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."
• Sysco Foods: I found out they even have a V.P. of sustainability, Craig Watson. The V.P. of corporate communications, Mark Palmer said sustainability is a pure business decision. It cannot be a public relations stunt, since it is far too important to meet the needs of their customers.
Even Whole Foods, although it labels fish as green (best choice) and yellow (good choice), still carries some unsustainable choices. It is a process, and if we understand the definition and we buy the best choices and good alternatives, eventually it will fall into place.
I have mentioned the Monterey Bay Aquarium and their Seafood Watch program and how serious they are. Their scientists research government reports, journal articles, and white papers, and they also contact fishery and fish farm experts. After a thorough review, they apply their sustainability criteria to develop an in-depth Seafood Watch Report. A panel of experts then reviews all reports. Their reports are available on their website, www.seafoodwatch.org.