A pioneer foodie and icon in the culinary world for more than eight decades, James Beard’s spirit and legacy lives on more than 33 years after his passing as the second annual James Beard Foundation’s Chef Action Summit brought together leading industry professionals, chefs, national policy experts and more.
The College of Human Sciences very own Chef Ana Plana, who serves as a lecturer in the Horst Schulze School of Hospitality Management, was invited to Houston, Texas for the three-day summit earlier this year, where she and hundreds of the nation’s leading chef-advocates forged connections in an effort to impact future policy making in areas such as conservation and sustainability, nutrition security and hunger and industry support.
Plana was selected to attend the James Beard Chef Action Summit because of her previous experience attending a local advocacy boot camp in 2018 for chefs in Florida advocating for a better food system. At the 2023 summit, Plana’s main goal again was about creating a better food system by focusing on conservation and sustainability.
“You pick an aspect of the Farm Bill that you feel strongly about, and you put together different chefs who went into different groups,” Plana said. “I went to the conservation and sustainability section where there are thousands of things that we can advocate for. In my group we were talking more about regenerative soil and different things that can help farmers. We advocate for that kind of practice instead of having these big industrial farmers harvesting the same crop over and over and not giving that soil a chance to regenerate. We want to pull all the nutrients out of that soil.”
While Plana was more focused on conservation and sustainability, she explained the importance of the other two categories and how everyone at the summit played a large part in shaping the future of the food industry and how having a collective voice will make a big impact. “Everyone working together would have much more power and clout than everybody doing almost the same thing or wanting the same thing but in all different directions,” Plana said. “So, this summit was trying to do that. It doesn’t help if there are a thousand nonprofits trying to advocate for regenerative soil. If we gather together collectively, we have a lot more power.”
A big part of the summit is taking what you learn over the course of three days and applying it back home in your restaurant or community, or in this case, back on campus at Auburn University. In Plana’s global gastronomy class, the class has begun composting in labs this semester and she doesn’t want the students to forget the importance of why and how each step of the process can make a big difference. “The compost is going back to the soil and it’s reemphasizing that that’s why we’re doing it,” Plana said. “This is not something that we talk about that happens somewhere in the world and somebody else should take care of it. No, we’re actually doing it and every little bit helps.” In addition to reminding students of the importance of sustainability, Plana said another big takeaway from the summit that she will share with her students is the importance of dreaming big and believing.
“I just want to let them know to keep trying,” Plana said. “James Beard is the Oscars of the food world and by working hard you can do it. Their job is to really help and improve and not take advantage of the system.
For more information on the James Beard Chef Action Summit, visit jamesbeard.org/2023-chef-summit.
For more information on the Horst Schulze School of Hospitality Management, visit humsci.auburn.edu/hosp.