The Next Frontier of Sustainability

We launched our Low Carbon Diet this week, a program designed to raise awareness of the connection between food and climate change. More people are learning about "food miles" — the long-distance transport of food — but the Low Carbon Diet is much more than about buying local food. It’s about radically reducing food waste, choosing to eat less beef and cheese, and ratcheting down the ‘carbon calories’ that are abundant in our daily food choices by becoming aware of what they are.

When we began trying to define what the next frontier would be for sustainable food 18 months ago, we saw how much petroleum underlined food system operations. Refining oil and burning fossil fuels are well-known greenhouse gas emitters. But then we learned more about methane emissions — over 20 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. The two most common sources of methane emissions: livestock production and landfills. How does this translate to food? Americans, in particular eat an enormous quantity of beef and cheese, and we send millions of tons of food waste to the dump (everything from banana peels to unwanted leftovers to half-eaten meals). Seems harmless — the food is ‘natural’ after all — it bio-degrades. True enough, but when compacted in a landfill it causes methane gas that has to be pumped out to avoid explosions. Even more powerful than methane is nitrous oxide, a by-product of some agricultural practices that could be curbed.

Two dozen or more published studies later and a clear pattern emerged: food is one of the world’s biggest contributors to climate change, and Bon Appetit is not only in a position to raise the issue but to do something about it. We’ve set ambitious goals over the next 12 months, and beyond, but this journey is likely to redefine what is meant by the term ‘ sustainable food.’ Stay tuned.


Helene S. York, Director, Bon Appetit Management Company Foundation