Sustainable food is food that can is grown naturally and locally, on small community sustained farms rather than industrially, on factory farms. Sustainable food is grown without the use of pesticides, hormones, or antibiotics. Farm conditions are humane for the workers and animals, and over time, the land is enhanced rather than degraded.
Top 5 Steps a Food Service Facility Can Take to Increase Sustainable Food:
Purchase food that is low on the food chain. Create vegetarian menus or start a “meatless Mondays” campaign to create demand for vegetarian offerings. If you don’t have much experience with vegetarian dishes, reach out to organizations like the Green Restaurant Association to connect with other chefs who have had success in this area.
Look for certified organic food and beverage items.
If certified organic isn’t an option for your meat and dairy, then ask for products that have been certified by a third party for having met animal welfare standards. Don’t rely on the claims you see on a website.
Source as many whole food products (produce, meat, cheese) from within 300 miles of your food service facility.
Familiarize yourself with the principles of sustainable seafood and refer to the Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guides when purchasing seafood.
Vegetarian and Vegan Options
Vegetarian and vegan ingredients put less strain on the environment. Food that is not meat-centric requires less of the environment’s resources and can further feed more people. For example, it takes the same amount of land to produce a single pound of beef as it does to produce 120 pounds of potatoes!
From an environmental standpoint, vegetarian and vegan foods are simply the most efficient. Not only do they require less time and energy to produce, but result in significantly less pollution and ecosystem degradation. Large-scale livestock production, on the other hand, decreases biodiversity by destroying or damaging critical habitats for other species, erodes and contaminates the soil, requires intensive water use, results in the emission of greenhouse gasses and oxides that cause acid rain, and requires the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones, which contaminate local waterways and may pose risk to human health through residual consumption.
On industrial farms many animals are given natural and synthetic hormones to make them grow faster or increase their milk production. Antibiotics are employed to counteract crowded, unsanitary conditions for the animals, but have grown less and less effective as bacteria become increasingly resistant. Many crops have been genetically engineered to speed growth, leading to genetically modified monocultures, and reduced crop biodiversity and resilience.
Industrial farming requires a tremendous amount of energy, a majority of which comes from fossil fuels. Approximately 40% of the energy used in industrial farming goes to the production of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. In fact, recent studies report that industrially farmed food actually takes more energy to produce than it creates - on average, three calories of energy per one calorie of edible food. The most inefficient industrially farmed product is grain-fed beef, which requires thirty-five calories for every calorie of beef produced.
A more sustainable option is small, local, organic farming where animals are free range and fed a natural grass or vegetarian diet (depending on the animal). On these farms no fossil fuel is needed for fertilizers and pesticides - the sun produces the grass and crops, and the animals’ manure fertilizes the land. Furthermore, less energy is used to transport these products to local markets, resulting in fresher and better tasting food.
89% of Americans favor organic food that is free of toxic chemicals and genetically modified ingredients, according to the 2011 NPR-Thomson Reuter Health Poll. Organic farming practices benefit both our health and the environment by keeping harmful pesticides out of our bodies and out of the ground, while further preventing soil erosion and conserving energy.
Look for meat and dairy products that have one of the following certifications:
American Humane Certified
Animal Welfare Approved
American Grass-fed Tier 1
The average piece of food travels 1,500 miles from farm to plate, and uses a tremendous amount of energy, gas and refrigeration in the process. By sourcing food from within a 300-mile radius restaurants can reduce the time and transport required for food deliveries, while supporting the regional farming community.
Many fish populations across the world have been critically overharvested, and face a complete collapse. However, there are sustainable seafood options that can be fished or farmed without reducing the species’ population size over the long term or damaging local ecosystems.
A sustainable fishery uses methods that minimize bycatch and environmental damage. In general, pole and line or hook and line methods are more sustainable than longlining and trawling, which can entangle and kill endangered sea turtles, birds, sharks and marine mammals, and damage corals and the sea floor. Sustainable fish species are generally species that have a large stock size, short life cycles, and grow quickly.
Farmed fish can be a great option for sustainable seafood, but must be examined on a case by case basis. In some salmon farms, for instance, the salmon are concentrated in a small area, resulting in pollution of local waterways and pen spillage that endangers wild populations. They are given feed from wild fish populations to mimic their natural diet and become highly vulnerable to disease in their close quarters, necessitating the use of antibiotics. US farmed shellfish is a great option since mollusks are filter feeders and restore, rather than degrade the local environment; however, shrimp from mangrove farms in developing countries should be avoided since this farming often destroys the fragile mangrove ecosystems.
According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the most sustainable seafood options are:
Abalone (Worldwide, Contained Production Systems)
Arctic Char (U.S., Canada, Norway, Iceland, Farmed in Recirculating Systems)
Barramundi (U.S., Farmed in Recirculating Systems)
Branzino (Nova Scotia, Canada, Farmed in Tank Systems)
Capelin (Iceland, Wild-caught)
Catfish (U.S. Farmed)
Caviar, White Sturgeon (Alberta, Canada, Farmed in Tank Systems)
Chilean Seabass (Heard and McDonald Islands, Falkland Islands, Macquarie Island, Longline)
Clams (Worldwide, Farmed)
Clams, Pacific Razor (Washington, Oregon, Quinault Nation; Hand Harvested)
Clams, Softshell/Steamers (U.S. Atlantic, Rakes and Shovels)
Cobia (U.S. Farmed)
Cod, Atlantic (Hook-and-line from Iceland and Northeast Arctic (by Norway, Russia))
Cod, Pacific (U.S. Bottom Longline, Jig and Trap)
Crab, Blue (U.S. Chesapeake Bay Trotline)
Crab, Dungeness (California, Oregon and Washington, Trap)
Crab, Kona (Australia, Wild-caught)
Crab, Snow (Eastern Bering Sea, U.S., Trap, Pot)
Crab, Snow (Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada, Pot, Trap)
Crab, Stone (U.S. Atlantic, U.S. Gulf of Mexico, Trap)
Crawfish/Crayfish (U.S. Farmed)
Croaker, Atlantic (U.S. Non-trawl)
Giant Clam/Geoduck (U.S., Canadian Pacific, Wild-caught)
Gilthead Sea Bream (Nova Scotia, Canada , Farmed in Tank Systems)
Haddock (U.S. Atlantic, Hook-and-line)
Halibut, Pacific (U.S. Wild-caught)
Lobster, California Spiny (California, Wild-caught)
Lobster, Caribbean Spiny (Florida, Wild-caught)
Lobster, Spiny (Wild-caught from Baja California, Mexico)
Mackerel, Atlantic (Canada or US, Purse Seine)
Mackerel, King (Wild-caught from U.S. Atlantic and U.S. Gulf of Mexico)
Mackerel, Spanish (Wild-caught from U.S. Atlantic and U.S. Gulf of Mexico)
Mahi Mahi (U.S. Atlantic, Troll/Pole)
Mullet, Striped (Wild-caught from U.S. Atlantic, U.S. Gulf of Mexico)
Mussels (Worldwide, Farmed)
Oysters (Worldwide, Farmed)
Oysters (U.S. Gulf of Mexico Wild-caught)
Perch, Yellow (Lake Erie, Wild-caught)
Perch, Yellow (U.S. Farmed in Tank Systems)
Pollock, Atlantic (Gillnet and Purse Seine from Norway)
Prawn, Freshwater (U.S. Farmed)
Prawn, Spot (Canadian Pacific, Wild-caught)
Rockfish, Black (Hook-and-line from California, Oregon and Washington)
Sablefish/Black Cod (Alaska and Canadian Pacific, Wild-caught)
Salmon (Drift Gillnet, Purse Seine and Troll, from Alaska)
Salmon (Fraser River, Reefnet)
Salmon Roe (Drift Gillnet, Purse Seine and Troll, from Alaska)
Salmon, Coho (U.S. Farmed in Tank Systems)
Sardines, Pacific (U.S., Canada, Purse Seine)
Scad, Big-eye (Hawaii, Wild-caught)
Scad, Mackerel (Hawaii, Wild-caught)
Scallops (Farmed, Worldwide)
Scallops, Pink (Canadian Pacific, Butterfly Trawl)
Scallops, Sea (Diver-caught in Laguna Ojo de Liebre and Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur, Mexico)
Scallops, Spiny (Canadian Pacific, Butterfly Trawl)
Scallops, Weathervane (Alaska, Dredged)
Sea Urchin Roe (Canada, Wild-caught)
Seatrout, Spotted ( Wild-caught from Florida and Louisiana)
Shrimp (U.S. Farmed in Fully Recirculating Systems or Inland Ponds)
Shrimp, Black Tiger (Ca Mau Province of Southern Vietnam and other areas of Southeast Asia, Farmed Extensive Mixed Shrimp and Mangrove Forestry (Silvofishery) Using Selva Shrimp Criteria)
Shrimp, Pink (Oregon, Wild-caught)
Striped Bass (U.S. Atlantic, Hook-and-line)
Striped Bass (U.S. Farmed)
Sturgeon, White (British Columbia, Canada, Farmed in Tank Systems)
Swordfish (Harpoon and Handline from Hawaii)
Swordfish (Harpoon and Handline-caught from Canada, the U.S., North Atlantic and East Pacific)
Tilapia (U.S. Farmed in Closed Recirculating Systems)
Tilapia (Ecuador, Farmed in Ponds)
Tilapia (Alberta, Canada, Farmed in Tank Systems)
Trout, Rainbow/Steelhead (U.S. Farmed)
Tuna, Albacore (Troll/Pole from the Canadian and U.S. Pacific)
Tuna, Albacore ("White" Canned) (Troll/Pole from the Canadian and U.S. Pacific)
Tuna, Bigeye (Troll/Pole from the U.S. Atlantic)
Tuna, Skipjack (Worldwide, Troll/Pole)
Tuna, Skipjack ("Light" Canned) (Worldwide, Troll/Pole)
Tuna, Yellowfin (Troll/Pole from the Pacific and U.S. Atlantic)
White Seabass (Hook-and-line from California)
Whitefish, Lake (Wild-caught from Lake Huron and Lake Superior)
Whitefish, Lake (Trap-net from Lake Michigan)
Wreckfish (U.S. Atlantic, Wild-caught)
When a product is labeled USDA Organic it means that it has been certified by the United States Department of Agriculture as being produced without the use of pesticides. When a product is labeled Natural it doesn’t actually mean it is sustainable. While natural products do not contain artificial colors, artificial flavors, preservatives, or other artificial ingredients and are minimally processed they are not necessarily organic, humanely raised, or free of hormones and antibiotics.
Shade-grown Smithsonian certification ensures that a product was grown without disrupting local bird populations, while Rainforest Alliance Certification ensures more generally that a product is grown on farms where forests are protected, rivers, soils and wildlife conserved; workers are treated with respect, paid decent wages, properly equipped, and given access to education and medical care.