“America better prepare for some uncomfortable changes. Things might get really ugly.” – A Farmer, recently quoted in Esquire
No, this guy’s not talking about the recent economic crisis, but the cost of food. Yes, food. “The American food system today faces unprecedented challenges,” says Maisie Greenawalt, Vice President of Bon Appetit Management Company. “High oil prices threaten farmers’ already slim profit margins. Consumers’ grocery bills have skyrocketed. Food safety risks are increasing.”
Bon Appetit Management Company is an onsite custom restaurant, which means they provide food services for business and universities. But Ms. Greenawalt’s not apologizing for a hike in costs, she’s explaining the logic behind the company’s commitment to sustainable food service.
The recipient of numerous awards in their 20 years in business, ranging from the Ecological Society of America’s Corporate Award for ethical business practices to twice earning the #1 College Food Service in the Country by the Princeton Review, many consider Bon Appetit a model of corporate social responsibility.
With over 400 sites in 28 states, Bon Appetit is not a small niche business. Helene York, director of the company’s Foundation emphasizes, “is about eating in a way that is conscious of environmental impact. It also happens to be about a $400 million company making radical decisions that are smart business,” added York.
They manifest their credo, “food services for a sustainable future,” through their business practices, partnerships, and a foundation dedicated to consumer education.
A few of their notable commitments include:
* The Farm to Fork program – Bon Appetit prioritizes regional and seasonal purchasing. A minimum of 20% of food served must be sourced from within 150 miles. It’s said that most sites do much better.
* Low Carbon Diet – They’re working on reducing emissions, having worked with Natural Logic Consulting and Suryatech to analyze the energy impact of their supply chain. They’re also a carbon free partner with carbonfund.org
* Sustainable Seafood – Their salmon purchasing policy grew out of collaboration with the Environmental Defense Fund. In partnership with GotMercury.org, signage at all of their sites direct people to learn about their mercury risk and intake.
* Antibiotic Free and Natural Meats – Healthy, farm fed meat is good but we all know how much damage bovine methane emissions cause. To that end, Bon Appetit is working on decreasing the use of beef.
* Milk without artificial hormones – Enough said.
* Shell eggs that are cage-free and certified humane – They were the first food service company to make such a decision.
* Sustainable Waste Management – They claim to recycle and compost where possible. Reduction measures include testing environmentally friendly packaging (including Earthshell and Biocorp). Several sites use NatureWorks products.
The company is doing well by doing good. Common sense allows that by focusing on regional and seasonal ingredients they avoid paying a premium for exotic foods and significantly reduce transportations costs. According to Bon Appetit, the coordination of purchase and delivery of products and the insurance needs, and not the costs, are the most significant barriers to starting or sustaining farm-to-college programs.
All this make you want to sign up for a meal plan? On September 30th, Bon Appetit hosts its annual Eat Local Challenge in which all of its sites prepare 100% local meals (with the exception of salt).
If you’re not fortunate enough to be on campus, or work for Yahoo, Ebay, Adidas, or another corporate client – you can check out their carbon calculator. Learn more about the impact of your food choices, and let us know what you think.