Ask Mr. Green
Is it true that we're not supposed to serve meat anymore?! My company won't go for that!
True story: In the middle of one exhibitor's VIP dining room at the Paris Air Show, an executive from Texas proclaimed, "I don't eat anything that swims or flies!"
Enough said. People have strong attitudes about appropriate VIP faire. In much of the United States, beef – from filet to tri tip – says success. Garnish with fine cheese, good wine, and voila: you've created traditional, first class corporate hospitality.
Here's the Beef
And you are not alone. The world is quickly adopting a Western diet rich in animal protein. Our planet is home to about 1.5 billion head of cattle, with two thirds of them living in India, Brazil, and China.
Livestock production, including cattle, generates a whopping 18 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. The number is so high because animal agriculture generates 35 percent of global methane emissions. Methane is a particularly powerful greenhouse gas that comes from animal waste and, believe it or not, from cattle breath. Cattle store undigested food in their stomachs, which ferments, causing the animals to exhale methane.
The other beef with livestock is that animals consume so much food, energy, and water. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that it takes an astonishing 4,000 to 18,000 gallons of water to produce a juicy hamburger. Other sources estimate 660 gallons – it depends on how the cattle are raised and how deep you dive into the food chain to make the estimate.
Surf Without Turf?
Of course, people do eat things that swim and fly, but even wild fish stocks are not doing especially well. Atlantic cod are no longer caught on the Grand Banks. Salmon fisheries close some years so salmon won't go extinct.
But there is good news for seafood lovers. Last year people consumed as much farm-raised seafood as wild-caught. While some aquaculture gets a well-deserved bad rap, the best fish and shellfish farms are producing seafood sustainably.
Is Your Brand What You Eat?
So what should you serve? Who are your customers? They might include prime rib lovers, vegans, vegetarians, the lactose and gluten intolerant, and people who avoid beef for health reasons. Your customers might prefer regional cuisine that is sourced from organic, local growers.
Yes, the United Nations recommends shifting to a more plant-based diet. Yes, serving organic produce and less beef and dairy reduces an event's carbon footprint. Yes, sustainable seafood is widely available. And buying from local growers supports the local economy. These are solid guidelines, but your decisions will probably be more nuanced and customer centered.
Comedian Steve Martin once compared fictional menus from Kansas and Beverly Hills. The Kansas menu offered a "Fried-Butter Appetizer: butter, cream, fat, lard, shortening, palm oil, drawn-butter dip." Meanwhile, diners in Beverly Hills could enjoy an "Air Salad: dehumidified ocean air on a bed of fileted basil."
You get the idea: food preferences vary. You can buy a Texas Drumstick at any county fair – it's a turkey leg wrapped in bacon, barbequed, and deep-fried. But would you serve one at the Natural Products Expo?
What does your brand say when you say it with food?
Tom Bowman, president of Bowman Change, Inc., helps businesses prosper in a clean economy. Tom chairs the Exhibit Designers and Producers Association's Sustainable Exhibits Leadership Committee and is author of the critically acclaimed The Green Edge. He has won numerous awards for developing and implementing successful green business practices at Bowman Design Group, a firm he founded in 1988. firstname.lastname@example.org