Commonwealth National Podcast

Calories and Carbon

Duration: 
1:06:34

Calories and Carbon

Ken Cook, Founder and President, Environmental Working Group
Whendee Silver, Professor of Ecology, UC Berkeley; Marin Carbon Project
Helene York, Director, Bon Appetit Management Company Foundation
Greg Dalton, Founder of Climate One, moderator

 

Grappling with the carbon impact of our food system is not easy. Faced with such uncertainty, Ken Cook’s simple advice is apt: “Eat lower down the food chain – better for you, better for the planet.” Cook, founder and president of the Environmental Working Group, joins Whendee Silver, professor of ecology, U.C. Berkeley, and Helene York, director, Bon Appétit Management Company Foundation, for a discussion on calories, carbon, and the way forward. The panelists stress how far we’ve come in such a short time. “There was a time, not too long ago, that if you went into an organic restaurant, or tried to shop for organic produce, you really wondered whether the food had been harvested, or maybe had escaped,” Cook says. Helene York agrees, sharing the experience of Bon Appétit, which serves 100 million meals each year. Over two years, her 500 chefs reduced the amount of meat served by 20%. But, York emphasizes, they did so without scrimping on taste. “The real key,” she says, “is to offer alternatives that our guests want to eat. They look good. They taste good. They’re at a reasonable price point, and they’re appetizing.” Whendee Silver, who specializes in carbon number-crunching, stresses the importance of education. Researchers are valiantly attempting to assess the life-cycle cost of food, she says, but it is very hard to compare, say, the carbon impact of grass-fed versus feedlot beef. “There are big gaps in the data. Right now, many of the life-cycle analyses that we’re working with have pretty significant uncertainties,” she says. Despite the challenges, we can transition to grass-fed beef and seasonal, local produce, the panel says. “We have to be thoughtful as consumers about it. But I think people want straight-forward cues,” Cook says. “Take grass-fed beef. It’s more expensive to produce in many cases. But make that investment and that sector is going to start to grow.”

 

This program was recorded in front of a live audience at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on October 21, 2010

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