Aramark: Protect Our Health & Future with Your Menus

The warning bells on climate change continued to get louder as we closed out 2018, with the release of three major reports—including one just last week in The Lancet—from leading global experts finding the worst impacts are much closer than we previously expected if we don’t take swift and bold action. Fortunately, there is one often-overlooked tool all of us can use to fight back: our forks.

In fact, the global scientific authority on climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), issued this warning last October, it called for the world to ‘limit demand for greenhouse-gas intensive foods through shifts to healthier and more sustainable diets’ in order to avoid this fate.

That means reducing the amount of meat and other animal products we consume, as these produce more climate pollution than anything else we eat. In fact, meat and other livestock products we eat are responsible for nearly 15 percent of global climate change emissions—meat is responsible for as much climate pollution as all transportation worldwide. Beef alone, which has the biggest climate footprint of all, is about 34 times more climate pollution-intensive as legumes like beans and lentils, pound for pound.

The good news is, when we make even small changes in our individual diets it can have a big impact. And we can scale that change with the help of food industry leaders. That’s why NRDC is calling on Aramark—one of the largest food service companies in the United States, providing meals to universities, hospitals, sports stadiums, prisons and more—to step up. By offering clients climate-healthy menus—with less meat and animal products, and more fruits, vegetables and legumes—they can greatly reduce the climate footprint of food served to millions of people daily.

Aramark took a step in the right direction last year when it launched pilot programs to train chefs in plant-based menus and partnered with the American Heart Association to reduce foods containing high levels of saturated fats, many of which are also climate-intensive.

What is urgently needed, however, is a clear, specific, measurable and time-based commitment to reduce climate emissions associated with Aramark’s menus. That’s what NRDC called for in a letter to Aramark’s CEO Eric J. Foss and its Board last November. The letter was also signed by nearly 70 other organizations with a range of interests in seeing the company take this step—from the environment to animal welfare and public health—such as Oxfam, Health Care Without Harm, Sierra Club and Mercy for Animals.

Now we’re preparing to make the case for this commitment directly to Mr. Foss and the Board at the next shareholder meeting in Philadelphia on January 30th.

The path Aramark chooses to take with have a direct impact on their customers’ health—in both the short- and long-term. They are serving millions of college students at campuses across the country; the same students’ whose future will be determined by the actions we take (or fail to take) when it comes to acting on climate change. They’re also feeding millions of hospital patients—including those suffering from climate change-related impacts, such as heatstroke, asthma attacks and natural disasters—from wildfires to hurricanes.

These customers deserve food that nourishes them today and invests in their future health. And they want it too: NRDC research shows American diets are changing and consumers are increasingly craving more plant-based options.

As one of the biggest meal-providers in the United States, Aramark has an opportunity to become an industry leader and answer their call. That means:

  1. Committing to at least a 20% reduction in emissions associated with the most climate change-intensive foods on their menus—meat, fish, seafood, dairy, and eggs—within the next two years. They can do this by cutting purchases of these foods and replacing them with produce, legumes or whole grains.
  2. Track and make public their progress toward the goal of 20% reduction. First and foremost, this will require them to calculate the climate change pollution baseline associated with their current menus, then determine the reductions they achieve on a regular basis (e.g. every six months). 

We also encourage Aramark to shift its procurement dollars toward meat and plant-based foods grown with sustainable production practices that reduce the use of toxic pesticides, foster soil health, and improve animal welfare as well as overall resiliency in our farming systems. These include, but are not limited to, eliminating the routine use of antibiotics, a shift that is critical to protect public health.

Experts have long warned that eating more plants and less animals is good for our health. Every day it’s becoming clearer that it’s also essential to our collective future. We urge Aramark to make 2019 the year they put their customers first and act on behalf of both.