Labels such as “healthy,” “organic” and “green” are rarely used to describe the meals served in most corporate cafes in Silicon Valley. But one Los Altos foodservice company under its pioneering leader, Mary Clark Bartlett, is out to change the way employees eat.
On a recent day, Maxim Integrated employees streamed into Cafe Rio, joining the fast-moving lines to order house-made sustainable albacore tuna niçoise, local organic brussels sprouts gratin and grass-fed roasted tri-tip with wild mushrooms.
Above the bountiful salad bar, a poster exhorted diners to “Go Greener!” Signs for “Recycling,” “Compost” and “Landfill” urged employees to dispose of their leftovers responsibly in the appropriate bins. Lunches were served on china plates and chefs filled to-go orders in compostable containers, including compostable utensils and recycled paper napkins.
Epicurean Group – a sustainable foodservice management company headquartered in Los Altos that serves corporations, universities and government and fine-arts facilities throughout the Bay Area – manages Cafe Rio and 39 other restaurants and cafes.
“Our goal is to improve the food system – and people’s lives – by changing one environment at a time,” said Bartlett, the company’s founder and CEO.
After founding the company on environmentally and socially responsible principles, Bartlett and her team have been turning principles into practices for more than a decade.
“We buy products that eliminate greenhouse gases and encourage the growth of organic farms and ranches, sustainable fisheries and artisan producers,” she said.
More than 125,000 pounds of waste annually has been diverted from landfills, largely thanks to a co-op that Bartlett established in 2010 for GreenTown Los Altos. The GreenTown Co-op supplies compostable takeout containers to Bay Area restaurants, cafes and schools from Napa to Monterey, participating in a larger statewide plan to achieve zero waste. Membership is free at greentownlosaltos.org/programs/business-co-op.
Because of the large volume that Epicurean Group purchases through the co-op, the compostable products are now available to co-op members at the same cost as inexpensive noncompostable materials like plastic and expanded polystyrene foam (EPS).
“The GreenTown Co-op is an important part of our mission to lower our community’s water and energy use and to reduce waste,” said Mike Barnes of GreenTown Los Altos. “When we started the co-op, our goal was to eliminate EPS take-out containers, which will be banned in Los Altos starting July 4 this year.”
Epicurean Group’s commitment to sustainability goes beyond compostable containers and extends to the food. Using local, in-season fruit and vegetables avoids the energy required for food transportation and storage. Serving grass-fed beef is not only more healthful, but also carries a lighter carbon footprint, because it doesn’t use fertilizers, pesticides and fossil fuels to produce and ship the grain used for feedlot cattle. Seafood is purchased following the guidelines established by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program.
Bartlett said she is proud that Epicurean Group was among the first food-service companies to be certified as a Bay Area Green Business.
Trained as a chef and recognized as a sustainable food-service thought leader, Bartlett recently received The Chef’s Association of the Pacific Coast’s Antonin Carême Medal for her environmental education and advocacy work. Former director of nutrition at the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, she is passionate about healthful, sustainable food and responsible environmental behavior.
Bartlett serves on the leadership team of the local chapter of the global Slow Food movement.
“I see Mary as a crusader, helping to educate the Bay Area about sustainable food and waste reduction,” said Margie Suozzo of GreenTown Los Altos. “She’s generous to a fault and has contributed so much to GreenTown Los Altos and to our community.”
Bartlett plans to continue to educate clients and the public about the value of local food and the importance of waste reduction, recycling and compostable takeout containers.
“I have a vision of a new, sustainable food system, one that provides food that’s good for our bodies and good for the environment,” she said.
Michael McTighe is chairman of GreenTown Los Altos. For more information, visit greentownlosaltos.org.