When Plant People co-founder Gabe Kennedy isn’t spreading awareness about the holistic benefits of CBD oil, he’s either cooking in a professional kitchen or exploring the great outdoors. But for this chef-turned-CBD-entrepreneur, his most important job is an unpaid, passion-driven gig: using his platform to push for environmental good.
“The world is on fire, but we are not moving fast enough,” Kennedy says. “To me, it comes down to sacrifice – we have to sacrifice the luxuries and privileges we take for granted. Although our personal actions matter and give us a sense of control – the change will come from systems change.”
Bowery had a chance to learn more Kennedy’s passions for the environment and food in the 9th installment of our Q&A series, A Quick Bite.
When did you discover your love for cooking? Tell us about your trajectory from Boulder to the world-class kitchens such as Eleven Madison Park and Blue Hill at Stone Barns.
My love for food and cooking feels somewhat innate, as I was cooking with my mom for as long as I can remember. But I decided to pursue the craft professionally after reading Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. I worked throughout high school, then made the decision to attend CIA [The Culinary Institute of America] for a formal education. I worked on the weekends throughout my experience there. I then felt a calling to explore the larger ecosystems of food, and went to Cornell where I studied at the Hotel School. This reframed my potential contributions to the space at large.
What led you toward CBD and herbal solutions?
I was in a ski racing accident as a kid where I fractured my back and obliterated my disc. It caused me to deal with ‘back issues’ for over a decade. Fortunately, my parents are alternative medicine practitioners and guided me to solutions through nutrition, herbalism and my own exploration of cannabis. I was able to discover the power of plants in a very real way.
What is one thing you wish people understood about CBD?
That CBD is only one of hundreds of compounds in the plant. When mainstream refers to ‘cbd’ it is often a misnomer as it isn’t accounting for the phenomenal benefits of all these other compounds such as CBG, CBN and more. CBD is only the tip of the iceberg. The way we grow the industry – with access, justice and integrity – is critical.
If you were to choose, what is one product that you swear by from Plant People?
Be Calm. I believe that product represents our philosophy of ‘plant people’ beautifully – the celebration of all plants, not just one compound in one plant. I take it everyday and find it to be an essential part of my routine for its uplifting and adaptogenic properties. Be Calm has some incredible herbs like Albizia bark and flower which is known as the ‘tree of happiness’ in traditional chinese medicine, avena sativa, ashwagandha, holy basil, schisandra berry, l-theanine and, of course, CBD.
When did you start to get involved in environmental advocacy? Any advice for someone interested in environmental justice but not sure where to start.
Growing up in Boulder, I have always been inspired by a community of advocacy and consumption. I do my best but do feel like I should always be doing more. I would say that the key is to use your voice, regardless of platform. I encourage us to all ask questions, stay curious, stay informed and plant your flag with perspective.
At Bowery, we’re rethinking the agricultural system to not only grow food that’s better for our bodies, but also better for the planet. How does Plant People approach sustainability?
We look at sustainability through a lens of regeneration, stepping into an active space of rebuilding the health of people and the planet – our communities, soil, agricultural systems and those who work in the systems. We also have a partnership with American Forests where we plant a tree for every product sold in the Rocky Mountains and Appalachian mountains to address downstream effects of climate change and coal mining.
What advice do you have for people looking to be more environmentally conscious in the foods and ingredients they purchase?
Given the globalization of our food system, making the most environmentally, socially and economically beneficial decision is a challenge. Eating seasonally and regionally is always a safe choice if accessible and within one’s means.
I try to buy bulk, avoiding packaged foods that can’t be recycled. I enjoy repurposing my old jars, I avoid heavily processed, or packaged foods as well as any company with exploitive labor. The more I learn, the more conscious I become and the more I want to avoid so many of the treacherous traps of convenience we often fall into.
Ok tough question, where was your favorite country you visited and/or food that you sourced from your travels?
The deepest travel connection I have is to Indonesia. I have lived there two times in my life so my love runs deep. The food is so unique and craveable – it is hard to describe the flavors yet it is simple, seasonal, and vegetable-forward.
My favorite recent flavors have come from my travels to the Middle East. The really do it right with the spices.
You wear a lot of hats as a chef, traveler, co-founder of a business, and environmental advocate, how do you maintain balance? Where could we find you on a day off?
Those titles are very generous. These days I am spending 90% of my time working on Plant People – fortunately as we are mission based, there is ample opportunity to use the business as a platform for advocacy. I maintain balance by making sure I take the morning and evening for myself – I wake up meditate, have a coffee and then head to the gym for a swim (which I find very therapeutic) and then a nice bike ride into work with some good tunes playing. On the weekends, I try to escape the city every so often and get some nature which really nourishes me.
And for our last question – what vegetable dish would you choose to eat for the rest of your life?
Can I say an incredible vegetable noodle soup? I think of soup as a canvas for a plethora of flavors so my thought is it would never get old. I am also game for a salad… pretty good ‘canvas’ too.
Gabe Kennedy contributed to this article in his own personal capacity. The views expressed are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Bowery Farming, Inc.