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A Taste of Conservation

Kevin Malhame, Northstar Cafe

Kevin Malhame is co-founder of Northstar Café, which has four Columbus, OH locations

Kevin Malhame is co-founder of Northstar Café, which has four Columbus, OH locations, including Columbus’ best new restaurant in 2009, Third & Hollywood in Grandview. He and his co-founder, wife Katy, are committed to making responsible decisions in the operation of their restaurants, with the recognition that every decision affects the health of the community and environment on a local and global scale.

We sat down with Kevin to explore the intersection of food and the environment.

Kevin and Katy Malhame, Northstar Cafe

Jessica Keith, The Nature Conservancy:

Why is the environment important to you?

Kevin Malhame:

Caring about the environment is part of our mission to ensure that our guests, co-workers, community and planet are healthier as a result of our existence. We want to leave the world in a better place, and we’re committed to being part of the solution.

Jessica Keith, The Nature Conservancy:

How do our food choices impact the environment?

Kevin Malhame:

I think drinking water is one of several big issues: With conventional agriculture, herbicides and insecticides get washed away and contribute to the pollution of our water supplies, impacting not only those communities close to the source, but also those downstream. The negative effects are magnified dramatically when you begin to take into account the impact conventional feed lots, chicken houses and aqua-culture have on our water. We make the choice to buy from Organic and sustainable sources as often as possible to reduce the impact food production has on our water and other natural resources.

Jessica Keith, The Nature Conservancy:

What does sustainable eating mean to you?

Kevin Malhame:

For us, it first means creating a business model that’s sustainable and responsible. Shareholder wealth is one measure of wellbeing, but there are stakeholders beyond the shareholders. It doesn’t make much sense—from a business or a moral standpoint—for a company not to do its best to improve the lives of everyone involved, which is why our guests, our coworkers, our community and our planet are explicitly included in Northstar’s mission When we take all of those groups into account, we find ourselves creating a meal that is not only delicious to eat, but one that helps make us, our guests, and Ohio healthier.

Jessica Keith, The Nature Conservancy:

When did you first encounter the idea of sustainable food?

Kevin Malhame:

Michael Pollan wrote an article some years back for the NY Times called “Beyond Organic,” which really synthesized the ideas that my wife Katy and I had already embraced about the type of a restaurant we wanted to open. The idea was and still is to create a place that food lovers like us will want to eat in every day because the food is fantastic, nutritious, affordable and good for the communities in which it is produced and consumed.

Jessica Keith, The Nature Conservancy:

How does sustainable food fit into your approach to cooking?

Kevin Malhame:

All of our big staples—rice, salad greens, tomatoes, flour, black beans, etc.—are always Organic. And we rely primarily on the certified Organic label to ensure our food is sustainable; you know what you’re getting when you buy certified Organic, which is grown following strict federal standards and must be verified by a third party certifier like the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA). Of course, there is a standard that goes beyond Organic, and we do our best to select local producers who go far beyond the federal standard in terms of their stewardship of the land and the quality of the food that they produce.

Jessica Keith, The Nature Conservancy:

Why is sustainable food healthier and tastier?

Kevin Malhame:

I think it’s because of the soil, which is the food for our food. There’s greater nutrient diversity in the soil of organically produced goods, so if the soil is healthier, the food will be too. The same goes for animals—the healthier the animal the healthier the meat. Take grass-fed vs. grain-fed cows, for example: Researchers have found that grass-fed beef has substantially higher levels of things like B vitamins and beta carotene, as well as an omega fatty acid balance that’s almost perfect for your body.

Jessica Keith, The Nature Conservancy:

What’s your favorite item on your menu?

Kevin Malhame:

If I was stranded on a desert island and could bring just one Northstar menu item with me, it’d be the Square Meal (spicy organic black beans over Organic brown rice, with sautéed peppers & onions, avocado, cheddar and corn tortillas).

Jessica Keith, The Nature Conservancy:

Where’s your favorite spot in nature, where you go to escape work?

Kevin Malhame:

There are lots. My wife and I love camping out west, in places like Colorado. Closer to home, we like Hocking Hills and Malabar Farm, which have great hiking trails.

Jessica Keith

Conservation Writer for The Nature Conservancy

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