2019 Basque Culinary World Prize Winner Anthony Myint Uses Cooking For Climate Solutions

Food & Drink

Anthony Myint, San Francisco-based environmental activist, chef, restaurateur, author and food consultant has been awarded the 2019 Basque Culinary World Prize.

The Basque Culinary World Prize awards a single winner with €100,000 based on their “transformative” good works in the fields of education, health, research, sustainability, social entrepreneurship and economic development.

The award is offered by the Basque Government parallel with the Euskadi-Basque Country Strategy and the Basque Culinary Center. This is the fourth and largest contest to date, and Myint was chosen from a pool of 230 nominees from 42 countries including 150 chefs.

Myint was selected by a jury of culinary pros and experts including Jock Zonfrillo, the 2018 winner. Myint was a nominee in 2018 and he was chosen as winner in 2019 for his work impacting climate change from within the food industry. His efforts communicate with both the private and public sectors for “economic and ecological resilience.”

“Through conviction, persistence and creativity, Anthony Myint uses cooking to tackle one of the most pressing challenges in today’s global society: climate change,” according to the prize website.

Through his ZeroFoodprint project, and the Perennial Farming Initiative, Myint works in the space where restaurants and the environment meet to scale the prevalence of regenerative production.

In fall 2019, the State of California will roll out a voluntary carbon tax, added to the bills of diners — the first of it’s kind in the word — an effort supported by Myint through his restaurant partners in the Bay Area. Revenue from this tax could be used to encourage sustainable practices in the meat and dairy industry, incentivizing farmers to implement grassland ecosystems that pull carbon from the atmosphere, an approach that Myint sees as an important path to scaleable change.

Myint’s projects, which started in his own kitchen at Mission Chinese Food, have grown influential standards in the agri-food business. The restaurants he’s pulled into his fold include Mugaritz (Eneko Atxa, Basque Country), Celler de Can Roca (Joan Roca, Spain), Atelier Crenn (Dominique Crenn, San Francisco), Pujol (Enrique Olvera, Mexico) and Narisawa (Yoshihiro Narisawa, Japan).

Food and farming represent over 45% of the solution set and also offer more than five times the overall societal benefit per dollar of investment.

Anthony Myint

I had the opportunity to ask Myint questions about his work and outlook on choices we make as diners and restaurant-goers:

Jill Barth: What does it mean to do ‘your part’ as a diner, as an eater?

Anthony Myint: We can each make individual choices such as consuming less factory farmed beef or choosing a restaurant that aligns with our ethics, but unfortunately these demand signals are creating very gradual change in the food system. For example, after 40 years, “organic” represents less than 2% of farmland in the US or the world despite undeniable traction. 

Now that scientists have confirmed that transitioning to renewable farming can reverse global warming, we need very direct ways to create change in existing supply chains. So we’re advocating for a new way to do your part which is to send a few cents per meal toward helping to create this transition.

JB: How can restaurants and chefs connect with regenerative farmers?

AM: There is a prevailing lack of understanding in terms of what specific farms and ranches are doing and, to make matters worse, there is simply very little supply of sustainably produced food.

In other words, even if there was suddenly much more demand there would be no supply. So the most impactful way to engage with regenerative agriculture would be to help a farmer implement regenerative practices. This is an approach that every restaurant can participate in, whereas sourcing regeneratively is an option only available to maybe 1% of restaurants. 

JB: How can diners and eaters support policy that empowers regenerative farmers?

AM: The support can begin with acknowledging the climate opportunity and then rethinking our priorities. Currently the approach is to focus virtually all policy efforts on traditional solutions like mass transit and renewable energy.

In fact, food and farming represent over 45% of the solution set and also offer more than five times the overall societal benefit per dollar of investment. We need to align policy with healthy soil-related climate solutions. 

This interview has been edited for clarity.

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