Earth on the Menu

Why Olive Garden should adopt Good Food Principles

“Bumble Bee.” Photo by Alan D. Wilson.

Every meal you eat has an effect on the planet — from the environmental footprint of growing, harvesting and transporting the ingredients to how the people who helped get it to your table were treated. Now multiply that meal by 320 million. That’s how much influence Olive Garden and the other chain restaurants owned by its parent company, Darden, have each year.

Earth Day is fast approaching, so we’re all a little more conscious of improving the environment. But April 22 shouldn’t be the only day we think about how our diets alter the planet. Unfortunately that’s a question most restaurants — even those that claim to care about the environment — fail to ask. For example, Darden’s Citizenship Report focuses primarily on how the company can reduce costs (by curbing water and energy use) in its restaurant operations and achieve zero waste over time while ignoring one of the biggest influences on its environmental footprint: its menu.

With more and more people choosing Earth-friendly diets — which are so often healthier and more humane — we’re shopping smarter, cooking lighter, and eating better. Meat-alternative sales, for example, are predicted to reach $5 billion by the year 2020 and more than a third of consumers are open to choosing plant-based alternatives. Decisions made at the grocery store and our kitchen tables can empower us, knowing we’re making better choices for the environment. And those values don’t change when we walk into a restaurant. That’s why restaurants need to adopt the Good Food Purchasing Principles.

Good food is made with ingredients sourced from producers that reduce or eliminate synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and avoid the use of hormones and antibiotics. It means meals with less meat and dairy, as well as meat- and dairy-free options included on every menu. Good food is also served with justice and dignity by workers that earn fair wages and paid sick time; it supports local economies and meets higher animal welfare standards.

By simply committing to reduce meat and dairy purchases from factory farms and offer more plant-based menu options, Darden would significantly shrink its water and carbon footprints, as well as reduce food waste and improve the health of its menu options. By prohibiting the routine use of antibiotics in its entire meat supply, Darden can play a critical role in turning the tide on antibiotics overuse in the livestock industry, which has been linked to outbreaks of dangerous, drug-resistant germs.

Want to help us take action for the planet this Earth Day? Ask Olive Garden and Darden Restaurants to serve good food and change what’s on their menus. Sign our petition calling for better food and better food practices, and join our social media campaign (#GoodFoodNow). Better food means a better way of eating that’s good for the whole planet.

The Good Food Now campaign is led by a first-of-its-kind coalition of environmental, food justice, worker rights, animal welfare and health organizations that are redefining sustainable food as good for the planet, good for animals and good for people.