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National Restaurant Association - Monterey sustainability event draws celeb chefs, features NRA's Sweeney

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Monterey sustainability event draws celeb chefs, features NRA's Sweeney


Protecting our food sources and ecosystem are of paramount importance to everyone, especially those individuals who serve the foodservice industry, Dawn Sweeney, president and chief executive of the National Restaurant Association, told attendees during the recent Monterey Bay Aquarium 2012 Sustainable Foods Institute in Monterey, Calif.

The sustainability event was held May 18-20 at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Monterey Plaza hotel, and focused on several topics ranging from financing sustainability to the demand pressures upon aquaculture production to the problem of food waste.

Sweeney addressed sustainability, healthful food trends and the way consumers are changing the way they order and dine at restaurants, during a panel discussion with renowned chef-author Rick Bayless and moderator Russ Parsons, food editor for the Los Angeles Times. She noted that many restaurant patrons are not only seeking more ways to conserve the earth's resources, but also foods that are more healthful and better for them.

She discussed the NRA's Conserve Sustainability Education Program and how the program can help restaurant operators adopt sustainable best practices at their operations inexpensively and with ease. Both she and Bayless noted that the road to sustainability is best performed in incremental steps, something Conserve espouses, she said.

"At Conserve, we encourage our members to talk about what they are doing to become more sustainable in terms of energy saved, water conserved and so on," Sweeney said. "Sustainability is not a destination; it is a journey. We think restaurants can continuously make impactful and measurable changes at their businesses to become more sustainable."

During the presentation, Sweeney also talked about the NRA's Kids LiveWell program, which seeks to inform parents about nutritional items on kids' menus at participating restaurants throughout the country. To date, 96 restaurant brands and more than 25,000 locations have signed on to participate in the program.

"The association created Kids LiveWell to encourage and showcase more restaurants offering healthful children's menu options," Sweeney said. "It's exciting to see a program like this grow with such momentum. It has the potential to impact so many meals and so many lives in a positive way."

She likened the NRA's Conserve efforts to those of the Kids LiveWell program, saying, "Kids LiveWell is an indicator of how we think our efforts in an area such as sustainability can also work. Restaurants are about options - a menu of options, if you will. ... Through education and choice, we think [both programs] can lead to more options and better choices."

Pictured top right, from left: The NRA's Dawn Sweeney, moderator Russ Parsons and renowned chef-author Rick Bayless

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