While Humm claimed to be making this change out of concern for the environment, claims of food waste at his restaurant make this claim dubious at best since food waste is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions in the United States than air travel. More than a third of all food grown in the United States ends up in the trash – apparently that can happen in even the most beloved kitchens.
I’ve learned to be skeptical of how a vegan or plant-based approach can be used as a way to get attention and whitewash work practices. Vegan companies like No bad foods and the vegetarian Amy’s kitchen have both made headlines over the past year for union busting and unfair labor practices, respectively. “Vegetable food” simply means that there will be no meat on the plate. There are no requirements beyond sourcing ingredients or paying staff, although they tend to be assumed, wrapped in the warm feeling of connotations of pro expression and vibes. -planet.
There is an inherent ego in chasing stars and lists at this level of catering. Humm and Guidara described it as a performance on par with a Broadway show, more than a meal you eat for sustenance, which helps obscure working conditions because everyone is expected to work towards some sort of higher goal: to maintain three Michelin Stars or James Beard Foundation awards. Yet Covid-19 has revealed that every worker is expendable, and line cooks classified as most risky job. If there’s a lot of danger, long hours, and low wages, serving expensive food that you couldn’t afford to eat no longer takes on an air of esteem; it’s just a lot of hard work for someone else’s lifestyle.
Fine dining, at this level of Broadway that this restaurant has so successfully achieved, is exciting business and impacts how others want to cook. It could be more exciting when diners can rest assured that the people who chop, dress, and jump are making enough money to thrive in an expensive city. A complete overhaul of the approach to work and more respect for the established history of veg-centric fine dining could return the restaurant to its former glory, though there’s a chance the world, so mired in big problems, don’t care.
When duck left the menu at Eleven Madison Park, the prestige flew away, but when Humm talks about the impact of agriculture and food on the environment, he’s telling the truth. This truth has to come with more than smoke and mirrors and Lemon Pledge flavored beets. Perhaps a little humility is also needed.