Ingredients for a sustainable menu

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By NRA Show 2013 Speaker Greg Christian, CEO, Beyond Green

As a foodservice consultant, whose business is built on bringing more wholesome and “sustainable” food into kitchens, I am regularly asked the same question: “What does sustainability mean?”

The Brundtland Commission published a report on sustainability in 1987, defining the term “sustainability” as meeting our current needs without infringing on the ability of future generations to meet their needs. But many people are left to wonder what that means to them. So, when I am asked by restaurateurs, universities, K-12 foodservice directors, and chefs, “What does sustainability mean?” I tell them to change the question to “What does sustainability look like?”

We do not need to know what sustainability means, but rather we need to know what our world needs to look like for us to be happy passing it on to our children and grandchildren. Defining the word sustainability does not get us any farther down the road to solving the many problems we face everyday. But if we envision the future we want for our families and ourselves we can see what changes we need to make, and we can then begin creating solutions that can bring us closer to that better world.

Envisioning is the key to achieving any sort of success in changing the systems of which we are a part. In the foodservice industry, we are faced with a current reality where our foods are highly-processed with chemicals, transported long distances, produced with pesticides and fertilizers that are harming people and the environment, and packed with sugars and fats that are causing illness and disease around the world.

The farmers, distributors, and cooks are struggling to survive, let alone flourish, in this system where they are paid little to provide the food that the world relies on for its survival. It can be hard to see a way out of this reality, but the first step on the journey is to know where we want to go.

The ideal foodservice industry of the future will be based on local economies, where food is grown near where it is consumed, in ways that use little or no chemicals, and are then cooked with love and care from scratch, by workers who are treated fairly and respectfully for the great service they provide each of us. This dream is real, it is achievable, and it is the dream upon which I base my life and my business.

For years I followed the path laid out for me by the foodservice industry. I ran my catering company using the cheapest food I could find which would still satisfy my customers. I made countless mistakes in my life and in my business, but because I was following the rules and making money, I thought that there was no reason to change what I was doing.

As parts of my life came apart around me, I realized that I was not living in the world that I wanted for my children or me. I envisioned a new world with a food system that worked for everyone, and I began to try to change my business to bring the world closer to that vision. I took that vision of a better future and started to find the ways to get there. I made more mistakes than I care to remember, but those mistakes showed me how to begin transforming those visions for the future into reality.

I worked on the frontlines and in the trenches to make my catering business better for everyone who had a stake in what I was doing. I worked hard to create a zero waste kitchen and to source from local farmers because those achievements were parts of a bigger vision for the food system as a whole.

Ingredients that support a sustainable menu:

  • Pick a date that you will begin composting.
  • What percentage of local food do you want to be serving in the next 5 years?
  • Separate meter your kitchens so you can decrease energy and water use.
  • Bring your staff to the farms and farmers markets to inspire everyone.

I hope to share the lessons I have learned along the way with you, in the hope that you will join me as I participate with my fellow panelists in a education session titled “7 Ingredients to Creating a Design and Foodservice that Support the Sustainable Menu” on Sunday, May 19 at 11:30 a.m. at NRA Show 2013...or check out my Website

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