Serving up climate change solutions, one plate at a time

A group of 10 companies—which collectively serve 60 million meals annually in their dining facilities—took the Cool Food Pledge (CFP) during this week’s Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco. CFP is an initiative created by a cooperative of environmental groups, including World Resources Institute (WRI) and UN Environment, with the goal of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2030 through promoting plant-based foods within the food-service industry.

The chef who puts food scraps on his restaurant menu. The school district that uses its purchasing power to procure sustainable food. The global brand that supports farmers so they are paid a fair price for their crops. These are among the players who are forging a new approach to food consumption and land use in order to combat climate change.

The 30X30 Forests, Food and Land Challenge calls on businesses, states, city and local governments, and the public to take action for better forest and habitat conservation, food production and consumption, and land use. The aim is to work across all sectors of the economy to deliver up to 30% of the climate solutions needed by 2030.

Practical actions to deliver on this goal include halving food loss and waste, more ‘climate friendly’ consumption, unlocking finance to improve food production, increasing transparency in the supply chain, and protecting local rights.

The challenge has already brought together over 100 NGOs, businesses, state and local governments, and indigenous communities on a unified platform for action on land and climate. At the Global Climate Action Summit this week, the coalition announced the formation of a Leaders Group whose members will act as catalysts of achievement of the 30×30 Challenge.

Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, WWF’s global lead for climate and energy, said: “Agriculture, forestry and other land uses contribute more greenhouse gas emissions than all the cars, trucks, planes and ships in the world, yet land-oriented climate change solutions receive only 3% of climate funding.”

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Reducing food waste and creating a smaller ‘foodprint’ is the focus of New York-based chef Adam Kaye’s experiments with traditionally discarded parts of vegetables and fruit. Kaye, who is VP – culinary affairs at Blue Hill and co-founder of The Spare Food Company, has worked with partners including produce supplier Baldor to put scraps center stage (most famously at his WastED pop-up in 2015). So traditionally discarded items like celery root or zucchini vines are rescued and repurposed as menu ingredients.

One third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. Food waste contributes more than 4 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year.  “It’s about being thrifty with our resources, not squandering them,” says Kaye.

Madagascar produces around 80% of the world’s vanilla but farmers don’t earn enough from their crops, pushing some into illegal logging or slash-and-burn agriculture. Mars is working with The Livelihoods Fund for Family Farming to support 3,000 farmers on a new vanilla production model and training in sustainable practices that will increase vanilla productivity and quality. A new farmer-owned cooperative will connect farmers more directly to markets, so about 65% of the cured vanilla’s value will go back to farmers, rather than the 5-20% they currently receive.

Barry Parkin, chief procurement and sustainability office at Mars, says the company wants to drive sectoral change: “We’re seeing farmers hiring others to help them on the farms, investing in owning more land, being able to send their children to school…this is what agricultural investment is all about.”

The Good Food Purchasing Program works with US cities and school districts to establish supply chain transparency from farm to fork. It partners with producers who employ sustainable production systems that reduce on-farm energy and water consumption, food waste and greenhouse gas emissions.

Developed by the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, the program was launched in 2012 across the LA Unified School District and now provides one million meals each day. School districts in several other cities including Chicago and San Francisco have since adopted the program, which supports meat reduction and local sourcing.

Paula Daniels, co-founder of the Center of Good Food Purchasing which launched the scheme, says: “The idea is to use purchasing power. You’re making a choice that radiates through the system.”

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