1. Environmental Sustainability:
Food should be sourced from producers that employ sustainable production systems that reduce or eliminate synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and avoid the use of hormones and antibiotics. Food-service providers should serve less meat and dairy and ensure that meat- and dairy-free options are included on every menu.
Darden’s environmental sustainability efforts as outlined in its Citizenship Report focus primarily on how the company can curb water and energy use (and thus reduce costs) in its restaurant operations and achieve zero waste over time. While these are important steps, ignoring what’s on the menu — and where it comes from — dismisses one of the biggest influences on the company’s environmental footprint. Darden must build on its efforts to reduce energy, water use and waste in its restaurants by setting equally specific goals and benchmarks for its food supply chain, particularly for its supply of meat and dairy products. Regarding antibiotics, Darden follows the Food and Drug Administration’s ineffective voluntary guidance, which still allows the continued routine use of antibiotics in the feed and water of animals that aren’t sick.
By committing to reducing meat and dairy purchases from factory farms and offering more vegan menu options, Darden would achieve meaningful reductions in its water and climate footprints, as well as reducing food waste and improving the health of its menus. The company should:
- • Track the environmental impact of meat and dairy reductions
- • Offer more organic and sustainable food
- • Adopt specific environmental stewardship objectives for its food suppliers
In addition, 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 responsible for outbreaks of drug-resistant germs.
2. A Valued Workforce:
Food-chain workers and producers must be provided with safe and healthy working conditions and fair wages throughout the entire supply chain, from production to consumption.
Darden’s CEO recently told shareholders that nearly 60 percent of the company’s workforce is part time, despite reports from Darden workers that they’d prefer to work full time. Maintaining such a large part-time workforce is commonly seen as a business strategy to avoid providing benefits. In addition, many Darden workers make poverty wages — some as low as $2.13 per hour. On the supply-chain side, Darden has been linked with producers accused of unhealthy working conditions and extreme mistreatment of workers.
By adopting this Good Food principle, Darden would guarantee a fair wage for its entire workforce, end its use of the subminimum tipped wage, offer more opportunities for full-time employment and provide earned sick time for all employees. Darden must also set contractual standards for worker conditions in its supply chain and provide specific information as to how it will work with its suppliers to guarantee an end to abusive conditions. These changes would demonstrate a real commitment to the wellbeing of workers and address poverty in its communities.
3. Support for Local Economies:
Food purchases should prioritize small and mid-sized agricultural and food-process operations within the local area or region.
Darden claims to care about community, but as long as its employees aren’t paid fair wages and restaurants like Olive Garden don’t support other local businesses, the communities in which Darden restaurants are located will continue to struggle. To provide meaningful, long-term benefits to the community, Darden must pay living wages and increase food purchases at fair prices from local and regional small- and mid-scale producers.
By committing to source 20 percent of its food locally and regionally, Darden would increase opportunities for small-scale food producers, contribute to local and regional economic growth, reduce its carbon footprint, provide fresher food, protect precious farmland, and support a more resilient food system. Darden would also attract more customers, since people are increasingly aware of the value of locally produced food.
4. Health and Nutrition:
Food offerings should promote health and well-being by including seasonal fruits and vegetables, using whole grains, and reducing salt, added sugar and red and processed meat.
Darden’s nod to good nutrition is focused on a set of modest targets, such as creating at least one children’s menu item that conforms to nutritional targets while continuing to serve sugary drinks. Although the company has set goals for reducing overall calorie and sodium content on its menus, it hasn’t addressed the high sugar, cholesterol and saturated fat content of many of its meals.
By committing to serving healthier options, including generous portions of fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains, Darden can create fresh, delicious dishes that help tackle the childhood obesity epidemic and other diet-related health concerns. Darden should work toward making all of its kids’ meals healthier. Many other chains — like Burger King, Applebee’s and Jack in the Box — have already removed sodas from their children’s menus.
5. Animal Welfare:
Meat and dairy suppliers should provide healthy and high-quality care for livestock that is certified by third-party organizations, including Animal Welfare Approved, Global Animal Partnership (at least step 2) and/or Certified Humane Raised and Handled.
Darden claims to ensure that the “Five Freedoms” are protected throughout its supply chain (freedom for farmed animals from hunger and thirst; discomfort; pain, injury and disease; and fear and distress, as well as freedom to express normal behavior). Yet Darden provides little information about how these freedoms are provided and claims that sows have room to move around in gestation crates, a confinement method that severely restricts movement and that many of Darden’s competitors have phased out of their supply chains.
By meeting the realistic goal of third-party animal welfare certification for at least 20 percent of its meat and dairy, Darden will attract a growing number of consumers concerned about the humane treatment of animals. As part of its commitment to the Five Freedoms, Darden should also purchase 100 percent of its eggs and pork from producers who use cage- and crate-free production, using quantifiable standards and independent verification.