In search of the truth, Special Agents William Neal and Patrick Cuccaro explore the mysterious Green world of sustainable special events and catering. What myths will they shatter? What will they uncover?
The Truth is out there…so we’re told.
In Episode 20, Patrick and William presented their investigative results about the shifts in the “Green revolution”, changes in the residential building industry and about how we consumers have altered some of our habits. This week they focus on the food and beverage industry, about how “food culture” has been positively affected by sustainability and how as a nation we are striving for new levels of awareness.
PATRICK: William, do you like going on picnics?
WILLIAM: Of course, who doesn’t?
PATRICK: Me for one. There’s something about the smell of bug spray, paper plates and wine from a plastic cup that’s just unsettling to me.
WILLIAM: I’m shocked! Leading the active life you do, Agent Cuccaro, I would presume that you’d be a regular at the park, have a well broken-in picnic blanket and an entire closet devoted to the equipment needed to picnic in style!
PATRICK: Nope. Give me china, fine flatware, crystal glasses and a dining room table, please. No bugs and no disposables for me! How about you?
WILLIAM: Well, like many Americans, I’ve learned that picnicking is an art. Whether it’s at an outdoor concert, tailgating, a family outing or a romantic alfresco dinner, the tools of the trade have come a long way, and sustainability has piggy-backed on the trends.
PATRICK: Although it’s not my thing, I cannot ignore the trends when in the midst of a full-fledged investigation. According to TrendHunter.com, a website dedicated to tracking worldwide pop culture and consumer trends, there are six very BIG trends in picnicking, the most relevant to our field of expertise being extravagant posh picnics. As a luxury caterer—one with a strong focus on sustainability—there are major opportunities.
WILLIAM: How right you are. Picnics aside, we have seen disposable products in the catering industry do a “360” with intense movement AWAY from polystyrene products—the most infamous brand known as Styrofoam—non-compostable materials and environmentally harmful products overall. Fallen leaf bamboo and palm fiber products, corn-based utensils, as well as biodegradable plastics have appeared in the foodservice industry disposable products supply chain in a big way.
Consumers have demanded more “environmentally friendly” packaging. Sustainablefoodservice.com has an extensive list of resources for many of the leading industry products. For the average consumer, many of those products can be ordered online. But keep in mind one important factor: Even the processes by which some of the products are manufactured still use potentially harmful chemical agents and binders to help items, such as plates and utensils, hold their shape. These chemical substances can leak into our food, and the jury is still out on just exactly how Green these items prove to be.
PATRICK: As we say, “Not everything about Green is black and white.” But most of those products are certainly the result of huge environmental advancements compared to the manufacturing methods used in the past, even with some of the potential pitfalls you mentioned, Agent Neal.
And let’s not forget about a whole different angle on this topic. Items that are re-used over and over, such as glass and china plates, might make more “Green sense”. For example, over time the carbon footprint of a china plate might prove to be far less than a compostable plate that is used once and disposed of. But the question is one of specific usage, volume, delivery systems, cleaning products used, etc. These factors when investigated thoroughly become a Green subject that is truly not black and white.
WILLIAM: So many of our Green issues are complicated. But here is something that is NOT complicated and is a song I sing almost every time we investigate. If we as consumers become informed, employ efforts toward making better sustainable choices and combine this all with a sense of pride in entertaining, we are having the proverbial cake and eating it too.
PATRICK: How do you mean that exactly?
WILLIAM: Well, Agent Cuccaro, as you know, many of our investigations have shown us that consumer choice and preference have a fundamental effect on our culture of living.
The food sense of Americans has multiplied times 100 over the past couple of decades. The emergence of The Food Network and the meteoric rise of food oriented media outlets has proven that. Along with this development, food manufacturing practices, distribution systems and the overall style of the American diet has changed. In the United States, we can actually say now that we have a true “advanced food culture” and that it compares favorably on numerous levels to other popular food cultures around the world. Along with this development has been the emergence of sustainable food sourcing, the focus on more environmentally friendly foodservice products.
PATRICK: Most importantly, the conversations about food have changed and seem to now always be “seasoned” with a hint of the desire to be sustainable. Last episode we talked about how corporate entertaining is almost at full speed again, albeit with a focus on the value for their spent dollars. But along with the emphasis on value has come corporate demand for Green practices applied to entertaining, meetings and major events. This is a direct result of the population growing as “foodies” and an enhanced understanding of the environmental impact.
WILLIAM: The restaurant and catering industries have changed along with the times. A few municipalities around the country have mandated certain Green health codes and practices, such as mandatory recycling in Seattle, Washington. I would love to see the day when this is nation-wide AND used as a part of the criteria for licensing restaurants, caterers and hotels.
PATRICK: I believe that the momentum is in the right direction, but it will be a very long time before we have mandatory recycling across the nation. The fact is that money talks and unfortunately, many business owners and legislators take the short-sighted view that it’s more expensive to have a comprehensive recycling program in place than it is to simply dump waste in a landfill.
WILLIAM: Well, that won’t stop me or any of our readers from doing the right thing. We all know the day will come when our Green Revolution will prevail!
PATRICK: For sure! Now it’s just about that time, Agent Neal, for a great glass of Bordeaux. Round up some beverage ware and let’s have a glass or two of France’s version of Welch’s grape juice.
WILLIAM: We don’t need the glasses, Patrick, I have some great new biodegradable plastic cups in my desk drawer!
PATRICK: If you think I’m going to drink this fine elixir out of plastic, you are insane!
WILLIAM: Such a wine snob! Okay, I’ll get you the crystal…but YOU wash the glasses tonight, Mister!
To be continued…
When you’re eating on the run or going on a family picnic, do you think “Green”? How deeply does sustainability permeate your day-to-day life? Please share with us in the comments section below what your greatest challenge in “Going Green” has been.
Join us next week just before “Tax Day” when your agents will look at how your tax dollars are spent and in some instances wasted on ineffective transportation projects. They also investigate other regions of the world with progressive transportation policies and practices that are having a positive environmental impact.
This week’s 3Rs…
REVERED: Atlanta Airport Recycling Program