Today's Eco-Event: "Eat Local Challenge"

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Got plans to eat out today? Even if you don't, consider taking part in the "Eat Local Challenge." Today 150,000 diners at corporate, university, and museum restaurants from Seattle to Washington D.C. can choose to eat a 100 percent locally grown meal, made entirely of ingredients from within 150 miles of the kitchen where they are served. Palo Alto-based Bon Appétit Management Company, the national food service provider which runs all of the restaurants, launched the challenge to raise awareness about where the food on our plates comes from.The challenge, according to Bon Appétit, goes to the heart of the American diet. Bon Appétit has been a proponent of sustainably sourced foods since 1999, when the CEO issued a mandate to buy extensively from local farmers and artisans.

"The average item on an American dinner plate travels 1,500-2,000 miles, leading to loss of flavor in our food, and affecting our farmers' ability to grow a diversity of crops," said Fedele Bauccio, CEO of Bon Appétit. "At the height of harvest season, local foods are now at their peak of flavor. We can all keep our producers in business by buying from them, ensuring that our local food supply remains strong."

His chefs are taking the Eat Local Challenge seriously. In Portland, Ore., one chef decided to find a source for local salt. There was none, so he took his kids to the beach, gathered sea water, boiled it down, and made his own salt. Another chef found himself driving down a country lane in hot pursuit of a wheat combine to find a source for local wheat.

The Eat Local Challenge highlights the issue of 'food miles' - the distance food travels from the farm to the dining table - which environmentalists have described as the single most damaging factor to food quality and the environment.

"Our long-distance food habit devours tremendous amounts of oil, reduces food quality by necessitating the use of chemical preservatives, and makes us vulnerable to accidental or malicious disruptions to the food supply," said Brian Halweil, Senior Researcher at the Worldwatch Institute, an independent research organization in Washington, D.C., and author of Eat Here: Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket. "As a national food service company, Bon Appétit feeds thousands of people every day. When they take a stand on eating locally, they send the message to other food companies that freshness and food safety are top priorities."

Founded in 1987 in San Francisco, Bon Appétit Management Company is an onsite restaurant company offering full food service management, with more than 190 restaurants and cafés in corporations, universities, and specialty venues in 26 states. Clients include Yahoo!, the Getty Center and American University. Bon Appétit is raising awareness of its sustainable sourcing practices through joint programs with Environmental Defense, the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch, and other organizations.