Canon in East Sacramento uses seasonal and local ingredients, soon sourcing from the garden right outside its front door. (Photo by Jennifer Berry)

Zero is the Hero in Restaurant Waste

Sacramento chefs pair good business with environmental stewardship

Back Web Only Nov 15, 2017 By Jennifer Junghans

Canon, the newest restaurant in East Sacramento, packed a full house the second day after it opened on Oct. 10 with Chef Brad Cecchi’s artisan-centric menu featuring ultra-seasonal ingredients from local farmers. Soon they will also source from the garden right outside their own front door.

The restaurant’s efforts to support local agriculture and sustainable practices contribute to a movement among chefs in Sacramento to combine good business and environmental stewardship.

Soon Canon will feature farm fresh eggs from local chickens in the neighborhood, which feast upon 20-30 pounds of its kitchen scraps each week to help reduce waste. Additional scraps are used as compost for the garden and remaining food waste is fed to Sacramento’s BioDigester, the largest anaerobic digester in North America, which turns 100 tons of food waste a day into electricity, fertilizer and natural gas. That natural gas fuels Sacramento buses and fleet vehicles, according to the California Energy Commission.

According to the National Restaurant Association, restaurant sales are projected to reach a record $799 billion in 2017, up from $588 billion in 2010. Meanwhile, the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research notes food production systems drive up to one-third of global greenhouse-gas emissions. This positions restaurants as the perfect platform to raise awareness and initiate conversations about the connection between sustainable food production and the health of our environment.

Here in America’s farm-to-fork capital, consumers tend to understand this connection through our region’s rich agricultural heritage and California’s role as the nation’s largest agricultural producer. Local chefs like Cecchi showcase seasonal produce and proteins from local farmers and ranchers who respect the land they farm and animals they raise, through practices intended to keep the land productive for generations to come.

‘Thoughtful Solutions’ to Restaurant Waste

In recent years, restaurants have evolved into places to engage as a community around the idea of healthy food, healthy people and a healthy planet. That awareness is the mission of ZeroFoodprint, a nonprofit organization founded in 2013 in San Francisco and which works with restaurants worldwide to reach a zero “foodprint” by eliminating greenhouse-gas emissions through operational improvements and life-cycle assessments of ingredients.

The organization evolved from a question: Was eating out terrible for the environment? A 2013 study by ZeroFootprint showed no difference in emissions between eating out and a home-cooked meal, but what surprised them was that 60-70 percent of a meal’s emissions came from the ingredients, says Executive Director Elizabeth Singleton.

Related: Meat, Water and Global Warming

The choices people make about what they eat and where they eat, based on the carbon footprint of ingredients, has the most important impact, Singleton explains. While a plant-based diet has a much smaller impact on the environment, choosing to eat less meat and better meat (as in, produced through sustainable practices) is a tool to fight climate change too, she says.

ZeroFoodprint believes people want to patronize restaurants that share their values, and wants to become the environmental equivalent of a Michelin star, connecting people to the best in restaurant stewardship.

When it comes to restaurant stewardship, energy assessments through electric utility providers, water conservation and continuously looking to reduce waste are important components. That aligns with California’s 75 Percent Initiative to reduce its solid waste by three-fourths by 2020 through reduction, recycling and composting.

“Through the eyes of chefs, to have a successful kitchen is to minimize waste,” says Patrick Mulvaney, of Mulvaney’s B&L restaurant in Sacramento. He has reduced his trash headed for the landfill from three dumpsters a week to less than a 5-gallon bucket.

In the restaurant industry, food waste can be significant, but chefs in Sacramento like Mulvaney and Cecchi actively share best practices and latest techniques to use every part of food that comes into the kitchen, down to the peels that are normally tossed.

“You can’t just discard the parts you don’t want. There has to be thoughtful solutions,” Cecchi says. He turns ingredients that can’t be showcased because of an odd shape or a blemish into sauces and soups, or ferments them, giving their natural flavor and quality a place at the table.

Chefs Build a Collective Effort

Community partnerships also strengthen the effort toward waste reduction and stewardship, while building the local economy and community ties. Green Restaurant Alliance Sacramento collects pre-consumer kitchen scraps and turns them into compost at host schools in our neighborhoods. Edible Pedal in Sacramento delivers food orders for restaurants like Thai Basil by bicycle in support of sustainable practices.

Individuals are part of the story, too. Whether it’s chefs like Mulvaney who donate their used oil to power neighbors’ VWs, or save their cans, bottles and cardboard for the person who rummages through trash, it’s a community effort for a greater good.

“There are so many people in our neighborhood to connect with individually. We don’t have to go through a corporation [to reduce waste],” says Suleka Sun-Lindley, owner of Veg, a seasonal-focused vegan and vegetarian restaurant in Midtown, and Thai Basil, a Sustainable Business of the Year recipient in 2016 from Sacramento County’s Business Environmental Resource Center.

ZeroFoodprint’s informal research shows 80 percent of consumers in their market segment are willing to pay a dollar or two more for a carbon neutral meal. That sounds promising, considering the average cost to be carbon neutral is 15 cents per meal, according to Singleton. But pennies count. Ninety-five cents of every dollar goes back into running the business, Mulvaney says.

While ZeroFoodprint is sweeping San Francisco, it doesn’t yet have a presence in Sacramento. Mulvaney is the first in our region to be in conversations with ZeroFoodprint and Sun-Lindley is interested in doing the same.

“Sacramento is not as big a media market as San Francisco, L.A. or New York, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing these things and our voices shouldn’t be heard,” Mulvaney says. “It’s easy to band brothers and sisters together, and that voice carries more.”


Baker Moorefield Junghans (not verified)December 6, 2017 - 12:46pm

I always enjoy Jennifer Berry's articles and this is a wonderful one. It's so hopeful and so informative.I had no idea about the extent of ZeroFoodprint and applaud enthusiastically!