Bon Appétit to a low-carbon diet

Jess Vogt

By now you’ve probably heard that a company called Bon Appétit will be Lawrence University’s new food service provider next year at the Warch Campus Center. But what you may not have known – unless you went to one of the several tasting events – is that Bon Appétit’s tagline is “Food services for a sustainable future,” and that next year, Lawrentians will be able to enjoy a more sustainable diet when eating in the campus center cafeteria.
Bon Appétit calls its sustainable eating plan a “Low Carbon Diet.” This means that the company not only recognizes the contribution of the food industry to carbon emissions connected to global climate change (in the form of emissions from shipping food and fertilizers to grow food across the world, carbon sinks lost when areas are deforested to make pasture or agricultural land, as well as methane emissions released when wasted food decomposes), but seeks to design its operations in a way that minimizes the amount of carbon emitted in the process.
What exactly does this entail? Well, Bon Appétit launched their Low Carbon Diet campaign on Earth Day in 2007, seeking to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from business operations 25 percent over three years. According to their Web site, this means several things, including the following:
 Getting nearly all the fruits, veggies, meats and water their operations use from North America
 Educating “guests,” or diners, on how they can make “low carbon” food choices
 Reducing food and kitchen waste, and
 Using energy and water efficient kitchen equipment
With an initial goal of reducing beef consumption by at least 10 percent in each of their cafeterias, the entire system has decreased consumption by 23 percent in two years. This year, the company is tackling cheese and tropical fruit consumption, aiming to reduce these figures by 25 percent and 50 percent, respectively.
One of the aforementioned educational efforts is Bon Appétit’s low carbon diet calculator, found at This unique and interesting site allows visitors to place various meal items into a frying pan that calculates the contribution of given diet choices to global warming in the form of “CO2 points.” In the calculator, each point equals one gram of CO2 emissions, so that a 2,000-point meal item for instance equals 4.4 pounds of carbon emitted into the atmosphere.
To see what this might amount to in food items, I dragged my lunch from today into the frying pan. My lunch consisted of an Italian sub-like sandwich made at Downer with turkey, ham, salami, lettuce, tomato and cheese on bread with chips on the side. So I dumped all this in (or as close as I could get), and it amounted to 1,660 CO2 points, or about 3.65 lbs of carbon emitted into the atmosphere because of my lunch. Doesn’t sound like a lot, but if you assume I eat 18 meals like this a week for 52 weeks a year, that amounts to more than 3,400 lbs of carbon emitted per year. And this likely is a low estimate, because I didn’t include any beef in this typical meal. One four-ounce steak amounts to 4,793 CO2 points, or over 10.5 lbs of CO2 emitted, just from one small steak!
Obviously, how we eat clearly has a much larger impact on the climate and the environment than we commonly realize. Not only does the distance food travels from farm to plate result in more or less oil-guzzling, carbon-emitting miles being driven cross-country, but conventional industrial farms require large amounts of fertilizer that also must be transported to the farms and then often ends up washing into polluted rivers and streams. The cattle from which the steak you eat comes release manure and methane emissions in amounts far larger than are natural, and the land on which to pasture these cattle often comes at the expense of forests that once acted as carbon sinks.
The latest trend toward food sustainability, including the local and organic food movements, led by writers like Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, and Marion Nestle, companies like Bon Appétit and projects such as the Sustainable Food Project at Yale University, is part of a growing realization that organic, local and natural is better for the health of people and the environment. Bon Appétit is just one of the businesses to recently recognize the prescience needed for environmental issues, and to take advantage of the market niche for sustainable products.
It only remains to be seen how Bon Appétit’s new service at Lawrence will taste. And that, alas, as I will be graduating, I leave up to next year’s students to pass judgment.Sources: The Huffington Post, Bon Appétit Management Company Web site,