Change Food Fest Speaker Spotlight: Adam Eskin

by ~

We’re excited to introduce you to our speakers for the 2016 Change Food Fest  through a series of personal Q&A’s. Today we are talking with Adam Eskin from Dig Inn.

Adam EskinAdam Eskin is the founder & CEO of Dig Inn, provider of sustainable, farm-friendly restaurants and CSA communities. Adam’s passion for the food industry grew after two somewhat cliched encounters—a visit to an asparagus farm, and a poignant reading of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. From both, he developed a set of standards that would continue to guide his work at Dig Inn. Adam’s dedication to culinary excellence and sustainable sourcing is central to his business model.

Prior to his foray into the restaurant business, Adam graduated Magna Cum Laude with a BA in Business Economics from Brown University, before working in finance at Wexford Capital and Merrill Lynch. When he’s not working, Adam can be found at yoga, thai boxing, or on an occasional weekend sojourn upstate with his family.

What’s one thing anyone can do to help the good food movement?

The single most important thing consumers can do, is eat more veggies. That helps restaurants and markets buy more product from US farmers—the responsible stewards of our land. A miniscule 2 percent of U.S. cropland is used to grow fruits and vegetables. Most of our arable land is devoted to commodity crops like corn and soybeans which are either fed to confined animals, or used in processed goods. We need to devote more land to growing fruits and vegetables–so we stop calling them specialty crops and create a market where people can afford to purchase clean and mindfully sourced food, and farmers can afford to grow it.

The second, perhaps more abstract thing we can all do, is know the impact of our choices. At Dig Inn, We like to believe most humans are inherently good, which means education is imperative to better decision-making. We all know something our friends, family, and colleagues don’t—whether that is how to save your herbs from going bad, or how to tell the difference between egg labeling. The one small thing we can all do is contribute to the education economy within our communities, and take small steps to help each other understand what’s important.

The concept of “nurture the next crop” and “create a neighborhood around your kitchen” are powerful examples of how each of us can participate in change.  Could you give some examples of how you all live this at Dig Inn?

True social change is generally due to the sum of its parts—which is something we remind ourselves each day. Everything we do at Dig Inn, from building restaurants to meeting farmers, is such a collective effort. And we are committed to growing and supporting a passionate community. But for this to happen, these relationships need to be built on trust—which for us means developing menus around the needs of our farmers, following through on contracts, and giving young line cooks a chance to learn and develop.

What changes in the business climate (or food policy) would make it a smoother ride for restaurant change agents—in New York City, and in our country?

Perhaps the main game changer for our industry would be further Investment in better infrastructure and distribution channels. Distribution channels were built to move nonperishables. They have been slow to adapt and are not yet to designed to move perishable produce, let alone produce from small scale and regional systems. Our dream would be to see both public and private sectors invest in hubs and channels that allow more small and mid-sized farms to scale, enter the market, and sell directly to buyers. The reality is, a farmer is just not going to send a half truck down to restaurants in New York—it needs to be full. So our big challenge is to figure out how to fill up that truck from a community of farms and make the trip worth it.

What would you like to see as the future reality (say in the next decade) for home chefs and restaurant chefs – where the two complement and support each other to change American’s habits and food happiness?

Ultimately, we’d like to see both home and restaurant chefs working towards healthier menus—for our bodies, our communities, and our planets. As a country, we’ve come along way with our offerings, but there’s still much to do. To us, it all starts with buying and serving mostly vegetables, grown ethically, and as close to home as possible. I’m no pariah; my relationship with health used to equate to heavy gym sessions and muscle milk. Until I read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food—the manifesto that birthed the very basic premise upon which our company is built: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Chefs are now celebrities: compared to the days where Julia Child was the media’s culinary golden girl, through shows, cookbooks, and social media, we’re now welcoming hundreds of chefs into our homes everyday. And when you look at the impact of folks like Dan Barber and Alice Waters, it’s easy to see modern chefs are impactful. Fruits and vegetables are being held in a much higher regard, often dominating menus. Meat proteins are still included, but their role is changing to become more of a complement, with items like cauliflower taking center stage as the new steak on the plate.

As these new age celebrities popularize the vegetable movement, we hope to see home chefs leading the charge in their own families and communities.

Dig Inn

You’ve been known to talk about your “spirit vegetable,” the one that both inspires you and frankly, resembles you.  Will you share?

Below is the email I received from two of my colleagues, which was then developed into a quiz on Dirt—we think everyone should find their Spirit Vegetable! Essentially, I was diagnosed with the sweet potato, which, I can’t lie, is one of my favorite vegetables. I am inspired by its humility, hardiness, productivity, nourishment, and secretly softcore. I think the best leaders are down-to-earth, hard-working, compassionate, and vulnerable—and these are traits I am constantly working to demonstrate, both in my work, and in my life.

Dear Adam,

We’re pretty sure you’ll agree that root vegetables get a bad rap. By the time February rolls around, farmers markets are filled with round and starchy root vegetables—sadly, leafy greens are few and far between, and juicy tomatoes or summer eggplants—faaahhh-get-about-it. But little attention is paid to how patiently root vegetables wait in the fall, coolly ready for their moment to shine.

After much deliberation and a few inappropriate conversations, we have come to believe that we’ve unearthed your spirit vegetable. You are, without doubt, a sweet potato. But, before you feel the same sadness most shunned root vegetables must experience, please hear us out.

First. Sweet potatoes produce more pounds of food per acre than any other cultivated plant. To us, you are one of the most efficient and meticulous individuals we know—whether it’s racing out the door to your next sparring session with your Muay Thai brethren or preparing for a new restaurant opening in Boston, you move at super speeds to get things done.

Second. Sweet potatoes thrive in a loose, sandy soil and the act of harvesting them is a favorite for many. Starting at one end of the row, you must crawl along and dig up each and every potato by hand. The process leaves your hands, knees, and nails miserably dirty. But you have to harvest each one individually. Similarly, the care and attention you put into each restaurant, each employee, and each idea at Dig Inn, is so very sweet potato.

Third and finally, the sweet potato is known for its creamy and consistent flesh—what lies below the surface is what defines this most complex carbohydrate. No matter what stress you’re under, what mood you’re in, or what kind of day you’re having, you give each of us the same open, caring version of yourself.

Adam—while summer is looming ahead, please don’t sweat it. We don’t think there’s a better boss than the sweet potato.

Regards,

Ali & Taylor

DSC_5070

How can we learn more about your work?

A lot of our developments are documented across our social media channels, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram particularly. But for the real meat on the bones, look to Medium, and our in-house content platform, Dirt.

Blog author Stephanie Miller is a food tech and digital marketing consultant who grows the market opportunity for sustainable food economy brands and products. She is a volunteer supporting the Change Food Fest.

The Change Food Fest “Growing the Good Food Movement”  will take place in New York City on November 12th and 13th, 2016. We will explore and celebrate change happening in the food system. Rather than simply talk about problems, we will actively look at solutions that are leading us to the sustainable food system we wish to see. Our focus will be on both real and visionary change and will include an exploration into seafood, plant based vs meat diets, possible impacts of new businesses and investment money coming into the food space – and much more. You can purchase a ticket or host a viewing party of the live webcast in your local community. Follow the action at #CFFest2016!

Change Food aggregates the best of the best already working toward healthy food change, amplifies their voices through our events and programs, and advance their work and the goal of the food movement – to provide healthy, safe, delicious, fair food for ALL.  Support us today!  #changefood