Sustainability and Your Bottom Line: How Beef Plays A Role

BQA - Cow Calf

Restaurant foodservice operators know sustainability is more than just a buzz word… it impacts an operation’s bottom line and restaurants’ sustainability efforts factor into about half of diners’ decisions on where to dine.1 Sustainability in the restaurant industry comprises everything from energy-saving equipment and practices, such as using energy-efficient lighting and programmable thermostats, to sourcing packaging and other supplies made from recyclable materials. A key way operators can move the sustainability needle is by reducing food waste. 

Approximately one-third of all food produced for human consumption in the world is lost or wasted, but many restaurant operators are working to reduce this number. According to a survey from the National Restaurant Association, about half of American restaurant operators track the amount of food waste their operation generates – an important first step in reducing it. 

Alex Seidel, chef-owner of Denver’s Fruition Restaurant, Mercantile Dining & Provision, Füdmill and Chook, speaks to educating staff on importance of minimizing food waste by framing it as a matter of a restaurant’s life or death. He says it’s important to “teach cooks about understanding the value of the things that we’re working with and what it means to a restaurant’s bottom line to either be in business or out of business. I think those messages have to be taken into the kitchen and shared firsthand as to why utilization and waste is so important.”

Uneaten food not only wastes the resources used to produce it, but ends up in a solid waste landfill, contributing to methane emissions. And while beef is one of the least wasted foods, with 20 percent spoiled or not eaten, there’s much room for improvement. Cutting that number in half could help improve beef sustainability by 10 percent.

"Ultimately, you should only have the wrapping of whatever meat you’re using in the trash." - Burt Bakman, chef and pitmaster at SLAB BBQ

Cattle do their own part to reduce food waste. For every 100 pounds of crops raised for human consumption, 37 pounds of leftovers are produced, which are eaten by cattle and up-cycled into high-quality protein.2  However, restaurant operators play a key role in improving beef’s sustainability by reducing food waste.

Burt Bakman, chef and pitmaster at Los Angeles’ SLAB BBQ says, “There’s no meat in the trash. There’s no waste. Everything is being used. Trimmings end up as sausage or patties. Even the fat becomes tallow. Everything can go into stock or become a sauce. Ultimately, you should only have the wrapping of whatever meat you’re using in the trash.”

Using un-plateable meat products in stock is especially important for Chef Esther Choi, owner of New York City’s ramen hotspot mŏkbar. “All of my chefs grew up with the mentality of using every last bit. With a stock base, it’s all about bones. So, we use everything like chicken feet to the head of a cow.”

In-house fabrication allows for creative reuse of beef trimmings. Like Bakman, Jimmy Banos Jr., fourth-generation restauranteur and James Beard Foundation’s “Rising Star Chef 2014” insists on not wasting any meat at Chicago’s The Purple Pig. “There’s always a second and third use when it starts from its largest whole state. Whatever doesn’t get used for the big steak gets put into trim. The trim is made into meatballs, burgers and sausage. So, no meat goes to waste.”

  1. The State of Restaurant Sustainability, 2018 Edition, National Restaurant Association
  2. Fadel, J.G. Anim. Feed Sci. Technol. 79: 255-268; CAST, 1999 Rotz et al., 2019. Ag Syst. 169 (Feb.): 1-13