Is this cup GMO free?

Yesterday I presented to a small group  of people interested in having us do their food service.  They are seemingly a very vibrant culture, deeply interested in sustainability issues including minimizing waste and encouraging composting. A good match for us.

I am telling them about the biodegradable containers we use in some of our cafes, including a "clear plastic-like" series of boxes and drinking cups made from PLA.  This is a green-house gas neutral polymer made from corn that is bio-degradable.  From a quiet corner of the room came a loud and clear question belonging to a young man named Jesse: "Is this cup GMO free?" Wow, hadn’t expected that question from this group.

The answer was "no". But this led to a discussion about some of the contradictions we sometimes face at Bon Appetit with sustainability issues.  Does it make sense for us to support a mega agricultural practice that encourages mono cropping (corn); high chemical input (fertilizers and pesticides); high use of limited natural resources (water); contaminates environment with genetically modified organisms? Isn’t this contradictory our our sustainability on environment and bio-diversity?

This is a case where we find ourselves between "an oil well and a corn field," if you will. So we ask ourselves: Do we  continue supporting a paradigm that is dependent on foreign oil and creates incredible amounts of permanent waste in our landfills? Or, should we instead move to support the development of new technologies like PLA that today contradict our position on sustainable agriculture practices but might tomorrow be the promise of a more sustainable future? The answer hasn’t been clear to us, so we move cautiously.

But these are some of types of questions we face periodically in the ever changing world of sustainability. Once you make the commitment to an issue, you have stay educated almost daily in a very dynamic environment. I discovered very recently that PLA technology is moving away from corn (yes!) and testing the use of celluloid’s from grasses and wood chips. This makes a whole lot of difference in how we might move forward with encouraging the use of these containers in our units.

But what I find most refreshing about this work, is meeting people like Jesse.  People who are busy with life in the fast paced high tech world but making time to educate themselves on issues beyond their realm of everyday living. From my perspective, it makes all the extra effort worthwhile just knowing that at the top of our food chain there are eaters who care about the same issues that we care about.

Posted by: marc a zammit: director culinary support and development