Sustainable Planet, Sustainable Business: Connecting the Food System and Commercial Kitchens of the Future

Higher-quality cook-chill and freezing technologies also better preserve leftovers and prepared foods such as jams, jellies, chutneys, soups, sauces, stocks and glacés. "Many foodservice operators already have big freezers, so just add the blast chiller and a larger walk-in cooler and you're halfway there," says Greg Christian, a former chef, caterer, book author and now founder and CEO of Beyond Green, a sustainable food consultancy. "It takes time to change a food system that's been in place for so many years, but these types of steps will help us get there."

Local Food and Farms

Buying locally cuts down on the amount of trucking needed to get produce and other foods to markets or restaurants. But what does this really mean for the foodservice business?

As an important pillar of sustainability, Turenne says, we need to "start looking at who is behind our food production today and what does that mean. What's happening to our smaller farmers? And by small, I don't just mean the farms that sell to farmers' markets. I also mean the midsize farmers who are too small to rely on big agribusiness, but who are too big for farm stands. There's no distribution to get this product from point A to point B."

Part of making local food a common reality, Turenne says, involves breaking down large-scale food distribution systems into smaller food hubs intended to support small and midsize farmers, ranchers, fisheries and other food producers, in addition to or in lieu of commercial, large-scale agricultural systems that can place a greater strain on our natural resources.

"Right now when foodservice operators buy food it comes from a broadline distributor or another commoditized system, where you might get a 50-pound bag of carrots all the same size," says Christian. But are these the healthiest, most naturally grown carrots? Not always. "Chefs aren't used to buying produce from 11 different farms." While many still do, that's where food hubs and food auctions come into play. These smaller-scale distribution systems aggregate food from farmers and producers in one main area, usually 100 to 200 miles wide, refrigerate and occasionally clean it, and then redistribute the food back out or sell it direct to the end-user purchasers.

Still, these hubs are few and far between, and in many cases, Christian says, the local food-seeking restaurant or foodservice operation becomes a hub itself. What does this mean for the foodservice equipment and supplies industry? Bigger, better walk-in coolers and receiving docks and entryways that are spacious and organized enough to handle more deliveries.

"You now have one receiver who is busier than ever before, taking in product daily, so there are more interruptions to the kitchen," Christian says, noting that he will advise clients to purchase large scales to weigh and track all their incoming produce — that, as well as outgoing garbage — upon delivery. Rolling racks with trays to carry fresh produce that staff can steer into the walk-in are also key. And there should be enough room to store egg cartons, boxes, bins and other containers that farmers and small suppliers might use and reuse during deliveries.