Life-Changing Experience Led Chef to Start Looking For Efficiencies

Beyond Green first saves money for restaurants and cafeterias by spotting inefficiencies in things like energy, water, food and soap. (Yes, soap!)

This post is brought to you by GOOD, with support from UPS. We’ve teamed up to bring you the Small Business Collaborative, a series sharing stories about innovative small businesses that are changing business as usual for their communities and beyond. Learn how UPS is helping small businesses work better and more sustainably here.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Greg Christian has been in the food business for over three decades and spent most that time as a chef. But when his youngest daughter, who is now twenty, got profoundly sick with asthma, it never occurred him that diet could affect her symptoms. “She was going to the emergency room all the time, and then the intensive care started happening.” His ex-wife suggested that they switch their daughter to an all-organic diet, and surprisingly, her asthma got better. While there are only preliminary studies suggesting that diets rich in processed food correlate with asthma, what Christian saw in his own daughter was undeniable. She was better. He remembers, “I was shocked that it helped her—and confused.” He realized he didn’t know as much about food as he thought he did. A few things were clear: “I didn’t know how to change my business, but I knew that it wasn’t okay that my kids got to eat organic food and most of the world didn’t.”

Christian became a “self-taught sustainable food expert,” founded a nonprofit, the Organic School Project, and gave his own catering business a revamp. He was also a man whose talents were evolving—from chef to the sort of guy who could pinpoint inefficiencies in a kitchen, who thought about menus in terms of both taste and waste. This is when Christian gathered experts in sustainability, food service, nutrition, waste management, business and environmental science and formed Beyond Green Sustainable Food Partners, a B Corp designed to teach big kitchens how to feed their students, patients and customers locally grown and scratch-cooked food, without adding expense.

Beyond Green first saves money for restaurants, cafeterias, and even a food truck by spotting inefficiencies in things like energy, water, food and soap. (Yes, soap—lots of suds go to waste in half-filled dishwashers and in other daily chores.) Often menus are too large, and having a bounty of options means chefs over-order food. Processed food with a longer shelf-life fills out large freezers, while unused fresh food spoils. There’s a shocking number floating around food circles, and cooks know they contribute to it: nearly 40 percent of food in the U.S. goes to waste.

“People stop there,” says Christian. “They think the food part of our food system is inefficient.” But problems riddle the kitchen.

One of the biggest things that goes to waste in industrial kitchens is time. In school kitchens, there can be a lot of standing around time (between when frozen food is unwrapped, put in the oven, and when it comes out). Many school cafeteria cooks spend hours on a process called “cupping,” putting food in little plastic cups with lids. After Beyond Green’s assessment and by switching to bulk serving of meals, cooks at Bureau Valley School District in Manlius, Ill. saved a total of 25 hours and $500 each month in equipment and labor costs, simply by cutting out “cupping.”

Money saved in reduced energy and water use, waste removal and pick-up goes toward locally grown ingredients. Retraining cooks and eliminating hours wasted in their day lets them scratch-cook.

Christian admits that sometimes, “It’s a hard sell.” For decades, most of us have been convinced by food industry marketing that processed, packaged food is easier, and so better. “To turn this whole system around, it’s an evolution, not a revolution… When you walk into a business, like a hospital, and you say, ‘We’re going to bring a revolution to your cafeteria,’ you’re never going to close that deal,” says Christian. To get real change, cooks can’t see consultants as bullies. They are offering five- to ten-year sustainability strategies, not a kitchen coup.

Beyond Green’s work in Skokie, a Chicago suburb, was a transformation with district-wide support on their side. During the 2008-09 school year, 1,200 Niles North high school students signed a petition demanding healthier cafeteria food. Sheri Doniger, a school board member who worked closely on the healthy foods program, explains that in their district’s case, they had total buy-in from staff. Beyond Green’s sustainability strategy ensured that there was no room for greenwashing; their bid requests required vendors make a measureable impact. Waste, energy and water use went down, meals were scratch-cooked, and 90 percent of students agree the food is tasty—at the same time that their meal costs remained the same.

For a notion that began in one man’s home kitchen, Beyond Green’s reach extends throughout the US and Canada, but remains tied to its Chicago home. Its staff occasionally takes local high school students to farmers’ markets to do menu planning and then teaches them scratch-cook methods in cooking classes. Their process spans fixing leaking sinks, retraining cooks, and teaching kids to appreciate what goes into a good meal. As Christian puts it, “It’s about dreaming a new dream, of a different food system that works for everyone.”

Photo courtesy Beyond Green.

via Barry Schapiro / Twitter

The phrase "stay in your lane" is usually lobbed at celebrities who talk about politics on Twitter by people who disagree with them. People in the sports world will often get a "stick to sports" when they try to have an opinion that lies outside of the field of play.

Keep Reading

The Free the Nipple movement is trying to remove the stigma on women's breasts by making it culturally acceptable and legal for women to go topless in public. But it turns out, Free the Nipple might be fighting on the wrong front and should be focusing on freeing the nipple in a place you'd never expect. Your own home.

A woman in Utah is facing criminal charges for not wearing a shirt in her house, with prosecutors arguing that women's chests are culturally considered lewd.

Keep Reading

In August, the Recording Academy hired their first female CEO, Deborah Dugan. Ten days before the Grammys, Dugan was placed on administrative leave for misconduct allegations after a female employee said Dugan was "abusive" and created a "toxic and intolerable" work environment. However, Dugan says she was actually removed from her position for complaining to human resources about sexual harassment, pay disparities, and conflicts of interest in the award show's nomination process.

Just five days before the Grammys, Dugan filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and her claims are many. Dugan says she was paid less than former CEO Neil Portnow. In 2018, Portnow received criticism for saying women need to "step up" when only two female acts won Grammys. Portnow decided to not renew his contract shortly after. Dugan says she was also asked to hire Portnow as a consultant for $750,000 a year, which she refused to do.

Keep Reading