Ask Mickey: High Nutrition, Low Carbon

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Bon Appétit Management Company was founded in 1987 to cook restaurant-quality, healthy food from scratch for corporate employees, university students, and museum guests. Michelina, aka “Mickey,” the Italian mother of CEO Fedele Bauccio and COO Michael Bauccio, remains our inspiration.

We know there’s a lot on your plate that you worry about, both metaphorically and literally. Making good choices helps you avoid unwanted pounds, study and sleep better, and form healthy eating habits that will last you long beyond college. So, we’ve gathered a team of Bon Appétit registered dietitians and chefs to offer you some Mickey-inspired monthly tips on “chewing the right thing.”

Send your questions and feedback to nutrition@cafebonappetit.com or text (650) 308-9594. 

This Month: Fuel Your Body While Protecting the Earth

We’re looking forward to Bon Appétit’s Low Carbon Diet Day on Thursday, April 24, and we hope you are, too. In the years since Bon Appétit announced our Low Carbon Diet Program in 2007, food’s connection to climate change has become more common knowledge. At the same time, more and more people have become aware that cutting back on animal products through flexitarianism — whether Meatless Mondays or being “vegan before 6” — can be good for their health.

Perhaps even more Americans would be happy to forgo beef and dairy once in a while if they knew they were doing something good for the environment … and they didn’t have to give up flavor or their favorite dishes to do so!

Cows (like goats and sheep) are ruminant animals, which thanks to their digestive systems produce a lot of methane — a greenhouse gas that is 20 to 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide. Dishes made with beef or dairy of any kind are thus the highest carbon choices.

If all Americans skipped meat and dairy just one day a week and replaced them with vegetable-based proteins, it would be the equivalent of taking 19.2 million cars off the road for one year.

That’s why for this year’s Low Carbon Diet Day on Thursday, April 24, Bon Appétit will use a cooking demonstration to discuss the impact of beef and dairy and encourage guests to swap them for other choices occasionally, whether vegetarian or pork and chicken. (Those animals emit much less methane over their lifespans.) They’ll also prepare a Low Carbon Makeover of a favorite dish in which the beef and dairy have been replaced by ingredients with a smaller foodprint.

What about the rest of the time? Well, foods that are good for your health are also environmentally friendly; for example, dark leafy greens from the farmers’ market and plant-based proteins are the best fuel you can find. A balanced diet that promotes healthy weight maintenance, gives you high energy that lasts all day, and protects your immune system from various bugs is based on including fruits and vegetables at every meal and snack. But while fruits and vegetables are almost all nutritious for our bodies, they are not all equally beneficial for maintaining and improving the health of the environment. Here are some suggestions for what to do when foods are nutritious, but also have a high carbon footprint making them less healthy for the earth.

  1. Tropical Fruit (bananas, papaya, mango, pineapple, and guava)
    Many students reach for a banana or sliced mango as an easy, nutritious snack on the run. Unfortunately, the carbon cost of getting these fruits from distant locales to your region is significant: air travel (which is how we get strawberries and mangoes from South America ) is the most emissions-intensive form of transportation; and the container ships that transport green bananas across the oceans and the trucks that then get them from the ports use a lot of combined energy. So look for fruits grown in North America, such as citrus, apples, pears, or summer stone fruits such as peaches, nectarines, and apricots.
  2. Rice (yes, even brown rice)
    Rice cultivation methods produce greenhouse gases, making rice (yes, even brown rice) a high carbon option. Seek out other whole grains with more sustainable production methods, such as corn, oats, bulgur, faro, and wheatberries, or obtain carbohydrate calories from nutrient-rich root vegetables. If you do prefer rice with your stir-fry, seek out companies that are committed to growing in an environmentally sustainable fashion.
  3. Dark chocolate
    The antioxidants found in dark chocolate are heart healthy, but the ingredients for chocolate cannot be found close to home. Additionally, 50% of cacao production occurs in two African countries that are expected to be hard-hit by climate change, thus reducing their cacao yields. By eating chocolate in moderation, which is also recommended for your health, you can help minimize the carbon impacts and help offset the anticipated reduction in chocolate supplies.
  4. Air-Freighted Seafood
    Climate change and overfishing are just two issues impacting our supply of sustainable seafood. Many fresh seafood options come with a large carbon cost from being flown in from other countries. To lower the carbon impact of your purchases, look for seafood that is not being air-freighted, but instead is frozen at sea and shipped by boat, or even better, caught or sustainably farmed locally. You may enjoy the seafood options at [insert name of dining hall here] with confidence, as they are selected to reflect the “best” and “good” choices recommended by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program.