Archive for the ‘Sustainability’ Category

Sustainable Priorities

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

What do we look for when choosing a sustainable product? There’s a lot more to consider than you’d think.

1. Health. For us, it isn’t sustainable if it isn’t healthy for our customers. Period.

2. Product purity. Not a single one of our products contain high fructose corn syrup or trans fats. We consider these to be so detrimental that we outright ban them from our foods. As soon as we made this decision, it didn’t take long for other additives to lose their appeal, and now there are dozens of other products we avoid for similar reasons.

3. Local products. The largest threat to our planet’s sustainability by way of humans is climate change. In goods transportation, the general rule is that the faster the mode, the worse it is for the environment down to the very last mile. The hierarchy for modes of transportation, from most damaging to the environment to the least, is planes, trucks, trains, boats, bicycles, walking. The closer it is to home, the keener we are to evaluate it.

4. Product production integrity. Producing a product should have a minimal negative influence on the environment. Ideally, we aim for a positive influence. A negative consequence is evident in water-cooled chicken. The hazardous water left over from this process simply can’t be allowed back into nature without heavy processing. Heritage products (products without extensive genetic tinkering) are a positive consequence. For example, modern hogs sunburn, while the darker skin of heritage hogs provides protection from direct sunlight. Most heritage vegetables are better suited to survive in their natural environment with minimal intervention from people.

5. Market development. We live in a bubble of sustainable food distribution and production. We have the potential to do all the right things in our geographic area and have little to no influence on the world as a whole (save providing an obscure model of what is right). Sustainability is a global issue, and to have a global influence it is important to realise that sustainable developing areas must have a market to become financially viable. Our organic white beans are from China. Though they come to us from a distance, we believe our support is an imperative part in the realisation that there is a market for sustainably produced products, and in encouraging continued effort.

6. Packaging. It is important for us to be aware of not only what comes in our front door, but what goes out our back door to the recycling bins, compost, and even down our drains. We look closely at how products are delivered–a product wrapped in plastic is less desirable than a product wrapped in paper.

We could go on. And on. Sustainability is such a complex issue, with such wide-ranging consequences that the debates have been raging for years. The items we’ve touched on here are literally only the top of the pile.

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When Passions Collide

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

During the 60s, my mother was an environmental educator (we called them nature teachers back then) in Concord, Massachusetts. As a child, I played in the ecosystems she taught me about, and later as a teenager, got up to no good in the same wood that Thoreau wandered.

In trying to find my path through a forest of a different kind, I dabbled in psychology and philosophy until I found my true passion: Cooking. But my heart never really forgot the things my mother taught me.

An ecosystem is a complicated intertwining of different forms of life, the area in which they exist, and how these two interact. It can be as small as a clearing in the forest or encompass the entire universe. These systems are often changing, and sometimes it’s a challenge to identify each component. Whenever we think we fully understand them, one small piece can alter the system, showing us how critical to the balance it truly is.

Why all this talk of grade school biology? Because ecosystems are the basis for sustainability. For humans, our ecosystems are our homes, our community, our city, and in this era of global industrial expansion, our world. Our actions today can have an effect on an ecosystem on the other side of the planet for years to come. The only difference between a dust storm or a volcanic eruption altering the environment and us is that we have the power to do so consciously.

The biggest burden we have placed on the global ecosystem is ourselves. Our population requires massive amounts of food, and we as a singular collective organism are incredibly creative about meeting that need. We use more and more sophisticated agricultural methods, larger and larger forms of animal husbandry, and even divert resources from one side of the planet to the other.

Our challenge now is to find a sustainable solution to this question. The answer lies in us as a collective organism agreeing as individuals to change our interactions with our global ecosystem. We must examine how our individual ecosystem affects the Earth as a whole, what mechanisms cause change, and how we can change for the better. We must think of ourselves as the catalyst for sustainable growth.

Through the Bread Workshop, I combine my passion for food with my concern for the environment. My focus is on the workspace, the neighbourhood, the city, and the food community of the world. As with all ecosystems, each one is very complicated, but there are some easily identifiable aspects of what the Bread Workshop is doing to help create a sustainable world.

In our workplace, we seek to provide a living wage, not minimum wage. We offer health and dental to promote a supportive environment.

In our neighbourhood, we offer sustainable foods at reasonable prices, so that our neighbours can eat healthily. Sustainability must be affordable to be practicable; all of us have to be able to practice it all the time. We offer a sustainable foods information centre in our café to help educate and promote this.

We also try to make healthy decisions for our patrons, such as using meats with essential and positive fat content and sensible portion sizes. Our new dinner menu, which will be in place by the winter season, will feature vegetarian foundation plates with carnivorous options in place of the traditional reverse menu.

In our city, we support the educational systems as well as multiple non-profit organisations with catering, pastries and coffee, and a place to meet.

In our world, we minimise our footprint through waste reduction, energy efficiency (an area that we must work at harder), and minimising the need for the transportation of goods in our product stream, with pointed exceptions.

Wherever possible, we purchase local products that are produced with an eye to sustainability. Our exceptions are when we cannot offer our products at a sustainable price, or if we have a specific goal, such as purchasing organic dry white beans from China (thus promoting the organic markets of China, one of the largest agricultural growth areas in the world).

This means that approximately 80% of our products are sustainable, with a good deal of our other products locally produced. We have dedicated ourselves to these issues in research development and our purchasing–it is unusual for a business of our size to employ a sustainability coordinator. Though we are not pioneers in the sustainable food movement, we are dedicated to thinking critically about those who are, adopting and adapting to become a business model we are proud of.

The world can’t afford to wait. We hope that our ideas of how a food business should be run will continue to be supported by your beliefs and your patronage.

William Briscoe

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The Benefits of Grass-fed Beef

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

A mural in a museum of natural history might show ancient hunters tracking vast herds through even vaster grasslands. Throughout history, herbivores have been a mainstay in our diets. Our bodies know how to use the dense calories of fats and proteins, rich in omega3 and omega6 fatty acids. As our hunter-gatherer society evolved into an agricultural one, we began to breed quickly maturing, grass-fed cattle to fulfil that need.

When producers discovered the rapid weight gain in cattle fed with corn directly before slaughter, that began to change. Gradually, the amount of time cattle were fed corn instead of grass became longer and longer. To avoid health problems, calves must be raised on grass; energy-rich corn is much too difficult for them to digest. As the cow matures, it is better able to handle starchy kernels.

However, to maintain health on this limited diet, the corn must contain additives such as nitrates and antibiotics. Otherwise, only a third of the herd would make it to slaughter.

In changing the diet of the animals we eat, we change what we eat, our environment, ourselves.

Environmental concerns:

1. Corn-fed cows produce higher levels of methane gas (a greenhouse gas) than grass-fed. Fred Thompson, a conservative candidate for President remarked on the detrimental effect that cattle methane has on the environment.

2. Additives required to maintain the health of the herd often renders manure unusable as fertilizer, so it remains in ponds and pastures, cultivating bacteria which are increasingly immune to the same antibiotics used to keep the next generation healthy.

3. Feed corn in America is often grown in fields that can only produce the needed amounts by adding synthesized nitrates to the soil. Eventually, the land won’t be sufficient even with these additives.

4. Often, feed corn is genetically modified.

5. Fossil fuels are consumed at every step in growing the corn and shipping it to the herd, increasing the carbon footprint along with the energy intensive nitrate production.

Health concerns:

1. The fat in cattle fed by corn is rife with low-density cholesterol, whereas grass-fed beef is high in levels of omega3 and omega6 fatty acids. These are the same fatty acids in fish, which have been linked to reduced cancer rates, better circulation and reduced hardening of the arteries, and have been shown to lower incidents of coronary problems as well as produce lower trygliceride levels.

2. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria bred in unused waste from corn-fed cattle can spread to humans.

3. Omega3 and omega6 fatty acids obtained from fish are often accompanied with heavy metals from ocean pollution. This issue doesn’t exist in grass-fed cattle, and their beef contains a good balance between both fatty acids.

For these reasons and more, the Bread Workshop has decided to serve grass-fed beef from Strawberry Mountain, a co-op of ranchers in Oregon. A unique characteristic of Strawberry Mountain beef is that it is dry-aged to develop rich, tender flavour. We believe this product represents a great example of quality grass-fed cattle.

William Briscoe

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The Problem with Sustaining Sustainability

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

The world today is rife with complex issues surrounding sustainability. Few are as complex as the effect of food and related production on our environment. 5% of our world’s landmass is dedicated to food production, with another potential 5% used for biofuel if all present oil supplies were to be replaced.

And the basis of these figures? Corporate agribusiness.

A large portion of corporate agribusiness entails planting monocrops on vast tracks of land that are maintainable only by artificially manipulating the environment through the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides. This practice is devastating to biodiversity and drains the land of the much-needed nutrients that would allow reversion to a natural environment. Furthermore, by defoliating much of our most productive oxygen-rich lands and replacing them with crops that create far less oxygen in favour of food related energy, we not only risk increasing global warming, we do it.

Combined with all these factors is the process of relocating the nutrients found in vast, unpopulated lands to densely populated areas where they are either trapped or released into different ecosystems. Often the high levels of soil nitrates and other nutrients overwhelm these ecosystems. The result is sometimes a hyperactive biological hotspot that rapidly burns through one or more of the system’s resources to leave it the equivalent of an ocean’s dead zone.

The apparent alternative to this aggressive agriculture would be the inability to feed our rapidly growing population.

The needs of sustainable biofuels used to replace fossil fuels are growing swiftly in direct conflict with the environment, as is the carbon footprint of new ‘green’ products. Biodegradable utensils, whether they are made from corn or potato, are energy intensive and require vast portions of land for their production. Nitrate runoff enters the watershed and eventually the oceans. They are only biodegradable in compost plans. If they enter our landfills, they may as well be made from traditional fossil fuels.

Frequently and unfortunately, there are no real answers to these dilemmas, and a lack of definitive answers threatens the perceived need to continue developing these technologies. Critics often have solids grounds on which to stand and loudly question many currently purported environmentally friendly concepts. Current development of much-needed knowledge could be halted entirely in order to address the complex problem that we have created for ourselves. Choosing one type of sustainability often comes into conflict with another. Palm oil, for example, is relatively low in production costs, is a healthy replacement for trans fats, but is also responsible for a fraction of our deforested rainforests.

At present, there remains a sizable problem with biofuels as used as replacements for fossil fuels. While they are more efficient and cause fewer greenhouse gases, they are still carbon-based and therefore won’t eliminate the problem of global warming. Many fear the focus on biofuels will usurp funding for solar, wind, and hydroelectric energies, as well as decrease focus on effective city planning and conservation, all of which could truly address the issue. Specifically in relation to food, this means how food is transported from producer to consumer, often with at least one reseller as middleman.

We strive to not only present these issues but to reveal their true depth and all the complications therein, so we as food consumers are better equipped to make our own choices, using our own judgment.

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