Anthony Myint is a restauranteur, chef, activist and author working to mobilise the restaurant industry toward healthy soil as a solution to the climate crisis. He leads a publicprivate pro-carbon farming collaboration between the State of California and some of the world’s best chefs and leading businesses.
“Restoring the climate, and biodiversity, depends on restoring carbon in healthy soil, one acre at a time: and we can accomplish this with just a few cents per meal.”
If alien anthropologists were to visit Earth in a few centuries what might they find? If we continue on our current trajectory, I think they may find evidence of a human civilisation lost to extinction because, instead of an ecological food system in which every molecule of organic matter is cycled back to nature, Earthlings instead chose to lock nutrients in plastic bags.
The visitors might return home to their planet with a greater appreciation for the wisdom of their forebears, whose sensible laws mandated that 1% from every transaction be invested in the preservation of natural and working lands. The lesson from Earth’s modern-day economy is very stark: when corporate practice normalises a 0.0% investment rate in healthy soil, clean air and pure water, the result will be mass extinction.
I believe we can avoid that future by changing the entire food system. And we need to. That’s because, in 2020, the nutrient density of ingredients has declined significantly and society has abandoned more acres of degraded farmland in the past 50 years than all remaining farmland, with only an estimated 60 harvests left.
The good news is that new soil science is confirming the immensity, durability and predictability of soil’s ability to remove carbon from the atmosphere. This is great news! But, before you break out the champagne, changing land management on a global scale will require a lot of work and money. As we re-boot the global food economy, post COVID-19, we must change farming, instead of merely making better choices in a broken food system. Society needs to establish a circular food economy, that funds composting and the planting of cover crops, hedgerows and trees to restore ecosystems and remove carbon from the atmosphere.
From 2016 to 2019 we ran a restaurant called The Perennial, sourcing produce from regenerative producers and carbon ranches and baking fresh sourdough using a perennial grain called Kernza. Many guests appreciated this optimistic view of food. Often they would ask: “Where can we buy climate-beneficial ingredients?” Unfortunately, the answer was, “sorry, but there’s no supply.”
Despite much press and enthusiasm, I can’t say for sure if any acres of farmland changed from our three years of buying the best ingredients. So, we shifted our focus to a table-to-farm approach, creating a renewable food economy in which even just a one percent investment from restaurant meals is enough to address the entire carbon footprint of an operation. Our NGO, Zerofoodprint.org, leads a public-private collaboration with the State of California to scale carbon farming through these investments.
We need collective economic action to regenerate and to create truly systemic change. The majority of government subsidies and our extractive economic system incentivise unhealthy soil. As a result, society primarily farms against nature. But we can, and must, change. Restoring the climate, and biodiversity, depends on restoring carbon in healthy soil, one acre at a time, and we can accomplish this with just a few cents per meal.