Arthur Potts Dawson is a rock star in the United Kingdom’s food scene. Dubbed the “The Original Green Chef” by celebrity-chef and former boss Jamie Oliver, this no-holds-barred cook and restaurateur, who has cooked for real-life rock stars and royalty, is quickly becoming a voice for sustainable food on the global stage.
Dawson was at the 2019 James Beard Foundation Chef Action Summit hosted earlier this fall at Princeton University. During the Summit, he called on fellow chefs to sign on to the Chefs' Manifesto and commit to a future where ingredients are grown with respect for the environment, where no good food goes to waste, and where everyone, everywhere, enjoys the nutritious meals they need to grow and thrive.
“Chefs are just one part of the food system but we have a voice and it needs to be a positive nurturing voice, making up in part for the past 50 years of the food industry’s negative impact on the environment and contribution to food waste,” Dawson said from his London office during a recent interview with TriplePundit.
For Dawson, who credits the birth of his first child as making him aware of the connection between food and the planet, his mission is simple: to minimize the impact of the food business on the planet.
Dawson’s message comes as scientists highlight risks to global food security due to environmental practices. Among the recommendations in the Special Report on Climate Change and Land, released in August by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is the need for Western countries to do more to replace, or at least partially shift, their high-meat diets with plant-based alternatives. In October, scientists warned that there will need to be a global shift to a “flexitarian” diet to help keep the global temperature increase from breaching the 2C° limit agreed by a number of the world’s governments.
Beyond doing what’s right for the planet, going green may also be the smart move for restaurants. Research shows that millennials are seeking food that’s natural, organic, and locally sourced, and want to know how it affects their carbon footprint.
For Dawson, his job is more than simply encouraging customers to eat more “veg,” it’s about serving food – including meat and poultry – that has been produced in efficient and eco-friendly ways and taking steps to reduce food waste.
“Everything in nature is used up in a closed, continuous cycle, with waste being the end of the beginning, and that’s been something that’s been nurturing me for some time,” Dawson said in his 2010 TED Talk. “If we don’t stand up and make a difference and think about sustainable food … then we may fail.”
Dawson first worked in some of Britain’s most iconic restaurants, including London's Michelin 3-star La Tante Claire and later, Cecconi's, one of London's oldest Italian restaurants. He then designed and created what have been called “sustainably aware urban restaurants,” Acorn House and Water House. These restaurants include rooftop gardens, low-energy refrigerators and “wormeries” in which composting worms live and help convert organic material such as fruit and vegetable scraps, garden greens, and animal manure into valuable compost. The restaurants also purify their own water on-site, recycle all kitchen and packaging waste, and maximize the use of natural light so electric illumination is needed only in the evenings. The Water House goes a step further by using a heat-transference system from a nearby canal to provide hot and cold water and air conditioning, while the electric kitchen incorporates water-based fridges that make use of hydroelectricity.
So far Dawson’s recipe is working; restaurant critic Giles Coran described both Acorn House and Water House as the most important restaurants to open in London in 200 years – in other words, since the time of King George III was on the throne.
“Today, there is a sustainable restaurant on every corner [in London],” Dawson told 3p. “But I’d like to think we started a new genre….that we were at the head of the sustainability curve 14 years ago.”
Beyond the U.K., Dawson partnered in 2018 with the UN World Food Programme to launch a global challenge, called Recipe for Disaster, to end food waste. He also has joined with the UN’s ActNow climate campaign to inspire people through his recipes and cooking to enjoy “sustainable, climate-conscious and delicious food.”
Dawson is also using his passion and expertise to help large retailers and restaurant chains make sustainability a core ingredient in their food offerings.
Working with the Swedish retailer Ikea for the past three years, he was instrumental in the introduction of its new veggie hot dog, made with kale, lentils, quinoa, onions and wheat protein. The company says it introduced the new option “because simple mathematics tell us that plant-based foods need less resources, less water and less soil to feed just as many, while making a smaller carbon footprint.”
Dawson also helped Ikea introduce a plant-based version of the company’s iconic Swedish meatball, available both in its bistros and for sale in its store. According to the retailer, the carbon footprint of the new veggie balls is 20 times smaller than its traditional meatball cousin.
Dawson is also working with the fast-growing U.S. burger chain, BurgerFi, which offers consumers burgers from “free-range, humanly treated cattle that have never been exposed to steroids, antibiotics or growth hormones.” The company also boasts an eco-in-restaurant design, including 10-foot fans, which the company says consume 66 percent less energy than alternative sources.
“When it comes to helping companies, it’s not only the products, but the whole internal brand,” Dawson said.
While it will hopefully be many years until Dawson hangs up his chef’s hat, he is already envisioning what he would like his legacy to be. “I hope I can say that chefs were able to push back and drive change inside the culinary field, and in peoples’ minds… but to get there, the world is going to have to go through a deep revolution.”
Fortunately it is a revolution that, thanks to Dawson and other chefs like him, has already begun.
Image credit: James Beard Foundation
Maggie Kohn is excited to be a contributor to Triple Pundit to illustrate how business can achieve positive change in the world while supporting long-term growth. Maggie worked for more than 20 years at the biopharma giant Merck & Co., Inc., leading corporate responsibility and social business initiatives. She currently writes, speaks and consults on corporate responsibility and social impact when she is not busy fostering kittens for her local animal shelter. Click here to learn more.