Wednesday, February 24, 2010

'How green are those Cheerios?'

Posted By on Wed, Feb 24, 2010 at 1:23 PM

Next time you open a package from your local grocery store, take a minute to think about what that bag or box went through before it made it into your kitchen. Most food starts off, in one form or another, on a farm or — increasingly — in a lab, and often it's pumped with antibiotics (animal products) and chemicals (think fertilizer). The various ingredients are combined and cooked, usually in a factory of some kind. Likewise, all of the packaging must be produced. It's warehoused and shipped, stocked on your grocer's shelves and sold. Then you open it and eat it. A lot goes into every typical, modern American meal -- a lot of hands, a lot of energy and often a lot of chemicals.

How green are those Cheerios? Well, no—you’re right—Cheerios shouldn’t be green, but I mean green green. Increasingly, restaurants and food service companies are weighing the need to green their operations and products but the results are often not what they anticipated.

According to stories in this week’s issues of two food service industry magazines, QSR and Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN), greening up the kitchen is an effort fraught with as many potential pitfalls as it is possible benefits. Equally as frustrating to customers as it can be for the companies attempting to clean up their acts, many companies that are greening themselves aren’t seeing the payback or the recognition for which they’d hoped. In the worst cases, others are getting credit—a lot, in one case—they simply don’t deserve. More encouraging is that many food service companies are looking at green alternatives to current practices from an ethical viewpoint and not just profit motives.

Many companies have proven quite successful in promoting their products as sustainable, but their actual practices are—gasp!—quite the opposite. In the Maddock Douglas survey of 2,032 U.S. adults, General Mills—the maker of brands ranging from Hamburger Helper to Muir Glen—ranked highest among companies in the food and beverage sector scoring 81 out of 100 possible points in public perception. However, General Mills, which also makes Cheerios, scored only 49 points based upon their actual practices.

At the other end, Stoneyfield Farm and Unilever scored well below General Mills in public perception—in fact they ranked below Pepsico, Kellogg, and Kraft—but came in at 81 and 79 points respectively for their actual sustainability practices. Uniliver, incidently, produces Bertolli, Slim-Fast, and Knorr brands in addition to numerous others. Stoneyfield, of course, produces yogurt, milk, and ice cream and—by the way—helps to fund Climate Counts.

Even in the food services industry, those perceptions are misleading. Wendy’s International—you know, the hamburger chain—scored highest among fast food chains in customer perceptions at a healthy 65 points. In actual sustainability, Wendy’s came in at 2. Yes. Two points. In the meanwhile, Starbucks pulled a 51-point ranking for their sustainability practices but scored only 48 for public perception. Burger King received 49 points for perceived greenness, but in practice they’re only eight points above Wendy’s, coming in at 10 points.

Read the entire Grist.org article, by Eric Burkett, here.

On the other hand, you could always consume "slow food."

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