December 16, 2013

Group launches sustainable food certification processLack of information may be one of the biggest obstacles facing diners and graduates of culinary programs who are looking for sustainable food options. Unless a restaurant or grocery store goes out of its way to tout its environmentally friendly practices, people rarely have any way of knowing who is offering the most sustainable options.

All that could soon be changing, though, according to The United States Healthful Food Council (USHFC) recently announced it is working toward a nationally recognized standard in excellence for restaurants that provide sustainably sourced foods, while also addressing health concerns like obesity and diabetes.

REAL certification
Based off of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification program, which recognizes buildings that institute energy efficient technologies, the USHFC is developing what it calls its REAL Food certification program. The acronym stands for Responsible Epicurean and Agricultural Leadership, and it would grade food and food service providers on a range of factors.

Auditors for the program would assess things like the amount of fruits and vegetables that are on a menu, how much processed food is used, the use of local, organic ingredients, preparation methods and best practices.

“It’s been heartening to see so many chefs and restaurants not only enthusiastically open their kitchens to a voluntary nutrition and sustainability audit, but also to seek and embrace our recommendations for improvement,” Lawrence Williams, USHFC’s CEO, said in a statement.

Pilot program to spread
The REAL certification program began in Washington, D.C., in its pilot phase. But now that it has proven successful there, the USHFC plans to take it to New York City, Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles. And large institutions around the country have already earned certification, including the John Hancock Building in Boston, Google San Francisco and Union Pacific in Omaha, Neb.

The USHFC is also working to reduce prices for sustainably sourced foods and other healthy and organic products in order to speed up the integration of those products into restaurant menus.

“This will provide a net benefit to all involved: Restaurants will be able to access higher-quality ingredients at a discount, and suppliers can secure new business from REAL-certified restaurants,” the organization said in a statement.

Along with those efforts, the USHFC is also working with review magazines, newspapers and websites, like Zagat’s and Yelp, to promote REAL certification.

It’s going to take efforts from nearly all sectors of the economy to improve sustainable and eco-conscious practices around the world. With its new certification program, the USHFC is providing a road map for how future initiatives can work.