Chefs now offering low-carbon diets to help save the planet
In the effort to save the planet from carbon emissions, chefs are saying eat less feedlot beef. That's because feedlot beef is by far the biggest creator of carbon gases. Fed on corn instead of the grass it was meant to eat, cows simply belch and pass wind a lot, creating much of the CO2 that's harming the earth. Bon Appétit Management Co. and other corporate food-service operators are turning to lower-carbon foods like chicken in an effort to change eating habits while reducing their carbon footprints.
SO YOU THINK trading in your gas guzzler for a hybrid will save the planet?
Try cutting back on cheeseburgers! And mangos! And fish flown in "fresh" from the southern hemisphere!
Old millennium: Low-carb diets. The new cool: Low-carbon diets. As in eat green. As in healthy for the environment. As in reduce global warming by minding what you swallow.
Just ask the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. A few years ago, it released a study showing that livestock cause more harm to the environment than all global transportation systems combined. Numero Uno emission emitter? Beef.
If Americans reduced meat consumption by just 20 percent, a University of Chicago study found, it'd be like all of us switching from a standard sedan to an ultraefficient Prius. A Japanese study estimated that raising 2.2 pounds of beef creates the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide as driving an average European car for 155 miles or burning a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days.
Producing a pound of feedlot beef creates the equivalent of 14.8 pounds of CO2. By comparison, a pound of pork creates the equivalent of 3.8 pounds of CO2; chicken, the equivalent of 1.1 pounds.
Why do cattle have such a huge carbon hoof print? Surprisingly, it's not so much because of transport from feedlot to fast-food joint or land cleared for grazing or even the chemical fertilizers used to grow the feed, though all that also adds up.
It's largely because cornfed cattle pass a lot of gas.
Cattle evolved to eat grass, not grain. Yet when they get to feedlots, they munch 25 pounds of corn-based feed daily — a serious digestive challenge. So they burp and pass wind. Major methane. In our atmosphere, methane is 23 times more damaging than CO2.
But give up burgers? And cheese and ice cream (also from cows, remember)? And tropical fruits flown in by jet?
"I got people screaming: I want pineapple! I want kiwis! I want mango! I don't buy anything that's been shipped on an airplane," says Kristopher Kamp, Bon Appétit Management Co.'s chef manager for Intel's DuPont campus. Recently, he sourced papayas, pineapple and free-trade bananas trucked from Mexico.
And Kamp is not alone. Bon Appétit is a large national company that runs made-from-scratch food services for corporate and university clients including Nordstrom, DreamWorks, SKG, Yahoo!, Seattle University and Whitman College.
Three years ago, as part of its sustainable philosophy, the company launched its Low Carbon Diet, a commitment that includes reducing food waste, auditing energy and water efficiency in kitchens, sourcing nearly all fruits, vegetables, meats and water from North America, and educating guests with science-based research about the link between food and climate change.
"Everybody who comes to get a cheeseburger learns what its impact is," says Buzz Hofford, Bon Appetit's general manager for Seattle University. "They can think about their choices and eat responsibly — personal health and the environmental cost."
College students are in learning mode, sure. But what about Intel's beefy mid-30s, high-level engineers? What happens come Earth Day, when Kamp eliminates cheese and beef from Intel's menu?
"Y'know, we've got some folks who are die-hard grill people," Kamp says. "They get a cheeseburger or quesadilla every day, and that's really reliable comfort food for them." A few head for Jack-in-the-Box, but most adapt.
They choose from a mondo salad bar, chicken fajitas, a flatbread pizza topped with oven-dried tomatoes and drizzled with primo olive oil. There's a veggie burger made from beans, of course, but Kamp says cheeseburger die-hards are more likely to be satisfied by a Rosemary Chicken Burger with Sun Dried Tomato Aioli. It's flecked with zippy garlic, bright sundried-tomato bits and somehow, the rosemary adds a dark tang.
Best of all, you're not munching quite so much ozone with every bite.
Paula Bock is a former Pacific Northwest magazine writer. Ken Lambert is a Seattle Times staff photographer.
Rosemary chicken burger
with sun-dried tomato aioli
Makes four 4-ounce patties
FOR THE BURGERS
1 pound ground organic/free-range chicken breast meat*
2 tablespoons minced sun-dried tomatoes (in oil or reconstituted in warm water)
2 sprigs rosemary (pull needles from woody stalk, chop)
1 tablespoon fresh minced garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil (or use the oil from sun-dried tomatoes)
4 tablespoons dry bread crumbs
Sea salt and fresh-cracked black pepper to taste
FOR THE AIOLI
1 clove garlic (minced or squeezed through a garlic press)
1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon sun-dried tomato, minced (in oil, or reconstituted in warm water)
1 cup mayonnaise
Sea salt and fresh-cracked black pepper to taste
1. To make the burgers. Combine the meat, sun-dried tomatoes, rosemary, garlic, olive oil, bread crumbs, salt and pepper in a medium mixing bowl. To test the flavor make a peanut-sized patty and brown in a hot pan. Adjust seasonings if desired. Form into four equal patties and place on wax paper in the refrigerator until ready to cook. Cook burgers on a hot charbroiler, outdoor grill or pan until they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Serve on a whole-wheat bun with lettuce, tomato, onion and sun-dried tomato aioli.
2. To make the aioli. Whisk the garlic, lemon juice, sun-dried tomatoes, mayonnaise, salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Adjust seasonings to taste.
— Courtesy of chef manager Kristopher Kamp, Bon Appetit Management Co.
* You can buy pre-ground chicken meat in most grocery stores, or grind fresh, cleaned breasts at home in a meat grinder or food processor.
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.