Ingredients of Sustainability
How far is a chef supposed to go to fulfill a declaration of support for sustainable agriculture? Only in-season fruit? How much local produce? Does local nonorganic edge out California organic?
Buying local or from small businesses used to be the norm. Consolidation in the food industry has increased efficiency, but often leads to sacrifices in flavor and selection. For these reasons, chefs who are determined to find great ingredients have sought out small scale farmers. But some products only originate abroad. Are they exempt from your purchasing criteria?
Consider coffee, for example. Coffee is not a restaurant’s focus - but it may be the easiest product to bring you one step closer to a sustainably-sourced meal. You can purchase coffee that matches conventional coffee in quality, price, and variety while altering the coffee import system, shifting benefits to coffee growers and the ecosystems where they farm.
What makes coffee sustainable?
Cost that diners can pay
Quality that they will buy again
Comparable service - equipment, delivery, variety
Low impact on the environment where it is grown (organic; shade)
Growers’ incomes cover production costs and pay for the necessities of life
For both, long term relationships build learning, trust, and creativity.
Just as organic certifiers serve to assure that produce has been grown without synthetic chemicals and fertilizers, TransFair USA certifies that coffee bearing its seal has been puchased according to standards that approach sustainability:
Coffee from cooperatives: open-book organizations that serve their farmer members. Small land holders often produce high quality coffee but cannot process or export as individuals.. Guaranteed floor price: As of February 2001, the NY Stock Exchange price for coffee was about 60 cents per pound (lower than the average cost of production). Fair trade buyers pay farmer groups at least $1.26!
Access to credit: The most capable fair trade buyers can pay the producer groups up to 60% of the bill in advance. Credit is a critical need in regions where farmers are sometimes charged 10% per month for cash advances.
Just like the effects of replacing your conventional produce and meats, switching to fair trade,organic coffee will not alone transform an exploitative trade system to a balanced one... but every pound sold on fair trade terms shifts the scale a bit closer to sustainability......
Jessie Myszka is the sales manager for Equal Exchange, a worker-owned coffee company that has sold specialty coffee from farmer cooperatives for 15 years. Its mission is to publicize the needs of small-scale farmers and represent them by marketing the coffee to restaurants, stores, and institutions, like-minded or otherwise.
For Further information e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.