At the center of building a more climate-responsive and responsible food system is changing the way we think about “center of the plate” protein. We believe the key to scaling regenerative meat and seafood production practices — those that benefit land and water, advance worker welfare, and treat animals raised for food humanely — relies on harnessing the purchasing power of institutions. To that end, we have focused on increasing purchases of local proteins in institutions as a way to make sustainably raised local proteins affordable and accessible to the vulnerable populations served by schools, hospitals, and senior care facilities.
Through the NW Food Buyers’ Alliance (NWFBA) we’re working with about 80 institutions that serve more than 200,000 meals every day to purchase more local food. But bringing responsibly-raised and sourced local meat and seafood into institutional supply chains can be challenging for a number of reasons, from availability, to cost, to labor.
The resources below were designed with that challenge in mind. Through these and other efforts we are supporting the connections between buyers and sellers that will have ripple effects across the food system:
Animals raised on small or mid-sized farms and ranches in the Pacific Northwest — raised without routine antibiotics and with room to roam outside — is going to cost more (and taste better) than product from industrial operations.
One key strategy for making the math work is to shift toward more plant-based menu items and shift meat away from center-plate. Many culturally-specific cuisines trending in popularity use little meat. Southeast Asian, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and West African cuisines, for example, all use smaller portions of meat and lots more veggies and greens. Less meat on the menu means buyers pay a little more for it and hold their total costs steady.
The other key strategy is to buy the whole animal and use it all. In this model, buyers pay a consistent price per pound, which means less on a per-pound basis for traditionally more expensive cuts, slightly more for traditionally cheaper cuts, and lots of “bonus” items like head, bones, and trim that can be used to create delicious dishes.
The United States has some of best managed fisheries in the world, so a great first step is to buy domestic, wild fish (rather than farmed fish or from global suppliers) and ideally, from fisherman right here in the Pacific Northwest or Alaska. Taking a place-based approach to sustaining wild seafood starts with knowing where your seafood comes from and how your seafood is distributed to you. Shortening the supply chain and purchasing locally harvested product promotes responsible harvesting practices, supports local economies, and reduces carbon emissions.
Members of the NW Food Buyers' Alliance gather for a cooking demonstration of Widow Rockfish and Dover Sole.