The USDA estimates that 30 to 40% of the United States’ food supply is wasted, so it’s not surprising that one key element of the zero waste movement is reducing food waste in particular.
Some cities like San Francisco and New York are passing legislation to achieve the goal of zero waste, and restaurants in Europe – such as Silo in the UK, Amass in Denmark, and Nolla in Finland – have become models of zero waste. It’s not clear whether those efforts will be enough to combat climate change, but according to Anthony Myint, one of the founders of Zero Foodprint and the Perennial Farming Initiative, restaurants hold the key to literally reversing global warming through regenerative agriculture.
If that sounds crazy, it’s important to note that very recent research shows that removing carbon from the soil is a major solution – perhaps even the primary solution – to the climate crisis. Recognizing that the restaurant industry represents the biggest economic sector in the food system (beating retail and agriculture), Zero Foodprint not only helps restaurants to improve sustainable practices, reduce food waste, and become carbon neutral, but also to fund regenerative agriculture by connecting diners, restaurants, and farmers.
“Many restaurateurs are pretty disconnected from farming, so they don’t understand the potential that the 8 billion acres of farmland and grassland represent to society in terms of turning bad atmospheric carbon into good soil carbon,” Myint explains. “They also don’t understand the actual levers for change.”
Myint says that nature can heal itself quickly as soil increases in vitality, and as atmospheric carbon becomes living things in the soil. A ranch that sells cows into a feedlot may not have the money or resources to switch to grass-fed practices, but “society needs them to use that land to take carbon out of the atmosphere.” With a different model, the same ranch might be able to pull enough carbon out of the atmosphere each year to offset the emissions of millions of gallons of gas.
“This program allows an average restaurant, and by extension, the average citizen, to invest in projects on the land,” says Myint.
The Zero Foodprint website details their crowdfunding approach to capturing emissions through farming, using restaurants as the engine and the science behind the project. A few cents from every meal at a participating restaurant (1% added to the customer’s bill) adds up to provide the funds needed for farms to switch to renewable farming practices, or restaurants can participate by going carbon neutral, which begins with an audit, called the Life Cycle Assessment.
While most Zero Foodprint restaurants are in San Francisco, New York, and Copenhagen, we spoke with three chefs and restaurateurs in other parts of the country to learn how they have adopted more sustainable practices in partnership with Zero Foodprint.
The Zero Foodprint program requires a Life Cycle Assessment, which gauges the climate impact of operations in the restaurant.
For chef and restaurateur Stephen Williams of Bouquet in Covington, Kentucky, the audit was fairly easy. As a farm-to-table restaurant, he says, “we were already composting and using compostable paper and little to no plastic. Most of our food is locally sourced. It just took time to fill out the form.”
Executive chef and co-partner Kevin Fink of Emmer & Rye in Austin, Texas agrees, adding that an energy audit from your city is an easy first step that allows you to “recognize very quickly where you’re wasting energy.”
Chef-owner Ryan Ratino of Bresca in Washington DC points out the simple, achievable changes, noting that a lot of ideas save money without impacting the guest experience. “We eliminated 80% of the gas in the kitchen – there’s one gas range and everything else is electric or wood fire,” he says. [Read more…]