| I'm somewhat captivated by the challenge posed earlier in the evening: What can an enormous food service company do to improve the food they serve? The problem for such a large company, currently, is the lack of supply of local, sustainable food. Even if their customers want it and want to pay for it, there isn't enough. Not yet, anyway. Here's a short list of ideas of what they can do now to improve their food:
- Get the artificial food dyes out of the food, especially in schools. This would require working with their suppliers and it might be impossible in the case of soda. However, it's most important for food served to small children, and since elementary schools aren't serving soda anyway, we're good there.
- Sign an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to pay an extra penny per pound of tomatoes directly to the farmworkers who pick them. This is a good thing to get started negotiating NOW because Barry Estabrook has a book coming out about the working conditions for the farmworkers called Tomatoland that will be out in a few months.
- Tell your suppliers that as of a certain date in the near future, you are no longer accepting any milk from cows treated with rbGH. This should be very doable considering how many large brands (Yoplait, Dannon, Tillamook, etc) are already rbGH-free. I'm guessing the biggest hurdle might be in ice cream.
- Do not buy or serve any cheese with milk protein concentrates. These are inferior products that come from foreign countries and undercut American dairy farmers. Typically they are found in cheap cheeses (Kraft).
- No longer buy or serve any "red list" fish species on Monterey Bay's Seafood Watch guide.
- Serve robust and delicious vegetarian and vegan options that even omnivores can enjoy. This does not mean fake meat. It does mean whole grains (including interesting ones like quinoa, amaranth, millet, bulgar wheat, and brown rice), beans, veggies, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Ethnic foods often work well for vegetarian cuisine (Middle Eastern, Indian, Thai, Mexican to name a few).
- On that note, participate in the Meatless Monday campaign. This might involve flexibility - offering the idea to customers, and perhaps still offering some meat options but publicizing the campaign and giving diners the option to try some delicious meatless dishes every Monday.
- The fewer products from cows, the better.
- Offer organic, Fair Trade coffee. For a large corporation doing this, Equal Exchange might be a good fit for a supplier. However, in some cities there is a local brand that is very popular and will be a big win with local customers (Stumptown in Portland, Intelligentsia in Chicago, Just Coffee in Madison). I've heard a story of a hospital that switched to Fair Trade, organic coffee and raised their coffee prices a dime to account for the extra cost. They ended up making money because the coffee was so good, they sold more.
- On universities with student run gardens, buy produce from the garden and incorporate it into meals in the cafeteria when possible. (I've been to a university that does this.)
- Ask your suppliers for foods made without GMOs. This might be too difficult since they are in everything - anything with non-organic corn, soy, or canola, and now sugarbeets, plus any animal fed alfalfa in the future. And Hawaiian papaya. But it's worth a shot.
- Tell your suppliers you want cage-free eggs and work with them to make it happen. Currently a small percent of all US eggs are cage free so this one will take time to make it happen. However, laying hens are some of the worst treated agricultural animals out there, so this is a significant move to take.
- Pay attention to the omega 6 to omega 3 ratios in the foods you serve. Currently the American diet has too many omega 6s and too few omega 3s. Phase out oils like corn oil, safflower, and sunflower. Instead use flax oil, canola (organic or non-GMO if possible), and extra virgin olive oil when you can. Swap out peanut butter for almond butter if you can (I know - it's expensive). Serve pastured animal products (i.e. the animal was allowed to graze on pasture) if you can as these have higher omega-3s in them.
- Get the palm oil and palm kernel oil out of the food you serve!
- Offer pitchers of water (or water from a soda machine) and glasses instead of bottled water.
- Compost your food waste.
- Get rid of trays in cafeterias. This significantly cuts down on food waste as it encourages people to take only what they want and come back for more if needed.
- Encourage people to bring their own cups instead of getting take out cups. The best way to do this is to charge $.10 for anyone who needs a take out cup. Of course, that will make some people mad :) A less effective method that won't piss people off is giving a small discount to anyone who brings their own cup.
I plan to keep thinking on this but these ideas seem like a good start.