This Independence Day, our country is facing deep and dangerous political divides. But food can bring snowflakes and deplorables together. Whether it’s turkey on Thanksgiving, hotdogs at the ballpark or a beer and burgers on the Fourth of July, Americans share the same culinary culture.
As San Francisco prepares to host the Global Climate Action Summit in September, food should play a central role.
The event is a chance for leaders from around the world to pick up President Donald Trump’s environmental slack and reduce dangerous, greenhouse gas emissions.
The City has pioneered some fantastic ways to lower our climate impact. But more can be done.
According to some estimates, the food system is responsible for approximately 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. As host, San Francisco is in a unique position to showcase a sustainable spin on America’s culinary traditions. The City’s restaurants should come together to create carbon-neutral menus for the summit.
“Sustainability is part of our brand,” Charles Sheehan at the Department of Environment told me. “I think in San Francisco we have a sharp environmental consciousness and we understand that we have to continually adapt to combat climate change.”
That consciousness is most obviously manifested in The City’s renewable energy and zero waste policies.
San Francisco was the first to adopt a plastic bag ban. The Salesforce Tower is one of CleanPowerSF’s many customers bringing us closer to 100 percent renewable energy goal by 2030.
When summit attendees arrive at San Francisco International Airport they’ll be met with green bins and emissions-free electric power.
The City has also worked to make uneaten food environmentally beneficial. Across the country, many Americans toss leftovers in the trash where they release harmful, planet-warming gases as they rot. The City’s composting program not only avoids this impact, but it also provides a replacement for fertilizer and helps plants suck carbon out of the atmosphere.
“San Francisco is a clear leader in many areas, particularly around food waste,” Zach Tofias of C40 Sustainable Cities, told me. The organization has connected more than 90 of the world’s biggest cities to address climate change.
But there are other ways cities can reduce the impact of food, according to Tofias. Ingredients in a burrito, for example, can contain pesticides, fertilizer and enormous amounts of water and land. The cheese and sour cream need processing. The tortilla may contain palm oil, an over-produced ingredient pushing orangutans, elephants and tigers to extinction. The ingredients are likely transported using diesel and packaged in petroleum-based plastic.
Of course, if there’s carne asada or chile verde in the burrito, the impact is even greater. The meat and dairy industry represents 14.5 percent of all human-produced global greenhouse gas emissions, according to a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report.
Cities can use their procurement power to make ingredients more sustainable. The São Paulo school district, the largest school district in Brazil, has participated in Meatless Mondays since 2009. In the United States, school districts in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago have signed on to the Good Food Purchasing Program, which leverages government budgets to create a bigger market for sustainable, ethical and nutritious food.
But more must be done to reduce the burden ingredients have on the environment.
“We need a solution that’s approachable, inclusive and delicious for everyone,” Tofias said.
Mission-based restaurateur, chef and author Anthony Myint is working on that solution. Five years ago, he co-founded the ZeroFoodprint, which helps restaurants reduce or eliminate carbon emissions. Participating doesn’t require removing meat from the menu. Anyone who has dined at Mission Chinese, Fine and Rare, The Progress and in situ has experienced a climate-friendly menu.
Myint wants to make the movement more noticeable. ZeroFoodprint is working with the Golden Gate Restaurant Association to create a carbon neutral restaurant week during the summit. Participating restaurants will undergo a simplified life-cycle assessment and pledge to make a small contribution of 10 to 50 cents per diner to offset the entire carbon footprint of the restaurant and raise consumer awareness.
“There was a moment when people started to understand the impact of their calories,” Myint told me. “I don’t think people really have the same understanding of the carbon magnitude of their ingredients.”
Restaurants are encouraged to sign up through Golden Gate Restaurant Association starting this week.
Ultimately, the goal is to get enough participation, so Google and Yelp notice. If the sites create a sustainability filter or criteria, it could have a wider effect on the food industry.
“Any individual restaurant can be more sustainable, but if we can change the whole landscape, that’s what’s really important,” Myint said.
Changing the landscape wouldn’t deny Americans the burgers and beer they love on the Fourth of July. But it could create a system where people are more aware of the link between the plate and the planet. San Francisco could help create a more climate-friendly culinary culture.
Robyn Purchia is an environmental attorney, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time. Check her out at robynpurchia.com.
GREEN SPACE Q&A
Which bin do fabrics go into? – Susan Casey
Oh, the sad tale of the lonely sock. It’s clean and ready to warm your foot. But without its partner, it never leaves the house.
But I bring good news to the sock and all stained shirts, flat pillows and old rags. You can recycle textiles in San Francisco! Recology, The City’s provider, asks that you collect all fabrics in a clear
plastic bag, tie it up and toss it in the blue bin.
Of course, if fabrics are still usable, donate them to the Goodwill or put them up on Craigslist or Buy Nothing.