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Cutting Carbon In The Kitchen

Composting remains a popular technique to temper waste in the kitchen, something available to restaurateurs and common cooks alike. Researchers estimate one-third of food produced around the world goes to waste, ultimately producing as much as 10% of carbon emissions.

Food waste and loss sit at the forefront of cutting carbon among foodies but, more recently, many professional chefs have started looking at additional ways to mitigate greenhouse gasses. San Francisco-based, three-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn has stopped serving meat at all of her restaurants, joining colleagues like Douglas MacMaster in offering fine dining without the flesh, significantly reducing their carbon footprints in the process.

MacMaster’s own environmental activism extends beyond the dinner table, however. His London-based restaurant, Silo, operates with zero waste. Zero-waste restaurants are on the rise around the United States as well, where chefs are trying to lower the reported 22 to 33 billion tons of food wasted annually. In New York City, the Rhodora Wine Bar offers a carbon-conscious menu but no trash can. Rather, food waste is composted and mulched for fertilizer.

Chef Anthony Myint and his wife and partner, Karen Leibowitz, have taken another approach. In addition to their numerous restaurants – all focused on environmental sustainability – Myint and Leibowitz have organized the The Perennial Farming Initiative to “foster a renewable food system rooted in healthy soil.”

One of the projects within the Initiative is Zero Foodprint (ZFP). ZFP works with restaurants to help them assess, reduce, and offset their carbon footprint. One of the largest steps to mitigating carbon in the restaurant industry is through carbon farming.

Carbon farming embraces the storage of atmospheric carbon in the soil through a variety of agricultural practices – essentially finding ways for soil to absorb and store carbon dioxide to feed itself.

Here’s how it works:

When plants absorb carbon dioxide, they transform it into nutrients through photosynthesis. They then send these nutrients back into the soil, creating a “living soil” – full of roots, microbes, and fungi. When a plant dies, however, it gives off carbon dioxide, sending it into the atmosphere or back into the soil.

Carbon farming, in contrast to most forms of industrial farming, captures carbon before it escapes, blending it back into the soil where it can make more nutrients. Carbon farming practices include adding biomass to soil rather than removing or burning it – easily accomplished by adding cover crops to facilitate the growth of microorganisms or simply letting overgrowth and detritus decay. Additional techniques incorporate managed animal grazing, crop diversification, and efficient nutrient management, each of these being alternatives to chemical fertilizers.

Zero Foodprint’s goal to remove 500 billion metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere by 2100 is completely doable – it will take just 1% of the country’s GDP to do it. Scientists believe 100% of the greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere can be offset by increasing the carbon content of 2% of the Earth’s soil. ZFP wants to make that happen by enlisting restaurants to offer customers the option to add1% to customers’ bills, money that then subsidizes carbon farming.

Restaurants throughout California, around the United States, and in locations around the world have joined the ZFP movement. You can support the cause by visiting one of these environmentally-conscious establishments, eateries that have also signed on to make simple changes to their consumption of water and electricity as well.

If you can’t get to one of ZFP-aligned restaurants, there are other steps you can take in solidarity with their efforts. Choosing energy-efficient appliances, composting, and reducing food waste in general all reduce carbon emissions. You can even do some carbon farming of your own, growing fruits and vegetables in soil enriched with compost or simply left untilled.


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