Defining Sustainability: Bon Appétit Leads the Way

Fedele Bauccio fights for his company’s position as a sustainability leader.

Fedele Bauccio, Bon Appétit Management Co.

Nearly 20 years ago, Fedele Bauccio had a vision. He had founded Bon Appétit Management Co. on the mantra of flavor. His goal was to make Bon Appétit’s accounts celebrate food. His company was among the first to hire executive chefs to be both chefs and managers, as he believed that chefs needed to be in contact with customers and clients on a daily basis.

For the same reasons, Bon Appétit was one of the first contract companies to embrace the idea of buying local. As a matter of fact, Bauccio coined the phrase “farm to fork.”

“For us, sustainability started out as a culinary act, not a political one,” says Bauccio. “I was concerned about flavor and taste, and I knew that the fresher the food the more flavorful it would be. So I started to challenge my people to go out and work with local farmers and local artisans, cheesemakers and so forth, to get the freshest and best-tasting food. That caused the lightblub to go off in my mind and led to our current definition of sustainability.”

That definition, which is Bon Appétit’s mission statement, is: “Food choices that celebrate flavor, affirm regional cultural traditions and support local communities without compromising air, water or soil now and in the future.”

That philosophy has served Bon Appétit well. The company and its founder have been honored numerous times over the years for their commitment to both the environment and the local movement.

Most recently, in early April, Bauccio received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals, an organization made up of chefs, restaurateurs, foodservice operators, writers, photographers, stylists, marketers, nutritionists and educators. The IACP honored Bauccio for his work in the areas of sustainability, animal rights and farm workers’ rights. Earlier this year, Bauccio received the Leadership Award from the James Beard Foundation, which he shared with Michelle Obama, for the same reasons.

“We serve 135 million meals a year,” he notes. “Sustainability is part of our company DNA and it is critically important to me.”

However, Bauccio realizes that his company’s mission statement doesn’t reflect the work he and Bon Appétit’s employees are attempting to do in the larger context of what Bauccio considers “sustainability.” As a result, he explains, he is in the process of rewriting that statement.

“We are updating it to include the issues of public health, with the issue of antibiotics, animal welfare and farm workers’ rights,” he says, “because you can’t talk about sustainability unless you talk about those things.”

Bauccio cites a litany of problems he has identified in the United States, all revolving around food. They begin with our approach to food itself, which Bauccio says points up the necessity for the local farm-to-fork movement.

“We don’t grow food in this country anymore,” he suggests. “We grow sweeteners, additives, animal feed, fuel fiber—everything but food. We have to stop mono-cropping. We can’t be dependent on fossil fuels. There is environmental damage to consider, there’s childhood obesity, there’s declining health overall. The list goes on and on.”

Bon Appétit has also made strides to focus attention on animal welfare, fighting against the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics and for the humane treatment of animals even as they are being raised for food. But he saves some of his harshest comments for the impact of “factory farms” on the environment and workers’ lives.

“In the area of farm worker protections, if you had been in the field with me, if you had seen what I’ve seen the last couple of years, you would be appalled,” Bauccio says. “The people who harvest our agriculture do not have the dignity they deserve. We have to solve that problem.”

Bauccio has made himself visible on issues of sustainability, testifying at times before Congress or before agencies such as the Food & Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, he believes that change is not going to come from government entities

“I don’t believe that we are going to be able to legislate change,” he says. “I believe it’s going to come from consumers, and I hope it’s not going to take another generation.”

Bauccio believes that’s where companies like Bon Appétit come in.

“When we feed employees at [companies like] Google, they look to us to create change,” he notes. “They expect to have sustainable food and that we’re supporting local communities. They want to know where their food comes from and that it is safe. The same is true in higher education.

“I think young people get what we’re trying to accomplish,” Bauccio adds. “They’re starting to see that we care about communities and we care about the environment and all those issues that I feel are critically important. I hope we will be able to set the bar high enough that we will create a new model in agriculture that is going to be safe and sustainable.”

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