Hold the Carbon: Cafeterias Focus on Green Fare

Low-Carb Poster

hide captionThe Bon Appetit Management Co.'s poster makes an appeal for a low-carbon diet.

Courtesy Bon Appetit Management

The Food Footprint Series

In the first part of the series, we examine how food relates to greenhouse gasses.

This is the second in a five-part series.

From production to processing, transport to trash can, meals and snacks can leave a large environmental footprint. One company aims to slow this trend with a new low-carb menu. Carbs — as in carbon.

Bon Appetit Management Co., based in Palo Alto, Calif., operates lunchrooms at museums, schools and corporations. In implementing a new menu at 400 cafes and cafeterias, the company considers the carbon footprint of each food's entire life cycle. For example, employees at eBay's Silicon Valley headquarters will find environmentally friendly pizza toppings such as dried Bing cherries, peaches and caramelized fennel replacing their traditional pepperoni and mozzarella.

Meat and cheese are among the most carbon-intensive products around, explains Helene York, architect of the menu redesign. That's why she's called for dramatically decreasing their use.

York notes transportation in explaining why cheese will have only a minor presence: "The cow eats the feed, the milk is processed and transported in refrigerated trucks. If it comes from a long distance, it's put on an airplane."

The company requires its food managers to stop importing bottled water from overseas and to guard against wasting food.

"You need to think like a squirrel, you know?" says eBay chef Bob Clark, who already applies those principles, often freezing food for later use.

The benefits of a low-carbon diet extend beyond the environment, Clark says. Cutting back on beef, dairy and processed foods can reduce overall food costs. And low-carbon items from local farmers tend to make the best meals, he insists.

Not everyone is convinced. The steamed vegetables at Bon Appettit's green cafeteria at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., taste a lot like gym socks, according to junior Melissa McDonough.

"There's a lot of placards telling you to eat green and be environmental, but the taste and freshness of the foods seems lackluster," she says.

York says there are kinks, but overall she's content with her company's progress. Its goal is to reduce meat and cheese purchases by 10 percent this year; so far, it has cut back by nearly 20 percent.

Bon Appetit's Veggie Loaf Recipe

Adapted from Bon Appetit Management Co. Ideally, use ingredients grown or produced locally and compost the vegetable trimmings. For an even lower-carbon meal, bake other meal items at the same time.

¼ cup vegetable oil

1 yellow squash, chopped into 3/4-inch cubes

1 zucchini, chopped into 3/4-inch cubes

2 large eggplant, peeled and chopped into 3/4-inch cubes

3 shallots, peeled and coarsely chopped

6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

Pinch of kosher salt and black pepper

1 package (14 ounces) organic firm tofu, chopped into 3/4-inch cubes

1/2 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup sweet chili sauce

3 cups panko or other dry bread crumbs

Lightly grease loaf pan with vegetable oil; set aside.

Heat oil in large skillet over high heat. Stir in squash, zucchini, eggplant, shallots garall ingredients except tofu in large skillet over high heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until vegetables have softened, at least 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool 10 to 15 minutes.

Transfer sautéed ingredients to bowl of food processor and add tofu, cilantro and chili sauce. Puree until smooth.

In large mixing bowl, combine pureed mixture and panko crumbs, working with your hands until mixture becomes firm and no longer is sticky. Shape into loaf and put in pan.

Bake at 350 degrees F. for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the vegetable loaf's internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F.

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