By 2015, Bon Appetit plans to source all its pork — currently about 3 million pounds annually — from producers who don’t use gestation crate systems in which sows are confined to spaces so small they cannot move. Likewise, the company plans to purchase liquid eggs — about 11 million eggs annually — from producers who don’t confine their hens to tiny battery cages. The company also intends to eliminate foie gras as well as veal from calves confined in grates from its menus.
“I really believe that everything stems from factory farms. Everything from the issues of safe food to public health to the dead zones in the ocean to what seeps into the waterways. It’s disgusting,” said Fedele Bauccio, co-founder and chief executive of Bon Appetit, in a telephone interview. “I think we now are large enough as a company that we can take a stand and say, ‘That’s it, no more. We’re not going to do this anymore.’ ”
The size of Bauccio’s company is, in part, what gives Bon Appetit’s announcement its weight. Bon Appetit operates 400 cafes in 31 states, serving about 130 million meals a year. It runs cafes at American University, Gallaudet University and Georgetown Law, among other Washington area locations.
“Hopefully, other companies will be behind us and say, ‘Let’s take a stand, too,’ and we can then slowly try to change the system,” Bauccio said.
In 2009, Bon Appetit drafted an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, in which the groups spelled out the exact working conditions and code of conduct expected from growers if they wanted Bon Appetit’s business. The agreement came about after journalist Barry Estabrook exposed the near slaverylike conditions of Florida tomato workers.
“The growers did not step up right away until we boycotted those tomatoes,” Bauccio noted. “Finally, after three or four months, they stepped up and other companies followed us, and we changed the system down there. It’s not perfect but it’s . . . a lot better than what it was.”
Bauccio understands that changing animal agriculture in America will be much harder to do — and will take much more time. It will require, he noted, re-educating farmers and helping them to change their practices. It will also require, Bauccio adds, that companies like Bon Appetit guarantee to buy a set amount of meat from farmers to help support their efforts to move away from factory farming.
Bon Appetit’s goal, the founder said, is not just to source meat, poultry and eggs from producers who adopt certain practices. It’s to purchase meat, poultry and eggs from producers whose entire agricultural systems have been inspected and approved by one of four animal welfare programs: Animal Welfare Approved, Food Alliance, Humane Farm Animal Care or Global Animal Partnership. The company hopes that at least 25 percent of its suppliers will be certified by 2015.
Bauccio wanted “third-party certification, so that people don’t think that it’s just lip-service and I’m making up my own certifications. I want to make sure we have a third party that looks at these suppliers and says, ‘Yes, they meet these standards,’” he said.
“It’s all about animals in their natural behavior. And believe me, I’m not a vegetarian. I like meat and a good steak once in a while,” Bauccio added. ”But I think that during the time that these animals are alive . . . we’ve got to do a better job of what we’re doing before we decide it’s time for them to be our food.”
The founder’s stance on animal welfare is an outgrowth of his two-year stint on the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, during which Bauccio visited many concentrated animal feeding operations and saws how these CAFOs affected the animals, the environment, the workers and the communities around them.
“The light bulb went off in my head and I said, ‘If we’re going to become a sustainable company, we really have to care about these things.’ ”
Bauccio has taken heat from his competitors for his stances in the past, and he expects it again this time.
“Look, they told me I was crazy when I started this company the way I did 25 years ago. . . . I’m not some Berkeley hippie. I do wear a tie and suit,” Bauccio said. “I’m sure they’re going to think I’m nuts [for the animal welfare announcement], but I don’t care. This is the right thing to do. I know it is.”