Consider meat. It's bad for the planet. It's bad for your health if you eat too much of it, which most Americans do. (We eat three times more than the global average.) As for animal welfare, trust me, you don't want to think about it.
Helene York is a vegetarian, but as director of strategic sourcing and research at Bon Appetit Management Co., a big food-service company, she needs to think about meat. This week, Bamco made a serious commitment to change the way it buys pork, beef, poultry and eggs.
First, the company said, it will
stop serving all pork produced using the cruel and inhumane practice of gestation crates and all eggs, including "liquid" ones (those removed from their shells), from hens confined to battery cages by 2015.
This won't be easy. About 90 percent of female pigs are raised in metal cages so small that a pregnant sow cannot even turn around. This commitment aims to eliminate one of the worst practices in the meat industry.
Bon Appetit said it will also aim to drive best practices by promising that, by 2015,
at least 25 percent of all our meat, poultry, and eggs will meet the highest animal welfare standards, as verified by the independent third parties Animal Welfare Approved, Food Alliance, Humane Farm Animal Care, or Global Animal Partnership. These four groups don't just ban gestation crates and battery cages, they prohibit routine antibiotics and all hormones, and reward producers for allowing animals to engage in their natural behaviors.
The news from Bon Appetit, which provides cafeteria food and catering to more than 400 companies, colleges and other venues in 31 states, comes in the wake of an announcement that McDonald's -- which, of course, is much bigger -- will ask its pork suppliers to phase out gestation crates. (A stunned Mark Bittman wrote OMG: McDonald's Does the Right Thing.) Bon Appetit and McDonald's made their announcements in conjunction with the Humane Society of the United States, an animal rights group.
Meanwhile, a coalition of environmental groups and companies led by WWF and including McDonald's and Cargill that is known as the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef yesterday announced its own plans to support small-scale farmers around the world who commit to raising beef in ways that limit their environmental footprint.
This all sounds like good news, but I asked York, as a vegetarian, whether these efforts to make meat kinder and greener might invite people to consume more beef. Why not try harder to discourage meat consumption?
"We're doing that, too," Helene said, reminding me of her work developing an climate-friendly diet for Bon Appetit. [See my 2009 blog post, The Low Carb(on) Diet.] Beef consumption is down by 30 percent at Bon Appetit locations, she said, but despite the company's effort to promote vegetarian fare, their customers who eat less beef are now consuming more pork and chicken.
"We have reduced the amount of meat we serve per person," she said. "But people are going to eat meat. It's not for me to decide they shouldn't. But I do want them to eat more responsible meat."