updated 11/18/2010 4:15:22 AM ET 2010-11-18T09:15:22

CHICAGO, Nov. 17, 2010 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Meat was on the menu today as hundreds of farmers, distributors, restaurant professionals and culinary students gathered at the Harold Washington Library Center and Robert Morris University to discuss sustainable meat and find out exactly what it is, what it tastes like and why to buy it.

Sponsored by the Green Chicago Restaurant Co-Op, FamilyFarmed.org, Green City Market, Kendall College, and dozens of chefs and advocacy groups, the conference helped link together both sides of the sustainable meat supply chain. Attendees included chefs, caterers, culinary students, restaurant professionals and others who wanted to better understand the current model of meat production and help develop solutions for healthier, safer, more sustainable food.

"As a restaurateur, sustainable meat needs to be good for the bottom line as well as for the environment," said Dan Rosenthal, cofounder, Green Chicago Restaurant Co-op. "When I was first approached about buying more sustainable meats for my seven restaurants, not only did I find that prices were prohibitive, I found that there was tremendous confusion and misunderstanding about what the definition of a sustainable meat product really was. The more I got into it, the more confusing terms like 'natural' 'free range' and 'grass-fed' became.

"Our goals for the State of the Plate are simple: Educate chefs and farmers about the issue. Teach chefs the different taste and preparation needs of sustainable meat. And introduce them to producers who can get them the sustainable products they want."

Robert Kenner, writer/director of the documentary, Food, Inc., provided the opening keynote speech, highlighting the differences between industrial and sustainable farming practices. Fedele Baucio, CEO of Bon Appetit Management Co. gave the afternoon address, which focused on consumer and corporate responsibility.

The event featured a morning "sustainable meat roundtable" that highlighted the methods, challenges and opportunities surrounding the U.S. production of sustainable meat, the public health and environmental concerns, and emphasized ways to combat food safety issues at the production level. Michelin star awardee Paul Virant, chef/owner of Vie, talked about taste and cooking nuances of sustainable meat.

"Consumers want it. It's good for the restaurant and it's good for the environment. That's the bottom line for me," said Chef Virant. "Beef is something every restaurant has to have on the menu but at some point, chefs have to choose how they're going to address these issues. We're at a fork in the road and we have to choose which way do you go. Sustainable beef is the better path," said Virant.

The afternoon session featured a panel of sustainable farmers to discuss products and methods and distribution strategies. The event culminated in a reception with sustainable food prepared by chefs and culinary students and a special viewing of Food, Inc.

The State of the Plate enjoyed the support of the City of Chicago. Mayor Richard Daley issued a proclamation in support of the conference, while Department of Environment Commissioner Suzanne Malec McKenna spoke to the audience before the morning sessions.

"The city of Chicago is a leader in environmental stewardship, and sustainable food is a critical element in creating a fully sustainable community," said Commissioner McKenna. "The city is thrilled to be a part of this conference. We look forward to strengthening our relationship with the farmers, chefs, distributors, and organizations who are working to ensure safe food and create a healthy environment."

The State of the Plate steering committee was led by Dan Rosenthal of the Green Chicago Restaurant Co-op and included Christ Koetke, Kendall College; David Rand of Farmers Market Coalition and Green City Market; Bruce Sherman of Chefs Collaborative and North Pond restaurant; Jim Slama, FamilyFarmed.org, and Kerri McClimen, Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming.

Chef supporters included Rick Bayless, Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, Xoco; Marc Bernard, Big Bowl; John Coletta, Quartino; Cleetus Friedman, City Provisions; Rob Levitt, Butcher & Larder; Carrie Nahabedian, Naha; Ina Pinkney, Ina's; Bruce Sherman, North Pond; Sarah Stegner, Prairie Grass, Prairie Fire; Paul Virant, Vie; and Randy Zweiban, Province.

More information can be found at  http://stateoftheplate2010.com.


The Green Chicago Restaurant Co-op is an organization dedicated to greening the Chicago restaurant community through green purchasing assistance, educational programs, and the Guaranteed Green restaurant certification program. More at buygreenchicago.org.

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