The environmental impact of the food supply has come under scrutiny as numerous studies have pointed to food production as a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
Bon Appétit Management Company, which operates a cafe in the Knorr Family Dining Room, has made reducing emissions a priority. According to their website, in 2007, Bon Appétit set and achieved its goal of reducing its carbon footprint by emitting the equivalent of 5 million less pounds of carbon dioxide every month.
David Apthorpe, the general manager of Hillsdale’s Bon Appétit cafe, said sustainability is a part of the mission of Bon Appétit, and that the company’s size allows it to make a big impact.
“We have a great opportunity as a company. This part of Compass Group, Bon Appétit, has a revenue upwards of 1 billion dollars and approaching 2 billion, and I think the focus is how can we make an impact on that great of a scale,” Apthorpe said. “In some ways, it’s more of a challenge than being a local restaurant — where you can compost your scraps. But how do you do it in over 500 cafes from coast to coast? It’s an opportunity but it’s a challenge as well.”
Raising cattle is one aspect of food production that researchers have focused on because raising cattle is biologically inefficient and cows naturally produce methane, a greenhouse gas,as they digest food.
Christopher Heckel, a lecturer in the biology department, said raising cattle requires vast amounts of water and food, and people should consider reducing their environmental impact by increasing their consumption of plant-based proteins, as Bon Appétit has done.
“Given the water crises around the globe, including parts of North America, it’s worth at least taking a very hard look at incorporating more plant-based foods into our diets,” Heckel said.
While some companies like Bon Appétit have put a significant emphasis on reducing their impact on the environment, not everyone is convinced it is wise for the government to force all companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Professor of Economics Gary Wolfram said as developing countries begin to industrialize, they will want to be able to use whatever resources are cheapest, just as the developed world did when it was industrializing. He added that any government regulation on greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, where people can afford to use more expensive resources, would shift production to countries without such strict standards.
“It’s not an easy problem to solve because we don’t know it’s a problem, and we don’t know what the amount of the external cost is,” Wolfram said.
Wolfram also said trying to predict how future generations will impact the environment cannot be done with any certainty, as improvements in technology may render preventing emissions unimportant.
“Someone is going to figure out a way to take the carbon out and it may be cheaper to take the carbon out than to prevent the carbon from going in,” Wolfram said.
According to the Marketing Director of Hillsdale’s Bon Appétit Cafe William Persson, Bon Appétit also encourages sourcing from local vendors, which helps create a smaller carbon footprint. To work within their corporate guidelines, Hillsdale’s cafe buys coffee from Zingerman’s Coffee in Ann Arbor, MI. This leads to guests at the cafe getting better coffee, he said.
“Zingerman’s really does pride themselves on having the best quality coffees,” Persson said. “They partner directly with farmers and try to get the best beans possible. They sample new ones every year, and they are never satisfied with what they have because they are always trying to get something better.”