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Authority Magazine

Reducing Food Waste: Claire Cummings Bogle of Bon Appétit Management Company On How They Are Helping To Eliminate Food Waste

At Bon Appétit, we hate waste with a passion. We’ve been fighting waste since we opened our doors — waste prevention is inherent in the way we cook and serve our food, preparing meals from scratch in small batches to order, and using snout-to-tail and stem-to-root cooking techniques. We take a holistic approach to waste sustainability, following the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy, which focuses on preventing waste before it happens and keeping it out of landfills when it does.

has been estimated that each year, more than 100 billion pounds of food is wasted in the United States. That equates to more than $160 billion worth of food thrown away each year. At the same time, in many parts of the United States, there is a crisis caused by people having limited access to healthy & affordable food options. The waste of food is not only a waste of money and bad for the environment, but it is also making vulnerable populations even more vulnerable.

Authority Magazine started a new series called “How Restaurants, Grocery Stores, Supermarkets, Hospitality Companies and Food Companies Are Helping To Eliminate Food Waste.” In this interview series, we are talking to leaders and principals of Restaurants, Grocery Stores, Supermarkets, Hospitality Companies, Food Companies, and any business or nonprofit that is helping to eliminate food waste, about the initiatives they are taking to eliminate or reduce food waste.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Claire Cummings Bogle.

Claire Cummings Bogle is the Senior Manager of Strategic Initiatives for Bon Appétit Management Company. During her tenure at Bon Appétit, she helped craft Bon Appétit’s Low Carbon Lifestyle commitments; supported the development of the Food Standards Dashboard (a groundbreaking reporting and tracking tool for companywide wellness, culinary, and sustainability commitments); doubled the company’s food-recovery programs; managed the development of a patent pending kitchen-waste-tracking system, Waste Not™; and helped launch Imperfectly Delicious Produce, which has saved over 8 million pounds of produce from going to waste. She was named one of Food Tank’s 30 Women Under 30 Changing Food, is a recipient of Saveur’s “Activist” Good Taste Award, and her work has been featured in Bloomberg News, Sunset Magazine, and the New York Times.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

journey with Bon Appétit started as a student eating in my dining hall at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore. My junior year I was the co-host of the Environmental Studies Symposium and the theme was “Following the Food Chain.” In hopes of making the “wild web” of food issues accessible to a wider audience, my team collaborated with the Bon Appétit staff to create an interactive dining experience for our attendees. We designed three different meals that represented significant decisions consumers make when choosing what to eat. Ingredients ranged from locally and humanely produced beef to fruits shipped from far away countries and seafood raised in environmentally devastating ways. Each ingredient told a story of life before the plate and forced attendees to recognize their participation in America’s broken food system.

It was at this dinner that I met Maisie Ganzler, Bon Appétit’s chief strategy and brand officer. As the keynote speaker, Maisie shared about her meeting with the leaders of one of the largest meat producers in the world. Upon hearing this, at least a few people in the room gasped as if she had shaken hands with the devil, but she stood her ground. She explained that Bon Appétit uses its purchasing power to improve the production standards of some of the biggest offenders in the food system. As a valued client of this producer, Bon Appétit can generate enough demand for a better product (such as chickens raised without the routine use of antibiotics) to encourage it to take a step, however small, toward more sustainable food production.

I was floored. I had believed that social change came from the world of nonprofits. How could do-gooders both stay true to their vision and make money? Didn’t that take grants and volunteers and 501(c)(3) status? It was exciting to see true sustainability at work: a for-profit business model that was also loyal to a socially responsible mission. From then on, I knew I wanted to work for Bon Appétit.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company or organization?

I’ve had the opportunity to travel a lot during my time with Bon Appétit; I’ve boated through beds of farmed oysters, squeezed into shipping container greenhouses, gone underground to a sewage processing plant, and walked the fields, orchards, and pastures of countless small farms around the country. But the most interesting and life-changing experience from my time on the job was when I visited Salinas Valley for the first time to see the “salad-bowl of the world,” a place where 70% of the nation’s lettuce crop is grown. At that time, I had been working on issues of food waste and was on the hunt for opportunities to prevent it. I knew that 40% of food was wasted in the United States, but standing in the fields of the largest growers in the country and seeing it for myself was truly staggering.

The most amazing moment from that visit actually happened in the processing plant rather than in the fields. After seeing the mile-long blanket of romaine leaves left to rot on the ground and the forest of broccoli stalks waiting to be tilled back into the ground, we relocated to the place where the harvested food is cleaned and packaged for distribution. As we toured this facility that had intricate and loud machinery moving tons of product quickly from place to place to be washed, trimmed, and bagged, we noticed under one of the conveyor belts a growing pile of broccoli bits. These tiny scraps were falling off during processing and were being thrown out and it wasn’t just a little here or there, it was a significant amount of broccoli going to waste.

My team immediately thought about our salad bars and how great the little broccoli pieces would be and so we talked the grower into capturing those broccoli bits and selling them to our chefs. This was the start of Imperfectly Delicious Produce, a program that seeks out opportunities to rescue cosmetically imperfect, underutilized, and underappreciated parts of fruits and vegetables which has now gone on to save over 8 million pounds of food from going to waste.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I joined Bon Appétit, I was fresh out of college and got my start at the company as a Fellow. The Bon Appétit Fellowship is a 1- to 2-year paid opportunity to work with students at the colleges we serve to host events and launch projects to get students thinking about where their food comes from and understanding why that matters. During the summer when students are off, the Bon Appétit Fellows are assigned research projects to look into issues of food sustainability. My first summer I was assigned waste as my research topic. At the time I was really disappointed to have not been assigned a more interesting and impactful issue like sustainable seafood or farmworkers rights. I lamented how boring it would be to work on waste and I felt jealous of my colleagues who were tackling food sustainability issues that, at the time, seemed so much more meaningful.

Boy was I wrong. Much like pulling on a string of yarn, as I dove into the issue of waste, I began to see how much it touches so many other aspects of food sustainability and how important it is to addressing climate change. And as I dove into my research, the more I learned and the more Bon Appétit recognized the need for dedicating a person to this topic full time. Not long after, the Waste Specialist position was created, the first of its kind in food service and I was hired for the job. Nine years later I still spend much of my work tackling issues of food waste and I couldn’t be more passionate and excited about it.

I think the lesson here is that sometimes not getting what we want can actually turn out better than ever imagined. I never would have guessed that fighting waste would become my full-time job and my passion, but here we are and I couldn’t be happier about it.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I am a big fan of Brené Brown’s work on vulnerability and leadership and she says that “a leader is anyone who takes responsibility for recognizing the potential in people and ideas, and has the courage to develop that potential.” This really resonates with me, for example throughout my childhood I was never the most skilled or fastest player on the soccer field but I encouraged and supported my teammates which landed me the role of co-captain of my high school soccer team. Leadership is not about what you know or how talented you are, it’s about how you encourage a group of people to be the best they can be. Of course, it feels great to do outstanding work and get recognized for accomplishments, but the most rewarding moments of my career have been when I’ve helped other members of my team succeed and shine.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My manager and mentor, Maisie Ganzler, has a phrase she uses that has become a mantra I repeat to myself when working on challenging projects: She says, “We’re building the plane while flying it.” As an overachiever, type-A, planner, I often struggle with uncertainty and ambiguity when embarking on high-stakes, large-scale work projects. However, this mantra gives me reassurance that I don’t need to have it all figured out. It reminds me that we would never get anywhere if we were always waiting to have all the tools, all the blueprints, and all the plans in place. Sometimes you just have to take flight before you know exactly where you’re going and how you’re going to do it!

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition of terms so that all of us are on the same page. What exactly are we talking about when we refer to food waste?

Well, if we want to get nitpicky, we really should be calling it “wasted food” to recognize the fact that it started out as food that ended up wasted. Meaning it wasn’t inherently “food waste” from the start, something had to happen in order for it to be wasted. So when we talk about preventing and reducing wasted food, we’re talking about taking action to intervene and stop food from getting wasted at any part of the supply chain; on farms, in processing facilities, in delivery, in the kitchens, and in our cafés. Food is wasted when it’s not used for its intended purpose and there are many ways in which we deal with wasted food (some methods are more preferable than others, check out the EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy to learn what those are).

Can you help articulate a few of the main causes of food waste?

Food gets wasted during every step of our supply chain and at every part of our food system, and it happens for countless reasons. Some of those reasons are obvious, like a person putting more food on their plate than they can eat or a farmer that has more produce than they can sell. But other causes are more obscure and less visible to the average person, such as the bread ends that never get eaten because no one wants a sandwich made out of crust or the edible parts of the plants that never even get harvested because Americans don’t traditionally cook with them.

In our kitchens we see six main categories of wasted food:

  • Overproduction — post-service, leftover, excess food
  • Whoops! — dropped, spilled, or burnt food
  • Food safety — food that is unsafe to serve or donate
  • Poor quality — wilted or damaged food
  • Odds and ends — the odd cuts of deli meat and pastry crusts that often don’t get used
  • Guest plate waste — food that is left on guests’ plates at the end of their meal

What are a few of the obstacles that companies and organizations face when it comes to distributing extra or excess food? What can be done to overcome those barriers?

As a company who is committed to food recovery, we have a long history of encountering barriers to food donation despite our best efforts. If we want food recovery to become as commonplace for restaurants and food service providers as recycling and composting have become, then we need policymakers to address the bureaucratic tangle around what can be donated and how. It’s not a legal problem. Although many businesses believe they can’t donate prepared food for liability reasons, that’s simply not the case. Since 1996, the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act has protected donors from liability, and extensive research outlines exactly what’s covered by the law. (Let me tell you, it is a lot.)

So why does this myth prevail? Even for companies (such as mine) that have worked for years to reduce food waste and are aware of the protections afforded by the Good Samaritan Act, some serious barriers to donation need to be addressed if we are to grow this national movement. Specifically, we need shared national standards around what food recovery entails and how to donate prepared food safely.

Cases in point: In Carleton, Minn., local health inspectors told our staff at Carleton College that we couldn’t donate any food, period — even though Minnesota has a well-known food recovery initiative.

Meanwhile, another food-service provider in Pennsylvania received a “cease and desist” letter from the state’s department of agriculture, saying its program was in violation of the state code because it was donating food through a third party. Every time we start a donation program in a new place, we have to check carefully whether we can donate food items that have been put out for self-serve, because each state seems to take a different stance. There seems to be a complete disconnect between the USDA and FDA guidelines and those of the state government agencies in charge of actually overseeing the food donation programs. In one state, you might find a department of health that is quite familiar with food recovery, while one in the next state over hasn’t even heard the term. Furthermore, even if government agencies are familiar with the comprehensive guidelines for food recovery programs, the guidelines are so vague (and at times contradictory) that many policies and practices enforced at the state level are left to interpretation. It’s about time we get universal, nationally accepted best practices and protocols around food recovery.

Can you describe a few of the ways that you or your organization are helping to reduce food waste?

At Bon Appétit, we hate waste with a passion. We’ve been fighting waste since we opened our doors — waste prevention is inherent in the way we cook and serve our food, preparing meals from scratch in small batches to order, and using snout-to-tail and stem-to-root cooking techniques. We take a holistic approach to waste sustainability, following the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy, which focuses on preventing waste before it happens and keeping it out of landfills when it does.

And we believe there’s no better way to address waste than to stop it from happening in the first place. As great as it is to compost and recycle, it takes a lot of additional resources to turn wasted products into something usable (not to mention those resources that went into producing it in the first place), so prevention is always the first and best way to address waste.

That’s why we focus on:

  • Preparing food from scratch in small batches to order and using snout-to-tail and stem-to-root cooking techniques.
  • Launching Imperfectly Delicious Produce, a groundbreaking program that works with our farmers, suppliers, and chefs to source cosmetically challenged produce that would otherwise be left to rot in the fields or discarded in the processing plant.
  • Tracking our daily kitchen waste via our patent-pending waste tracking program, Waste Not™
  • Pledging to reduce food loss and waste by 50% by the year 2030, as a member of the inaugural class of Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champions.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help address the root of this problem?

  1. Stop wasting food. Yes, some food waste is inevitable, but households are the number one source of food waste in the United States which means we all have a role to play in addressing this issue. Do what you can to stop wasting food at home, and if you feel stuck on where and how to start, I recommend Dana Gunders’ Waste Free Kitchen Handbook for guidance and inspiration.
  2. Talk to your employers and the businesses that you buy from to ask them what they’re doing to prevent and reduce food waste. Make it known that you care about this issue and that it’s important to you that they do something about it. Remember, you have more power than you think and sometimes all it takes is asking some thoughtful questions to encourage and inspire change.
  3. Advocate for and support legislation that forces businesses of all kinds to prioritize food donation and diversion from landfills. The benefit of this legislation is that it encourages the development of the infrastructure needed to make practices like food recovery and composting more widespread and easily accessible. A good example of this is California’s SB 1383 legislation.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Mistakes are okay, and constructive feedback, while sometimes uncomfortable, is the only way you get better and grow. This is a lesson I’ve had to relearn time and time again throughout my career. Mistakes don’t happen when you’re staying in your comfort zone, they happen when you’re being challenged, when you’re learning new skills and trying new things. If you’re too scared to look at your mistakes or ask for feedback, you’ll never learn from them and grow.
  2. Stay curious. Never let fear stop you from asking a question, you never know what you’ll find out. When I tour farms to look for opportunities to rescue produce, I always ask questions: What are you doing with these wonky peppers? Why are you peeling and tossing the leaves of that lettuce? Where is that pile of carrot tops going? Questions are how we get to the answers that will solve our world’s greatest problems. If you never ask, you’ll never know!
  3. You have more power than you think. Thoughtful and smart advocacy from students at the colleges we serve have helped shape policy at Bon Appétit. In 2005, we began sourcing our shell eggs from cage-free hens after one concerned student at a university account brought the issue of battery cages in the egg industry to our attention. I love this story because it gives me hope that we can all make a difference.
  4. Know your limits, and don’t be afraid to voice them. When I was tasked with building Waste Not 2.0, our patent-pending waste tracking app, I knew we had to have chefs involved. I’m a great problem-solver but it’s so important to have the leadership and input from the people you’re trying to solve the problem for. I’ve spent a lot of time in our kitchens and cafés but never worked as a chef, and so recognizing my limitations and assembling the right team of people to build this program was critical to its success.
  5. It’s not about what you know, it’s about what you do. I did not go to school to become an expert in waste sustainability, my major was international affairs. Prior to working at Bon Appétit, I hardly understood the connection between waste and climate change. The reason I’ve been successful in this role has very little to do with what I studied in college, it has been my willingness to learn and my commitment to figuring things out and delivering results that has gotten me to where I am today.

Are there other leaders or organizations who have done good work to address food waste? Can you tell us what they have done? What specifically impresses you about their work? Perhaps we can reach out to them to include them in this series.

Regina Anderson is the Executive Director of Food Recovery Network (FRN), the largest student-driven nonprofit that is fighting waste and feeding people. FRN works with college students across the country to mentor, coach, and support students to establish food recovery programs on the college campuses. FRN teaches students how to safely package up dining-hall surplus food and bring that really good food to hunger-fighting partner agencies, such as food banks or other nonprofits in the local community who work to feed people. We work with them at our colleges around the country and I served on their Board for four years. It is a wonderful organization and Regina would be a great person to talk to.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

If I had it my way, all trash bins in restaurants, cafés, and home kitchens would be crystal clear so everyone could see what was being thrown away. We live in a world where our garbage is hidden and waste just magically disappears so we never have to actually see the impact we are having. Wouldn’t it be great if these clear bins also had smart technology to keep track of how much we’re wasting and what is being tossed? Imagine a future where our waste bins nudge us to change behavior, they encourage us to cut our waste and give us rewards when we’ve reduced the amount we’re throwing away? We need that kind of smart behavioral tech for food waste.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

I would love to dine with Padma Lakshmi. In an industry dominated by men I admire her tenacity and ability to succeed. I really love her latest show, Taste the Nation, she is such a great interviewer and storyteller. Not to mention her cooking always looks so drool-worthy, my ideal scenario would be to both cook and eat a meal together!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

My team reports on my work and on all sorts of other news and activities on our company blog at https://www.bamco.com/news/blog/.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much, and we wish you only continued success.