When looking at the foodservice world through rose-colored glasses, complete environmental sustainability would be a delightful first priority. Each organic carrot would be carefully plucked from an on-site garden by someone making a $30 minimum wage; chickens would range freely in flowing pastures until they died peacefully of old age at maximum deliciousness; and I would have access to a year-round supply of morel mushrooms at $2 a pound.
Unfortunately, the above scenarios all are equally unlikely (until I get my truffle hog). Sustainability, in the majority of cases, comes down to what an operation’s bottom line can withstand. But an educational session on pork quality at the National Pork Board’s Pork Summit 2016 got me thinking about a different part of the puzzle: Financial sustainability may mean greater environmental sustainability.
As Stephen Gerike, director of foodservice marketing for the Pork Board, explained, pigs that are bred, raised and slaughtered incorrectly are less delicious. When an animal is giving its life to become meat, shouldn’t we want that resulting meat to be as delicious as possible—to be worth its sacrifice?
Twenty-eight percent of hospitals and 51 percent of colleges surveyed in Winsight’s 2015 FoodService Handbook reported sourcing at least some of their meat locally. It’s a great marketing point to be able to report, but the fact of the matter is, most local farms just can’t produce the kind of volume needed at noncommercial operations. As with produce, there also are food safety concerns in the mix. “The biggest food safety challenge is knowledge—knowledge of the product and knowledge of your vendor or local source,” Steven Brower, director of food and beverage at Rose Villa senior living in Portland, Ore., told FoodService Director in an April story about the extra steps needed to ensure safety when working with a smaller farm.
Balancing the ethical and financial pros and cons are a struggle for both operators and farmers. Gerike acknowledged that consumers don’t exactly think “sustainable” when they see large-scale farms with hogs that spend their lives in roofed barns, but points to the fact that modern farmers are following the Pork Board’s We Care initiative, which helps farmers develop and follow responsible practices. It aims to ensure those pigs are eating well, their sensitive skin is protected from sunburn and they are socialized in ways that are consistent with their temperaments. Because this country will never be able to back away from large-scale farming, and consumers are only willing to pay so much, these kinds of practices seem like a pretty decent compromise to bolster the sustainability of the pigs’ comfortable, if brief, lives—while also sustaining the bottom line for farmers and operators.