'Low Carbon Diet' Aims to Take Bite Out of Global Warming

By Randy Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:06pm EDT

(CNSNews.com) - A company that serves more than 80 million meals each year is preparing to mark Earth Day this Sunday by giving global warming activists "a new ally in their fight to save the planet - lunch."

"It is insane to sit down to lunch in Los Angeles and drink water that has traveled 5,000 miles from Fiji," said Helene York, director of the Palo Alto, Calif.-based Bon Appetit Management Company Foundation, in a news release on Tuesday.

"We are scrutinizing our own food habits to reduce our carbon footprint as a company, and we are helping our guests do the same on an individual level," she declared.

York said it's an "inconvenient tooth" that "food - and all the energy it takes to make it - is one of the largest human activities contributing to global warming."

"The average American creates 2.8 tons of CO2 emissions each year by eating, even more than the 2.2 tons each person generates by driving, according to recent research," she said.

"With 400 cafes in corporations, universities and specialty venues nationwide - including Yahoo!, Oberlin College and the Seattle Art Museum - Bon Appetit will encourage chefs and diners to think about how their food choices could help ease the climate crisis," York explained.

To accomplish this goal, the new "Low Carbon Diet" will include:
    Reducing the use of beef by 25 percent, since livestock production is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions; Using only meat and poultry from North America because 80 percent of the energy used by the food system comes not from growing food, but from transporting and processing it; Using seasonal local produce as a first preference and tropical fruits only as "special occasion" ingredients. Most bananas have traveled 3,000 miles in high-speed refrigerated ships to reach an American breakfast plate, while a local apple might be grown within 10 miles; Serving only domestic bottled water and reducing waste from plastic bottles, since Americans throw away 40 million plastic water bottles every day; Reducing food waste to reach a goal of a 25 percent reduction in three years or less; and Auditing the energy efficiency of kitchen equipment. In home or commercial kitchens, the company says, energy losses of up to 30 percent can be easily corrected at a very low cost.
In addition, beginning next April, Bon Appetit will introduce a carbon point system so guests can calculate the impact of their personal food choices and thereby make knowledgeable decisions about and/or adjustments to their own diet.

"Our 'Low Carbon Diet' gets to the heart of an issue that has been conspicuously absent from the global warming conversation," York said.

According to its website, "Bon Appetit Management Company is an onsite custom restaurant company that provides cafe and catering services to corporations, colleges and universities, and specialty venues."

Its goal "is to be known for its culinary expertise, commitment to socially responsible food sourcing and business practices, and strong partnerships with respected conservation organizations," the site adds.

John Berlau, policy director with the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute and author of the book "Eco-Freaks: Environmentalism Is Hazardous to Your Health," told Cybercast News Service on Tuesday that the ability to swiftly transport food across great distances has resulted in tremendous benefits around the world.

"As recently as the 19th century, food crises in Western countries were all too common," Berlau said. "Things like the Irish potato famine occurred because food from other regions couldn't be transported fast enough."

In addition, bringing food to needy areas from far away "has meant that weather conditions will not doom a region to hardship and starvation," he added. "The competition from food producers that rapid transportation has enabled has also resulted in lower food prices for consumers and more access to vital nutrients such as protein.

"Unfortunately, the technophobes in the environmental movement may doom the Third World and even Western countries to new food crises."

Berlau argued that restrictions on food transportation, together with "enviro crusades against high-yield farming," could hinder efforts to feed the world's growing population.

"If that's the case, carbon emission will be the least of our public health concerns," he added.

H. Sterling Burnett, senior policy analyst with the conservative National Center for Policy Analysis, told Cybercast News Service on Tuesday that he doesn't expect Bon Appetit's new policy to have much impact on climate change.

"It seems to me, considering their clientele, that they're just making a good business decision," he said. "They've always positioned themselves as a green, socially conscious restaurant, so they're just making their people happy and scoring some good marketing points doing it."

Burnett said he could not envisage many other restaurants or grocery stores adopting the new policy. "I don't think you're going to see strawberries or bananas pulled from the shelves because they've been shipped from abroad."

In addition, he said, "not all domestic products are prepared in an environmentally conscious way."

"There are impacts no matter what choice you make, even though they're trying to pretend there isn't," Burnett added.

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