Green.org sat down with Mory Thomas, the Deputy Director of Culinary Development & Project Lead Healthy Greens JC at the Division of Food & Nutrition for the City of Jersey City, to learn how he become a sustainable chef.
Who is Mory Thomas?
After graduating with a Hotel and Restaurant Management degree from the Hilton College at the University of Houston, Mory moved his focus from FOH to BOH, continuing his education at the Institute of Culinary Education in NYC and then to some of the most notable kitchens in NYC, including Jean George Vongerichten, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and Food and Wine Magazine. The Food Network tapped Mory to start their test kitchen, developing thousands of recipes for home cooks to cook for themselves. In addition to the test kitchen, Mory’s responsibilities included brand extensions with partners such as Yankee Stadium for multiple food concepts, a nationwide line of housewares at Kohl’s, project management, art direction, and food stylist for dozens of Food Network-published cookbooks – and participated in the launch of their magazine.
Mory Thomas is currently the Deputy Director of Culinary Development for the Division of Food and Nutrition for the City of Jersey City. Functions in this division also include programs such as Meals on Wheels, Farmers’ Markets, and community gardens. He was brought on staff as the project lead for a community vertical farm program in partnership with AeroFarms, the largest operator of this kind. The World Economic Forum (WEF) chose the City of Jersey City to participate in its Healthy Cities, Healthy Communities Initiative 2030. The challenge of the WEF is for public and private institutions to work together to impact the health and well-being of the municipality. Jersey City chose to focus on healthy food access for underserved communities, building small format indoor vertical farms within public housing, senior centers, community centers, and schools. It’s a first-of-its-kind program providing free weekly greens to farm members, diagnostic testing, nutrition and cooking education, and other holistic topics like mental health, sleep, and physical activity. The program hopes to see improved health scores, lower cases of chronic disease, and residents simply feeling better.
Mory, thanks for being here. What would you do with $1 Billion dollars?
I would move to a beach town in Mexico and start a foundation to address food insecurity and education. And take care of my immediate family.
Why do you think sustainability is such an important topic today?
The topic of sustainability is essential today because we aren’t always guaranteed there is a tomorrow. Right? We have both micro and macro habits that are not sustainable. We live in a world of extreme scenarios. Sustainability, to me, is slowing down long enough to question everything we do and why we are truly doing it. It’s simply asking, “Is there a better way?” I’ll use nutrition as a perfect example. We have to take care of our planet like we do our bodies. There’s so much confusing and contradicting information on both topics that causes humans to throw up their hands. It’s a damned-if-you-do or damned-if-you-don’t mentality. Between lobbyists and marketing campaigns, we need experts and scientifically backed research to light the path forward. However, when you are hungry, it almost always comes down to cost and convenience. Sound familiar?
When I had my restaurant, I had my carbon footprint in mind, so I spent the extra money to buy all compostable to-go and recyclable plastics, but when you do a deeper dive, you learn most are lined with plastics, or your city can’t sort fancy plastics. Compost companies won’t take your corn or sugar husk dinnerware because it would cause them to lose their organic status. Or, you learn how much water is used in making plant-based serveware. All my good intentions were thwarted. They were still better choices, though. Sustainability is a deeply personal topic and isn’t a one-size-fits-all fix.
What do you envision your industry looking like 10 years from now?
It’s been my experience that it takes ten years to bring about a significant change. These changes can be small or big; however, having more than one partner pushing for the change is vital. Local government, as an industry, has so much power to rewrite ordinances and resolutions into law that will impact our lives. Investing deeply in microclimates like individual municipalities is crucial to support innovation and education. We need more public and not-for-profit partners to support the work government has a hard time executing due to bureaucracy. I hope there will be more federal laws to encourage or incentivize partnerships for healthier communities in ten years.
What can the average person do to make a difference?
The average person can make a difference by taking small steps to improve their personal lives and the life of our planet. Don’t get overwhelmed with the details. Small steps matter, and if it’s a better bad choice, then we all win.