South Bay News

Low-carbon, sustainable menus take hold

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Finding ways to reduce our individual carbon footprints is a major part of what Earth Day is all about. We hear a lot about driving less, conserving water and electricity, but scientists say food choices contribute to one third of the greenhouse gases.

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Santa Clara University student Micha Brodoff understands that every food choice has a carbon footprint.

"There's a lot that goes into making food, including transportation, how farm animals are raised, what they're fed," Brodoff said.

In 2007, Bon Appetit Management Company initiated a low carbon diet program at its 400 cafes nationwide, including on the campuses of SCU and eBay. The company changed its menu to reduce beef purchases by 33 percent because any food associated with livestock (be it meat or dairy) is a big contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

"Cows in their natural digestive process release methane gas, which is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide," Bon Appetit spokesperson Maisie Greenawalt said.

Online food calculators can help make the carbon science simple. A meal of a bagel, cream cheese and an orange scores about 500 points and is a green choice. Add a meat and cheese omelet and it shoots up into the red at 2,000 points.

It is also important to note, what may be good for your body is not necessarily good for the environment. Tofu, which is a highly processed soybean product, has three times the carbon footprint of chicken.

More and more chefs are adopting what are called "sustainable menus" and say anyone can make a difference with simple choices.

"Am I going to drink a bottle of water or am I going to use a reusable container that I can fill up from the home from my home filtered water," Monterey Bay Aquarium chef Dory Ford said.

Another easy step in the low carbon diet is to reduce food waste, because tossing food is literally throwing away energy.

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