To celebrate Earth Day next Wednesday, Bon Appetit will be serving foods that are considered part of a “lowcarbon diet.” This is not Adkins-diet remix, nor is it anything new to the dining halls. Almost every Friday this year, Bon Appetit has limited the amount of beef, rice, cheese, and other items from the menu because they are “high-carbon” foods, meaning the production and transportation of the food increases the rate of greenhouse gas emissions.
Though the food and agriculture system has not received a large amount of attention as a perpetrator of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and climate change, it is truly a culprit. It is estimated that one-third of all GHG emissions come from the food system, be it through deforestation and other land-use changes for agriculture, fertilizer production, distribution and use, or food transportation.
Low-carbon diet days are Bon Appetit’s answer to the pollutant food system. The question for Wednesday, and other low-carbon diet days, is not ‘what’s on the menu?’ but rather, ‘what’s not?’ Meat and cheese are eliminated because livestock produces 18% of the world’s GHG emissions. Since they are ruminants, cattle among the most inefficient converters of grain to protein, and in Confined Animal Feeding Operations (industrial factory farms) they are fed corn, which adds up to an inefficient 1 pound of protein for every 10-16 pounds of grain consumed. Not only that, but in the US and Canada, half of the synthetic fertilizer used is distributed to feed crops. Finally, along with rice production, livestock is one of the main sources of methane emissions. Rice is also eliminated from the menu on low-carbon diet days.
Sourcing locally produced food and decreasing food waste are additional initiatives that spread beyond the low-carbon diet days but reinforce the idea. Bon Appetit serves little tropical fruit because of the GHG emissions that result from fossil-fuel-guzzling transportation (the bananas are from Mexico, for example, rather than arriving from farther south). While there isn’t much local produce to be found in Minnesota in mid-April, Bon Appetit will be sourcing from local producers (including our very own student farm) to serve through the summer and fall and preserve for the winter.
Waste reduction is key to the low-carbon diet because of the excessive energy that goes into processing and packaging. Highly processed and packaged foods are thus eliminated. Composting is of great benefit because it actually returns carbon to the soil and organically fertilizes food for subsequent years.
As so-called solutions to climate change abound, it’s good to recognize the impact of the choices that we make every time we fill a plate, three or more times, Earth Day and every day. For more information, visit Bon Appetit’s Low Carbon Calculator at www.eatlowcarbon.org and Take a Bite out of Climate Change at www.takeabite.cc.