The “Giss” of It All – An industry under stress to change.

I am standing in front of 250 food service professionals as part of a panel to educate on sustainability in the food supply chain. I represent Bon Appétit as a successful model of what is possible to do under this banner. The event, sponsored by the Society of Food Service Management, is called “Critical Issues in Food Service." I  am here with the pre-conceived expectation that based on this theme, participants would  have a deep sense of wanting to know, of needing to absorb and of being anxious to be inspired.  As I get deeper into my presentation I have this “giss”, this gut feeling that most listeners are there for no other reason but because they have to be. They are there as a reaction to a growing mainstream demand for ethical food and because  their customers are asking for it in their operations. They are stressed that they have to change their usual way of doing business, without a real desire to do so. Today, they hope to learn everything they’ve always wanted to know about sustainability, but the wide eye look on their face is telling me they have come to the reality of their challenge. What is happening in this room today is probably symbolic of what is happening across the industry.

We are a highly centralized and industrialized industry, a machine that is seemingly almost impossible to  stop, much less change gear and start in a new direction. Today this industry is faced with having to react to customer demand for sustainable foods and it needs to do so without the benefit of organic growth over many years. Bon Appétit has been walking the sustainability path for close to eight years, and we still don’t always feel like we have our arms around it. But, we have been proactive. We have listened. We have this "giss" about what our guests want. And we have avoided being part of the machine.

The machine just isn’t set up for proactive change.  It’s core gear is an infrastructure of centralized operational decisions like menu planning, recipe development, purchasing contracts and one-stop-shop marketing.  Decisions are made by a few who are never in touch with their customers; face to face, eye to eye in touch. Those that are in touch at the unit level don’t have the empowerment to make pro-active changes. Their hands are tied to a process that has created a generation of culinary professionals dependent on top down decisions. They are helpless at even simple skills like writing menus or preparing vegetables from scratch.  Their cycle menus are emailed weekly. Their French knives have long disappeared from their kitchens, replaced by industrial size can openers and bags of pre-fabricated foods. This is a model that is not conducive to the types of changes needed to create a sustainable food supply chain.

Now, consumers are asking for real food produced under a set of important environmental, ethical and good-for-your-health criteria.  And the industry is stressed to react  when all the time they could have been in a pro-act mode, in touch with a little “giss”…a little gut feeling about doing the right thing.

submitted by: marc a zammit, directory culinary support and development.