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Sustainability playing a role in restaurants

Survey: Many chefs have tweaked practices over sustainability concerns

Flavor trumps all when choosing what to put on restaurant menus, but chefs across the country said they have modified their practices over the past year with sustainability in mind, according to a new survey by the James Beard Foundation.

The New York-based foundation's “Sustainability and the Foodservice Industry” survey is based on responses from 173 member chefs.

When asked what their top sustainability concern was, 73 percent of respondents said they were “highly concerned” about food sourcing; 62 percent pointed to profitability; and 62 percent said public health.

All respondents said they see change in the nation’s food system on the horizon, and most said they have modified their restaurant practices over the past year in areas tied to sustainability.

For example, 84 percent of respondents said they have made changes related to food sourcing, and 73 percent said they have made moves tied to economic sustainability for the restaurant and others in the supply chain.

Sixty-nine percent of respondents said changes had to do with public health issues, nutrition or food safety, while 65 percent said they changed the way they address waste removal, such as recycling or composting.

Another 65 percent said they made progress in reducing energy or water use; and 58 percent altered labor issues, such as wages, benefits and rights for employees in the supply chain, according to the survey.

Among other findings: All of the respondents said “flavor” was important or very important when it comes to choosing ingredients, but 55 percent said “socially responsible” ingredients are very important, and 50 percent said “local/regional” foods are very important. Only 18 percent felt “organic” ingredients ranked as high in importance.

Surprisingly, 67 percent of the chefs said government policy should play a very important role in ensuring the sustainability of the food system, while only 4 percent said the government should have no say.

The chefs, however, were not supportive of menu labeling. Eighty-three percent said they do not support the posting of calorie, fat and salt information on menus — except at chain or quick-service restaurants where there is less variability of food served, the survey found.

Close to 60 percent of respondents said they believe their customers are aware of food sourcing concerns, but most agreed that diners are largely unaware of other sustainability issues, such as energy and water use.

Only 2 percent of respondents said chefs and restaurants have “no role to play” in impacting the healthful eating habits of American consumers.

The James Beard Foundation conducted the survey as part of its
first national food conference, called “The System on Our Plates,” which was held in October in Washington, D.C.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].

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