'Sustainable Food': Catchphrase or Lifestyle?



One recent morning at the Natchez Coffee Company, one of my coffee companions said he was surprised when he reads my weekly post and on occasion it is not a fun story with a recipe and is of a more serious nature. He said it throws him off, because he does not think of me as "preachy." He was specifically referring to my post several months back about the Gulf oil spill, and over coffee, when I was talking about sustainability, he said, Oh, that is such a catchphrase. I retorted that no, for me it is a lifestyle.

We must continue to work on our habits of sustainability, as we must have healthy fisheries at the end of the day.

The bandwagon effect can be good when you are promoting a good idea and equally can be bad when you are promoting a bad idea. I am an advocate of sustainability—a brilliant idea. I am especially interested in and concerned with sustainability in our seafood industry and the wellbeing of our oceans and rivers. I have always had an attachment to our coastal waters and what comes from them. I was feeling this long before our Gulf oil spill. I have learned quite a lot from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program, which I refer to constantly. I also try very hard to understand sustainability, so I can live it, which is why when I hear someone use the word "sustainability" I listen, or if I see the word written I read further. I often find that just because sustainable products are offered does not mean unsustainable products are not on the same menus and shelves. Of course, I know I slip here and there no matter how hard I try.

Like everyone, I receive hundreds of emails, and I am constantly sifting through, trying hard not to miss anything important. I recently received an email telling me that the James Beard Foundation would launch its first annual national food conference, The System on Our Plates, in collaboration with the Sustainable Food Laboratory, this fall. The invitation-only conference, held on October 21 in Washington, D.C., would focus on public health and sustainability through the lens of the foodservice industry. Participants included chefs, restaurateurs, government officials, philanthropists, and business leaders who said they would be addressing major challenges in the culinary world.

It had the word "sustainable" in it, so I read on to find that this conference was made possible with funding from Sodexo and Edens & Avant, founding partners of The System on Our Plates, and support from Sustainable Food Laboratory members Ruby Tuesday and Sysco. I am not a negative person and I always try to find the best in everyone, but I am not a pushover and I do have a curious nature and I had to look up each of these entities to validate if they really are on board with sustainability or just using it as a new adjective in a marketing campaign. Here are my findings:

    • Sodexo: Named one of America's most admired companies by Fortune Magazine in 2010. Their website is impressive and they seem sincere in their efforts.

    • Edens & Avant: Mega real estate developers who work with Fresh Market and Whole Foods. I am sure they have passed the litmus test with Whole Foods.

    • Ruby Tuesday: A very pleasant surprise. Their website has many examples of going green, including using less paper for reports. I know they use trout that is rated as a "best choice" on the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch List and that their lobster tails are rated as a "good alternative"; I am not sure where their salmon and tilapia fall. Meredith Hammond from the corporate office said, "We care about sustainability and give priority to quality suppliers who care about the environment and adhere to environmentally friendly practices."

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Regina Charboneau is the owner of Twin Oaks Bed & Breakfast in Natchez, Mississippi. She is the author of Regina's Table at Twin Oaks. More

Regina Charboneau is the owner of Twin Oaks Bed & Breakfast in Natchez, Mississippi. She is the author of two cookbooks: A Collection of Seasonal Menus & Recipes from Regina's Kitchen and Regina's Table at Twin Oaks.

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