Field Notes

ZeroFoodprint: Interview with Anthony Myint

zero foodprint myint

Anthony Myint was in Copenhagen at a thought leadership conference sponsored by Noma restaurant in 2014 when the idea for ZeroFoodprint was born.

Myint’s friend, Lucky Peach editor Chris Ying, had just been tapped to lead the next year’s conference, and the men huddled with environmental consultant Peter Freed to brainstorm ideas. Recently becoming a father had amplified Myint’s desire to make a difference. In researching food waste, he learned that the effects are more dire than he could have imagined.

Myint, the co-founder of San Francisco’s famed Mission Chinese and The Perennial restaurants, says that the topic immediately turned to the role of restaurants in responding to climate change.

“The food system is about 43-56 percent of all greenhouse emissions — processing, storage, deforestation,” Myint recently explained by phone from the kitchen at Mission Chinese, where he worked as he talked. “A lot of people think of fossil fuels as being the culprit and while that stuff matters, food is such a big part of it that it seemed that we should find as many ways as we could to stem it.”

The friends knew that restaurateurs would donate money to the cause, sure. But there had to be something that was deeper, that offered a more robust commitment, in order for the actions to deepen and resonate. That something turned out to be ZeroFoodprint.

“We started the organization to learn more about what specific aspects of the industry contribute to greenhouse gas emissions the most and how we can change those things,” Myint says. “There’s an element of taking responsibility but it’s more specific to what each restaurant is doing. It’s learning about your carbon footprint and making the changes that you can and specifically offsetting them.”

To that end, ZeroFoodprint has a certification program that allows restaurants to be evaluated on their carbon emission “foodprint” and learn to take steps to both rectify and offset the valuation. SHED launches its relationship with ZeroFoodprint this month, learning how to change our practices and creating a pathway to offset our emissions.

Even though we built the Healdsburg SHED with an eye to sustainability, insulating our walls with recycled denim, installing photovoltaic panels, and establishing a rigorous composting program from the start, there are still ways that we can diminish our impact. And for those things that simply can’t be changed, we can purchase carbon credits for offset. Working with the ZeroFoodprint organization helps us make these efforts count.

Because, as Myint well knows, it goes beyond simply not throwing away food scraps that could be used to make soup stock or pesto. That kind of waste is accounted for on the bottom line and most restaurants are rigorous in preventing money from being literally thrown away. As we are known to say, it all comes down to soil.

“It was really exciting to learn how farming can change climate change,” Myint says. “The soil used to have a lot more organic matter. We can revise our farming practices to put it back in the soil. In the long run, our goal would be to have zero foodprint contributions to those efforts.”

Carbon offset monies currently go to such entities as the Marin Carbon Project and the American Carbon Registry.

ZeroFoodprint is also working with the Open Table reservation platform to add a category that allows diners to choose a participating restaurant when making a dining choice. It’s still in the “proving out stage,” he says. Once that’s in place, Myint allows, the movement will have a more concrete footing. “It will be easier to have metrics,” he admits. “In the absence of that, it’s a little bit esoteric.”

Myint’s Mission Chinese has always had an altruistic bent, donating 75 cents for every meal purchased to the San Francisco Food Bank. In becoming a ZeroFoodprint establishment itself, it now donates 10 cents for every meal to offset its carbon emissions, too. Myint sees this as a way forward for all dining, even fast food.

But how would this apply, say, to a national franchise like Pizza Hut? Myint goes back to the 10 cents per meal he already charges for offset.

“[Mission Chinese] is not as inexpensive as Pizza Hut, but I’m pretty confident that no one is electing not to eat here because of 10 cents,” he says.

“If leaders in the restaurant industry like SHED are willing to take a stand… that’s how a market is created. We don’t give customers the option; it’s just part of the program.”

For the Pizza Hut example, Myint suggests that they would offer customers the option to donate 20 cents from each purchase to carbon offsets. The only inconvenience would be in checking off a box.

“That seems pretty approachable,” Myint muses. “That actually is the model that we’re trying to get chefs and restaurants to adopt.”

Learn more about the ZeroFoodprint initiative, meet Anthony Myint with colleague J. Kenji López-Alt of Serious Eats, and help us offset our carbon emissions at a very special dinner on Wednesday, Sept. 27

To learn more about the ZeroFoodprint initiative, read Myint’s excellent James Beard op-ed.

Anthony Myint photo by Alanna Hale.
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  1. Lesli Lee Hartsough

    Fantastic idea! Glad to hear Shed is all over it and with Mission Chinese acting as models for other restaurants in the area and hopefully all of the world. Let’s hope for a ripple effect.

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