“Is this sustainable?”
Along with calories and ingredients that’s the question that could be asked by restaurant patrons when ordering food.
With concepts like locally sourced and Farm to Table and certifications such as organic and Ocean Wise, it is becoming a common trend for consumers to be informed about how their food is grown/raised and sourced. Especially in Vancouver it seems as if more and more consumers are demanding this kind of information and restaurants are beginning to be more transparent about their ingredients. A lot of sustainability initiatives are focused around electricity, heat, oil and water consumption but not much attention has been paid towards food.
According to this Greenbiz article the United States Healthful Food Council (USFHC) is launching a program that will increase transparency and provide greater information to consumers about the food they’re eating. The Responsible Epicurean and Agricultural Leadership (REAL) Program “uses third party audits to certify the nutrition and sustainability of foods served at restaurants, as well as caterers and other food service operations.” The REAL Certification uses audits to assess menus and gives out points based on nutrition and sustainable practices. Their goal with the program is to be the LEED certification of the food industry. Businesses with the certification signifies that the food is wholesome, authentic, nutritious and sustainable. Some of the things that the audits will look at are the amount of fruits and vegetables on a menu, preparation methods, portion size, and use of local and organic ingredients.
The program has finished it’s pilot stage and is now being launched in New York, Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
While I don’t know the extent of the program’s success rate or if the American public will accept something like this, I really think this is a step in the right direction. Especially for the US where its no secret that their eating habits are not the greatest in the world, I think the REAL program would be great. One of the greatest drivers of sustainability is corporate transparency, and this program makes the restaurant industry much more transparent. Hopefully the program will create more informed consumers who will be able to make smarter decisions when going out to eat. It will also raise more awareness for sustainable growing, sourcing and eating habits. From a business perspective this certification can be a really good thing for business. It will create a point of differentiation from competitors and will allow a business with the REAL Certification to charge a price premium. As the healthy eating and sustainability trends continue to gain momentum and widespread adoption, having the REAL Certification will help a restaurant reap the rewards. I think that this could be similar to the success that HP enjoyed by adhering to the strictest manufacturing laws in the world before their competitors were forced to by law. It’s innovative, proactive and could be very successful for consumers and businesses alike.
On a more local note, I am unaware of anything so widespread being available in Canada. There are many certifications that operate separately, such as Ocean Wise etc., but nothing that operates as an all-encompassing food sustainability certification. Being in Vancouver, the Ocean Wise certification is very common and almost expected on every restaurant menu and I think that the time is right for something more robust. Its my (biased) opinion that a program such as REAL will probably have a higher chance of adoption and success in Canada instead of the US, and should be seriously considered for implementation.