Toward a Deeper Understanding of “Eating Locally”

Each September, Bon Appétit teams across the country gear up for Eat Local Challenge, a celebration of local ingredients, and the farmers and artisans who produce them. Since 2005, when Eat Local Challenge first occurred, the event has perhaps been the foremost expression of Bon Appétit’s philosophy of Food Service for a Sustainable Future – a way bring attention to local food systems by sourcing and serving 100% local meals to the delight of our guests across the country.

Now, nearly two decades on from our first Eat Local Challenge, the concept of “eating local” is celebrated almost universally. The farm-to-table movement is no longer a niche sub-genre of the culinary world. Farmers’ markets have sprung up almost everywhere, and conscious eaters have embraced the idea of seasonality, and knowing the people who produced their food.

As the concept of eating locally has gone mainstream, Bon Appétit has sought to go beyond simply buying local food from local folks, to re-thinking the way that our Farm to Fork program can have broader impacts that support sustainability, social justice, and community resiliency.

Across the country, Bon Appétit teams have taken a holistic approach to creating “foodsheds” – diverse regional networks of farmer and artisan suppliers that benefit from Bon Appétit’s long-term purchasing dollars. More than just buying seasonal products here and there, many of our teams now work with producers to intentionally plan product purchases over a particular semester or school year. By committing to purchasing all of a particular crop that a farmer can grow, or to showcasing an artisan’s product in a retail location, Bon Appétit teams provide stable, recurring revenue to Farm to Fork vendors, ensuring that they can accurately calibrate supply to demand.

By offering predictable purchases, our teams help to ensure the viability of small farms and artisan businesses, increasing the resiliency of local food systems. And supporting small food enterprises is more important than ever. With the average age of American farmers hovering at around 57 years of age, more farmers will be aging out of the profession, and it’s critical to ensure that viable economic opportunities exist so that younger farmers to take their place.

By taking an intentional approach, Bon Appétit teams have sought to go beyond a nominal commitment to local sourcing, to a holistic approach that puts our values – and the values of our clients – into action. So, when guests enjoy all-local menus during this year’s Eat Local Challenge, they will be participating in one part of a complex web of positive interactions that builds resiliency in their local food system.