 million people around the world suffer from chronic hunger, but it's even more concerning that billions are suffering from micronutrient deficiency. This means that while people may be eating, many are not consuming enough nutrients to maintain physical and mental health. Simply put, they aren't being nourished.

As a chef born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, I've found that my recipes and restaurants are most successful when I blend flavors from different cultures in order to transform the food. I often draw directly on the distinct flavors of Harlem, where I am proud to have opened two of my restaurants, Red Rooster and Streetbird. Through cooking at my restaurants, I have found that when food nourishes your entire being, it also provides your senses with an awakening to your spiritual and moral compass.

Here in my adopted country of the United States -- where more than 48 million people face food insecurity -- I often feel we have lost sight of what is good for us. Surprisingly, our options to eat seasonal, fresh vegetables are often much more limited here than in Ethiopia. Much of the food that is good for us is inaccessible to those who need it most. It's our responsibility as chefs to highlight these issues in order to start the dialogue among the key players that have the power to create policy change. I have three fundamental ideas about how we can start to make immediate change in this area:

Learn How to Cook

We need to get more people engaged with learning how to cook from start to finish, and beyond. Food is a language that if you do not speak, you are inevitably in a position where others are making choices for you -- you are eliminating your own agency.

As a chef, I see the process of preparing a meal as an act of breaking bread -- a legacy of welcoming and sharing. In discussing the future, we must continue creating solutions that can ensure a new legacy -- one where future generations become more connected to their food. We need to get more people engaged with learning how to cook from start to finish, both in their meals and in their lives.

Cook With a Spiritual Compass

When we cook with a spiritual compass, we are cooking with intention in order minimize waste and be as efficient as possible. In America, we throw away roughly 40 percent of our food, but if you truly know how to cook, you know how to reuse food throughout the week in order to reduce waste and be cost-efficient.

As the largest per-capita consumers of food on the planet, we need to encourage people to think about where their food comes from, but also, where it is going when we are finished -- this will help reduce a lot of the outlying issues we are facing in the world. Your spiritual compass is different for every person, but that can enhance its viability. Meaning, we all bring distinct connections to food through our own culture, history and personhood that can create a multitude of ideas and vibrancy to the dinner table. Cooking with that sense of a larger connection to the world makes these benefits a natural outcome.

Teach Children How to Cook

We have a responsibility to change the current trajectory of childhood obesity rates in this country. It's a complex problem, but one solution is simple: teach children how to cook.

I have been able teach cooking classes to students in my neighborhood of Harlem. It has been greatly rewarding to watch students discover that when food is good for us, it's often more satisfying because it is nourishing our minds and bodies. Teaching children how to cook also involves showing them directly where food comes from -- how it is grown, harvested and prepared. These fundamental skills can transform their perception of what is healthy, nutritious and nourishing.

I often feel like in America, teaching children to cook appears to be an outdated idea. I think much of this is due to the gender-stereotyping of the past, but as someone who learned to cook in a pubic school setting in Sweden, I can tell you the benefits first-hand. Learning to cook is something that can individually benefit rich and poor, PhD or high school drop out, for the rest of their lives. Even more importantly, it will benefit our planet for generations to come.