Naama Tamir is co-owner of the restaurants Lighthouse in Brooklyn and Lighthouse Outpost in the Nolita neighborhood of Manhattan, New York. She and her brother, Asaaf Tamir, opened Lighthouse in 2011 after realizing that they couldn’t find any restaurant that served the kind of healthy food they wanted to eat in a community-oriented, environmentally-conscious atmosphere. They opened their second restaurant, Lighthouse Outpost, in 2016. Naama is an advocate for composting and recycling, and works with several local and national organizations, including BABAR (Brooklyn Allied Bars and Restaurants), Fair Kitchens, Billion Oyster Project, and the James Beard Foundation to support a more just and sustainable food system. In 2019, Naama was the recipient of the Snailblazer Award from Slow Food NYC, in recognition of her leadership and commitment to local, sustainable, and fair food systems.
Food Policy Center (FPC): When did you start to develop an interest in food and health? Who or what influenced you to enter the restaurant business?
Naama Tamir (NT): Food was always a focal point in our home. My mom is a great cook, and family dinners are a tradition. We also grew up foraging for food: mushrooms, asparagus, clams. So I think it was ingrained in me from a young age.
When I moved to NYC, restaurants were a way to make a living but also to make friends and get to know and understand the social fabric of the city. I fell in love.
FPC: In an interview with FairKitchens, you said that you operate a “philosophy-driven” restaurant. What do you mean by that? How do you incorporate philosophy and psychology – your main areas of study at Hunter College – in your cooking and hospitality work?
NT: Lighthouse is philosophy-driven in the sense that it represents our values. We have a very clear sense of purpose, and our operation is driven by what we believe in and our hopes for the world. It does not rely much on traditional ways of running a restaurant.
We have a manifesto that is shared with our staff, and we refer to Lighthouse as a human-centered business. It’s a holistic approach to entrepreneurship.
FPC: You have said that community is crucial to the work you are doing. How can a sense of community improve the food environment?
NT: I think realizing that a business is part of a community immediately changes the lens and perspective of everything you do. There is a larger picture, and you understand that your actions impact more than just your small circle; the considerations are different.
Community also provides support and contributes to longevity, stability and growth. For our food system to stabilize and flourish, it needs the support cultural and economical support of the community.
As the population grows, and climate change challenges become more dire, we need to make fast and vast changes as well as shift our culture. Communities can be very instrumental in supporting positive change.
FPC: Last year, you were granted Slow Food’s Snailblazer award, which designates leaders in the farm-to-table movement. Why is it important to you to eat, cook, and serve locally sourced foods? What are some ways that both restaurants and consumers can become more conscious of using sustainable food sources?
NT: Personally I enjoy eating food that is fresh and nourishing, that zapps me with energy. That is what I love cooking and serving, it’s an act of love. I want our guests to be energized and happy and leave feeling that we took really great care of them. We say at Lighthouse that dinner starts when you sit down to eat but ends when you wake up the next day feeling great.
Beyond that I also see Lighthouse and Lighthouse Outpost as a part of the local food community, and I want to support it by voting with our dollars.
The best way to be more conscious is to buy in green markets and try to get to know your food growers. It’s extremely rewarding.
FPC: You were born and raised in Israel and came to New York City in 2000 after you completed your mandatory Isreali Defense Force service. Naturally, food culture will differ from country to country, but can you expand on some of the major differences you noticed when you moved to NYC? Did anything about our food system shock you?
NT: Food in Israel is very connected to seasonality, wellness, nourishment, tradition and family. The food scene in the US struck me as disconnected. The link between food, body and energy is not obvious, and I think many people suffer from food-related diseases because of that. Most shocking was the prevalence of processed food.
FPC: In addition to knowing where your food is coming from, you have also talked about your concerns regarding what is happening to the waste generated by your restaurants. What are the biggest concerns for you regarding food waste and recycling?
NT: Landfill is a very toxic and polluting process, reducing our natural resources, and negatively impacting our ecosystems and bodies. Our resources are limited, and the current system just isn’t working.
FPC: What steps are you taking at your restaurants to make them zero-waste establishments? What are the biggest challenges in accomplishing that? Do you think it is feasible for most restaurants to work towards a zero-waste goal? Why or why not?
NT: We take many different initiatives to shrink our waste and our carbon footprint. By working directly with farmers, we are often able to reuse packaging. We design our menus to utilize produce to the fullest so there is very little waste, and we have created a network of partnerships that allows us to recycle and upcycle much of our surplus materials.
The biggest challenge is probably the fact that doing all this adds to our costs because there are no systems in place for it .
I think all restaurants can work towards this goal, but I also believe that in order to make a real difference we need a change in our entire waste system.
FPC: The organization Zero Foodprint states, “Food is both a cause and victim of changing climate, but scientists are confirming that it is a major solution.” Do you agree or disagree, and why? Do you think that restaurants have an ethical responsibility to improve sustainability and work towards reversing climate change?
NT: I agree that food is both the cause and the victim of the changing climate.
Maybe a less popular opinion, humans are a part of an ecosystem and a part of the animal kingdom, where the balance is often kept by the feeding loop. We have managed to produce and industrialize our food. To the point where we can grow beyond what the system can actually support, but at a high and hidden cost.
I think we all have an ethical responsibility, in all sectors and as individuals.
FPC: If you were a lawmaker, what is the one policy regarding food, nutrition, or the environment for which you would advocate? What impact do you think that policy would have? Do you think it would be feasible for it to be implemented today, in January 2020?
NT: I would mandate environmental, nutrition and ethics classes in early education. I believe education is the key.
FPC: What innovations or new technologies, specifically in the food waste space or, more broadly, in the sustainable food sector as a whole, are you most excited about? Any trends that you are wary of?
NT: In general I think progress is using new technology based on traditional values– long-term thinking, pride, and mindfulness. I think great technology is regenerative and uses healthy materials. I am wary of technology replacing humans entirely.
FPC: How would you encourage those outside the restaurant industry to make a difference? Is there a change we – whether restaurateurs, kitchen staff, teachers, students, or working professionals – can implement to make a big difference?
NT: I would love to see a new version of consumerism, where hidden costs are no longer a part of the business model, where fair wages and transparency are celebrated and consumers are excited to pay and support a company they believe in.
Grew up in: Rehovot, Israel
City or town you call home: NYC
Job title: Restaurant owner
Background and education: Hunter college
One word you would use to describe our food system: Help!
Your food policy hero: Alice Waters
Your breakfast this morning: Goat milk yogurt with chia and flax seed
Favorite food: Figs, mushrooms, heirloom tomatoes
Favorite last meal: It will depend on what I’ll be in the mood for. Sushi or cookies!