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Last weekend I joined six academics on a panel at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The focus of our talks was on emerging science of the food system’s contribution to climate change – and my role was to talk about how Bon Appétit Management Company has been implementing science in every day practice through our Low Carbon Diet program. I give a lot of talks on this subject, but don’t write that much. A recent exception is the piece I wrote for Sustainable Industries Journal: In November 2005, when I persuaded Bon Appétit Management Company Foundation’s forward-thinking board to let me develop a program that would shed light on the food system’s connection to climate change, An Inconvenient Truth hadn’t been released, a majority of Americans thought climate change was hocus pocus, and […]

  Okay, I admit it, I wasn't a politically active student. I was involved in many clubs and student organizations but they were all focused on my own career development or social life. Thankfully, today's young adults are more globally-minded (maybe it's the difference between the group-focused millennial generation and my cynical gen x attitude). Almost every week I hear from a student at a non-Bon Appetit school trying to "green" their college's dining hall. I suggest questions they can respectfully ask their food service provider but tread a fine line as, out of professional courtesy, I don't want to be seen as stepping on another food company's toes. The Organic Trade Association must be getting the same inquiries I am so they've come up with a great answer. Through the Organic Agriculture and Products Education Institute they've released the "nation’s first guide for students who want to […]

Gulls beckon as they swoop down over Bodega Bay, hoping to find lunch in the water or among diner’s crumbs. I watch them as I’m standing on one of the few areas of the California coastline that still has an active fishing community. It is smaller than it once was, but there are no trawlers in sight unlike bigger ports to the south. Small fishermen rule here, pulling in seasonal catches of native small fish that coexist with shellfish farms nearby. “There is local seafood, if you know where to get it,” says Monterey Fish Co president Paul Johnson, a Seafood Watch advisory board member and seafood supplier to many Bon Appétit accounts. He understates his point. You not only need to know where to get it, but from whom. Over the past 35 years, it has become far more […]

The Sacramento Bee reported news last week that caught my attention (and raised my ire): for up to seven years, many large-scale organic farming operations used an approved fertilizer on their organic crop land that was effective and inexpensive. A state investigation caught the product’s manufacturer spiking it with ammonium sulfate, however, a synthetic fertilizer banned by organic regulations. As a result, some of California's 2006 harvest of organic fruits, nuts and vegetables wasn't really organic, and that may just be the tip of the iceberg. Synthetic fertilizers are disallowed by regulators because they decrease natural soil fertility and can significantly pollute waterways. They are produced using an enormous amount of fossil-fuel energy – not a ‘natural’ source like fish by-products. No farms lost their organic certification since they didn’t know they were using the chemical. Consumers, however, were duped. […]

In my role here at Bon Appetit, I focus on communications to the customers who eat in our cafés. It’s always interesting to me when we hear back from these customers about the issues that motivate and inspire them. This year, students at American University and Wesleyan University were loud and clear as they rallied for their cafés to be awarded the Most Vegetarian-Friendly College for 2008. For the third year in a row, Peta2, the youth division of the animal rights organization PETA, has awarded the title of Most Vegetarian-Friendly College to the winner of an online election. Students at both American and Wesleyan were active in their support for their cafés – they displayed banners and posters and got the word out to get their fellow students to vote. In the end, American University won this year’s title, […]

A month ago, we challenged all of our chefs to prepare a meal consisting entirely of ingredients from within 150 miles of their café (read Maisie’s post for details of the event). As I collect the great stories about our fourth annual Eat Local Challenge (ELC), I continue to be inspired by the creativity and passion of our chefs and managers. They really do go all out. What also struck me about these stories was the depth of sustainability efforts that are taking place at our accounts nationwide. Many of our chefs and managers particularly at college campuses have developed unique programs with student groups and academic departments to teach real-world/hands-on strategies for putting sustainability into practice. Bon Appétit’s Eat Local Challenge is an occasion for education and discussion – as covered here by the Christian Science Monitor — bringing […]

A few days before Election Day, I had the privilege of eating dinner with Marvin Krislov, President of Oberlin College, and Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, who was the College’s convocation speaker that evening. Over a low-carbon diet meal prepared by Bon Appétit's team at Oberlin, Michael discussed some of the nuances of his "Farmer in Chief" article (NYTimes, 10/12/08). In that piece – a compelling read even at 8000 words – he argued that the next president would have to remake food policy organized around a re-regionalized 'solar food' system if he were to achieve stated goals of energy independence, reduction in health care costs, and mitigating climate change. Other writers – most recently in the November issue of Wired Magazine – are still churning out the tired points that our food system can only be "saved" […]

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A reporter I worked with once complained that, whenever he did a story about food, there was always something “new” he wasn’t supposed to eat. With the launch of sustainable sushi pocket guides this month, sushi is now coming under serious scrutiny. Suddenly, there are “new” items on the conscientious eater’s list to avoid. The problem with sushi is that most, by volume, is limited to shrimp, tuna, salmon and eel. You might think twice about eating salmon sushi if you know there’s no such thing as sustainably-raised farmed salmon (most salmon, sake, and its roe, ikura, is farmed salmon). And rare is a sushi meal without tuna of some kind. Half of the sushi vendors we surveyed recently were using a sustainable form of tuna; the other fifty percent were not. If you use the sushi guides, they can […]

With so much going on in the financial world these days, I couldn’t help but to think about how it all related to my role here as the newest member of the Bon Appétit Management Company team. As an analyst, my goal will be to measure the successes for all of our sustainable initiatives such as our Low Carbon Diet and Farm to Fork programs. I’ve quickly learned that within the sustainable movement, there is a thin line between greenwashing and true success, and to have credible data requires transparency. The models and systems you design to collect and analyze the data are in some cases even more important than the assumptions you can make with the results. This practice of manipulating data to create favorable headlines had been running rampant on Wall Street, which in some ways is very […]

I have to admit when I saw the headline University serves carbon-neutral lettuce" in the National Restaurant Association Smartbrief, I was dubious. After hearing many claims of carbon-neutrality that are achieved through offsets or even, the latest trend, products being pitched as carbon-negative, my antennae went up. I was, however, pleasantly surprised when I read the details. According the story in the local paper, Colorado State University really is serving carbon-neutral lettuce. The lettuce is grown in unheated greenhouses using organic compost and then transported to the cafe by bicycle. There are no fossil fuels used in the process. Later this month, they anticipate having to heat the greenhouse, no longer making the lettuce carbon neutral, so they will shut down the program, source lettuce elsewhere and restart when the weather warms up again. Right now they are only producing […]