Sustainability discussion turns into buy local debate

09/29/2009 12:39:24 PM
Ashley Bentley

The panel made sure to point out that local sourcing does not mean sustainable sourcing.

"There are scenarios when it may be much more sustainable to bring something into California than to grow it in California ourselves," Shakman said.

Large foodservice operations can influence their suppliers, though, and in some cases, are trying to help local producers have a more carbon-friendly way to market than an old truck with a bed filled with corn.

"It's doable if you have the buying power to influence your supplier," Zammit said.

Taherian said when growers in New England are having trouble selling their products, he tries to help.

"Eight to 10 years ago, we went into farmers markets because we wanted people to know that it wasn't just the fine dining that has access to these ingredients," Taherian said. "But the focus right now is how everyone can have them."

Zammit said his key clients, which are universities and institutions, are asking what Compass Group is doing to support local communities because their customers are asking them the same thing.

To answer those questions, the panel agreed it is imperative to have a more consistent way of measuring sustainable practices, particularly because of the threat of green washing.

"We don't have a quantifiable definition, and all scientists want that," Loss said. "Reducing waste is the start, and identifying feedback loops. Look for points in operations where you can identify waste."

Along with making food more sustainable, there's also a movement to eat food in a more natural state.

"The way we have been dealing with food production … kids in our schools are eating things I would not feed our children," Taherian said. "So we're talking about how we can change to things that are better for us."

This movement has a way to go, though.

"One thing we aren't talking about is personal responsibility," Shakman said. "Consumers aren't knocking down my door asking for these things. Until we as parents and consumers create demand, we're pushing water uphill."

Taherian said multimillion dollar companies that advertise on children's networks are partially to blame.

"My son knows about Domino's cake filled with chocolate and he's never eaten there," Taherian said.

Consumers need to have this kind of information about more healthful food, Taherian said.

At the end of the day, though, nothing will be sustainable in any way if it's not also financially sustainable, Shakman said.

"We need to make sure the volume is there when the demand gets there," Shakman said.


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