Five Practical Steps to Fight Climate Change
by JJ Proville
December 2007

What do cars, livestock and fertilizer have in common? They are all major contributors to the greenhouse effect, which is the phenomenon that occurs when gases get trapped inside the atmosphere and cause the earth’s temperature to rise. These three are also essential elements of modern agriculture, which according to a recent UN report, is responsible for an estimated 1/3 of global warming.

The food service industry is dependent on agriculture and accordingly, chefs everywhere are thinking about what measures they can take to fight climate change. But not all solutions need to involve switching to expensive organic meats. There are more practical (and more affordable) actions you can take.

At the November 2007 Women Chefs and Restaurateurs National Conference, Helene York, Director of Bon Appétit Management Company, outlined 5 steps that you can incorporate into your business’s daily operations.

Improve your Product
Reducing portion sizes can help you deliver a better dining experience to the customer. At Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Chef Dan Barber features only four meat dishes in a well balanced menu, which showcases the quality of his product and reflects the natural proportion of meat to vegetables in a sustainable farm. Look at your available options, because using less amounts of industrially processed products in your menu can help raise the taste and health benefits of the food you serve.

Improve Efficiency of Distribution
Try to replace imported products with local ones wherever you can, but keep in mind there is another side to the equation. Chef Barton Seaver of Hook ensures his sustainably raised West African jumbo shrimp are transported in passenger-plane cargoes, maximizing the use of a resource that is already there. Use your buying power as a customer to influence your suppliers’ business practices, asking them to cut down on excessive packaging and to organize more efficient delivery schedules. “This just requires a few phone calls” as Chef Laurence Jossel of NOPA puts it. Simple changes that don’t cost anything can eventually save you time and money.

Link to your Community
Local sustainable farmers and suppliers usually have higher quality products, so think about spending the extra cash if you can. If you can’t afford to do this, still inquire whether they have any special deals available and consider adapting your menu. Offer detailed feedback to your suppliers because it will help them forecast demand, becoming more profitable and ultimately getting you better products. But while going local is the big trend right now, you can also support global communities. If your business sources a product such as coffee or bananas from a poverty stricken region, search the internet for fair trade certified suppliers. This may not be much more expensive than you think.

Redefine your Concept of Waste
Portion foods in advance of service to make sure you use up all trimmings and scraps in stocks, terrines or turn them into creative amuse-bouches that will delight your guests. Buy discarded or flawed products, such as bones or misshapen vegetables, from your suppliers at discounted prices. Find out if there is a free organic waste recycling program in your city. You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that your waste is being turned into the richest type of soil, and is coming back to you in form of a bottle of wine or a vegetable.

Take Advantage of Seasonality
Out of season products often require energy intensive means of production – such as grid-powered greenhouses that produce winter tomatoes. Using summer canned tomatoes for sauces or soups will be cheaper, save energy and can give you better flavor. Conversely, use the availability or abundance of seasonal products as an opportunity to improve your staff’s skills and knowledge by working with new products and teaching new cooking techniques.

Realistically, most obstacles are not that easily overcome. Some foods need to be air-freighted, just as deliveries cannot all be made on bicycle. Higher cost is certainly the most significant barrier of all. But, at the very least, it’s important to have an awareness and understanding of the impact your daily business practices have on the environment, and make educated decisions wherever you can. Keep yourself updated on developments in the sustainable foods industry because there are people working on solutions that can make a difference.

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American food consumption is responsible for 5% of total worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.

The three main human–generated greenhouse gases are Carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N20). They come from transportation, livestock and fertilizer, respectively.

Animal raising operations contribute to 18% of greenhouse gas emissions.


The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization examines the impact of animal farming on the environment in its 2006 report Livestock’s Long Shadow


   Published: December 2007