By Kari Hamerschlag, Friends of the Earth
In these busy times, we spend nearly half our food budgets eating out. This means that big restaurant chains have an enormous influence on what we eat and how food is produced – and a lot of power to move our food system in a better direction.
Unfortunately, many restaurant chains serve unhealthy, unsustainable food, including factory-farmed meat and dairy that pollute the environment and are produced with routine antibiotics and other harmful chemicals. They also pay workers a dismal wage and provide limited opportunities or benefits for their employees.
That’s why Friends of the Earth, Restaurant Opportunities Center-United, the Food Chain Workers Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Food Democracy Now and others are joining together in a historic campaign to urge Darden Restaurants to make its menu offerings more healthy, green, humane and fair, including paying its workers a living wage. You can sign our petition here.
Darden Restaurants is our nation’s leading casual dining operator, with more than $6 billion in annual revenue from its 7 national restaurant brands including Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, Yard House and Bahama Breeze. With more than 1,500 restaurants, serving 320 million meals every year, Darden’s purchasing and menu decisions have a huge impact on people’s health and our environment—as well the conditions for those who produce and serve our food.
Our groups are asking Darden to set a new industry standard by committing at least 20% of its food purchases by 2020 to a set of sustainability guidelines based on the Good Food Purchasing Policy adopted by the Los Angeles City Council and Los Angeles Unified School District. By shifting its menu toward Good Food principles, Darden can drive major improvements in our food system while satisfying the growing demand, especially among millennials, for healthier and more sustainable food.
Many of Darden’s restaurants, such as Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse, are known for large portion sizes, which aren’t only bad for our waistlines, they’re bad for the planet. Especially when it comes to meat and cheese.
High consumption of industrially produced meat, especially red and processed meat, is associated with increased risks of diet-related disease, large quantities of water and energy-intensive chemical inputs, and ingestion of harmful pesticides and cancer-causing dioxin.
Industrial meat production also fuels the rise of antibiotic resistance, one of our nation’s leading public health threats. The truth is that 70-80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are routinely fed to animals to keep them from getting sick in overcrowded, filthy, polluting animal factories. Under pressure from customers and groups like Friends of the Earth and NRDC, Subway, the nation’s leading fast food restaurant, just took a historic step by announcing that it would eliminate antibiotics from its entire meat supply within 10 years, starting with chicken next year. It’s time for Darden-the nation’s largest casual dining company–to follow Subway’s lead.
By serving smaller portion sizes of more humane and sustainable meat and dairy, raised without the routine use of antibiotics, and offering more organic and vegetarian/vegan choices, Darden can improve public health and help reduce food waste, conserve water, curb greenhouse gas emissions and shift production away from filthy, polluting factory farms.
Serving “Good Food” produced under better conditions for workers, the animals and the environment is critical in order to reverse the enormous damage caused by our industrial food system. This pesticide-intensive system is degrading our soil, land and water, poisoning bees, and destroying critical habitat for wildlife. It’s also based on the exploitation of workers from farm to fork.
A healthy and sustainable food system cannot be achieved without fairness and dignity for the people who make and serve our food. Darden currently pays 20% of its 150,000 employees the federal tipped minimum wage of $2.13 an hour. Low wages make it hard for many Darden workers to meet their families’ basic needs, let alone afford healthy and sustainable food.
Our personal food choices are important and can make small changes for the better. But when the largest full service restaurant company improves conditions for its workers and demands better practices from its suppliers, it can change the entire industry. And the truth is that ensuring a living wage of $15 an hour would only cost the average Darden customer less than 35 cents a meal.
Even if you don’t eat at Darden Restaurants, their purchasing decisions could have a big impact on the food system that we are all a part of. Please join us and sign this petition asking Darden to make its food healthy, sustainable, humane and fair.