Michel Nishan is in my kitchen today, talking about living his life organically in terms of both food and sports. Read what he has to say about how his children have inspired him to take on an organic lifestyle, and what kayaking brings to his life.
Michel is a sustainable-food-movement leader, chef, author and businessman. He’s the founder and CEO of Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit organization working to create in-community initiatives that celebrate local food and heritage recipes. Michel is the owner/founder of Dressing Room: A Homegrown Restaurant, in Westport, CT. He’s written numerous books on sustainable cooking and homegrown recipes, including Sustainably Delicious, published this year by Rodale Inc.
Why is living organic important to you?
Living organic is important to me for a variety of reasons. First, as a restaurateur and chef who feeds thousands of people a year, I understand the impact of my purchasing choices on the health of my customers and the environment. It’s less about food miles than it is about the incredible carbon footprint of conventional agriculture, as petroleum and fossil fuel are key ingredients in fertilizers and pesticides.
As a father with two diabetic children, I learn every day how petrochemicals and food additives have never been tested for their combined impact on human health, particularly on autoimmune diseases such as type1 diabetes. It’s amazing to me how doctors go to great lengths to be careful not to combine chemical medications because the combination could cause serious health effects. Conversely, no one requires multinational agricultural businesses and food producers to test the effects of combined petrochemicals and preservatives on human health. There’s just too much stuff out there that nature did not design humans to consume, none of which is regulated in a meaningful way.
What was your favorite food growing up?
Pan-fried chicken and dumplings cooked by my mother.
What’s your go-to comfort food now?
Organic rice and beans! I can cook a whole bunch, refrigerate and/or freeze them (depending on whether I am traveling), and reheat in the form of vegetable stir-fry, add homemade tomato sauce from my organic garden, sauté, and top with a fried farm egg. Rice and beans rock because the combination constitutes a complete protein.
What’s the one thing in your kitchen you just couldn’t live without?
What magazine, website, book, album, or product are you most obsessed with right now?
Strangely, the product I am most obsessed with is a kayak. I love paddling as a very organic form of exercise. I have been kayaking almost every day and find that, in doing so, I contemplate Inuit culture (the native cultures that rely on kayaks to gather food and for transportation—all human power, no fossil fuel). I also have time to think deeply about the combination of what I am eating and how my choices interact with my exercise. I smell the sea air; I feel the rhythm of the water. I feel very human and elementally exposed in a way that helps me further my appreciation of life and the family I always return to after my short excursions.
What’s the most important news story today that you think we all need to pay more attention to?
I think the fact that over 40 million Americans are now on federal food assistance because they do not have enough personal resources to feed their families healthfully is the largest issue we have, and will ever face. It’s been encouraging how the growth of organics and natural foods has exploded, yet most of the explosion has happened in affluent communities. With so much money in the federal food system behind food-assistance dollars (over $60 billion this year alone), I can’t help but believe in and work toward seeing the money shift to more organic and locally grown foods. Families in the severely underserved rural and urban communities that largely rely on these benefits (over 32 million Americans) want to feed their families better food than they can currently afford. The problem is not just food access, but food access combined with food affordability.
Where do you get your news?
OMG—from SO many sources: Regional NOFA [National Organic Farmers Association] chapter newsletters, CISA [Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture], BBC, CNN, Rodale publications, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, National Farm Bureau News, newsletters from our grantee partner organizations (30 partners in 20 states), so much more, as well as a series of very close and committed personal friends on both sides of the aisle and all sides of the issues. Diversity rocks. The best news I get always comes from my beautiful wife.