Maisie Ganzler of an eco-friendly catering company answers Grist’s questions
What work do you do?
I’m director of communications and strategic initiatives for Bon Appétit Management Company.
How does it relate to the environment?
Bon Appétit is an onsite restaurant company committed to socially responsible practices. Our café and catering services feed about 200,000 people every day in corporations, colleges and universities, and museums. What sets us apart is that we pay close attention to where the food we serve comes from and its environmental impact. We also work closely with environmental and animal welfare groups such as Seafood Watch, Environmental Defense, and the Humane Society.
What are you working on at the moment?
We just wrapped up our second annual Eat Local Challenge. This is a day where all 400 of our cafés serve a meal made completely of local ingredients. We always feature local items on our menus; our Farm to Fork program requires that our chefs purchase a minimum of 20 percent from local farmers. We normally combine the local items with more conventionally purchased ingredients, but for the Eat Local Challenge, every part of the meal must come from within a 150-mile radius of the kitchen. For example, if cheese is served, the cows and the artisan cheesemaker must both be local. The event was a huge success — fun for our chefs and educational for our guests.
This year, we also converted to cage-free eggs and continued our work on sustainable seafood.
How do you get to work?
I used to be the poster child for public transportation. I now, unfortunately, live in an area where driving is my only option for getting to work. I am an avid weekend cyclist, however.
What long and winding road led you to your current position?
With parents who work in the social services, I rebelled and went into the business world. However, the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree: I’ve combined my professional ambition and personal ethics by working for a company with a strong social conscience.
I first learned about Bon Appétit when I was looking for my second job out of hotel management school at Cornell University. I wanted to work for the company so much that I was willing to join in almost any capacity. I started in 1994 as an employee services coordinator. At that point, our social responsibility was more covert. When my experience and confidence grew, I began focusing on the bigger picture, making strategic recommendations and ultimately creating a communications department to put a public face on our sustainable food sourcing and green business practices. By working closely with Fedele Bauccio, our CEO, and Marc Zammit, our director of culinary support and development, I’ve been able to help make Bon Appétit a model for what is possible in the food-service industry.
Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I grew up in Santa Cruz, Calif., and now live in Los Gatos, Calif.
What has been the worst moment in your professional life to date?
After my first 18 months, I left Bon Appétit to join a start-up restaurant company. I wasn’t sure that a company in a mature industry such as food service was the right place for me. By the end of my first week, I knew I had a made a mistake. I realized that it wasn’t the industry that had been holding me back — it was my own false perceptions. I saw that there was actually enormous possibility to think creatively at Bon Appétit. Our ethical business practices are the perfect example of how a mature company can be innovative and find completely unique ways to operate. I had also severely underestimated the value of working for a corporation with clear vision and strong leadership. I was very happy when they let me come back. I’ve now been here for almost 12 years and truly appreciate the opportunity to reinvent the meaning of institutional food service.
What’s been the best?
In 1999, we had what we call a “crisis of flavor.” Food didn’t taste the way we remembered it tasting. Many of us have childhood memories of eating a tomato like an apple. All of a sudden, tomatoes were mealy, flavorless things that you would never think of biting straight into. What happened? The agricultural system had changed. Food was grown to be shipped, not to taste good. As a company of culinarians, we knew something had to be done differently. We created our ground-breaking Farm to Fork program that year, mandating chefs buy as much food as possible from local producers. Cutting down on the distance our food was traveling meant that we could buy delicate heirloom produce harvested at the peak of ripeness. It also meant reinvesting in our communities and decreasing greenhouse-gas emissions from transportation. In 2004, we rewrote our Bon Appétit mission statement to formally incorporate our commitment to socially responsible practices. This was recognition that the way in which we produce our food — not just how it tastes — is a fundamental part of our business model. That was a very proud day.
What environmental offense has infuriated you the most?
Growing up in coastal California in the 1980s, offshore oil drilling was a looming threat. James Watt was Reagan’s secretary of the interior at the time and made innumerable ridiculous comments about the environment. I remember feeling shocked that I, at age 11, had a better grip on the issues than the man whose job it was to protect our environment.
Who is your environmental hero?
Jennifer Dianto, program manager for the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, has worked tirelessly to save our seas. She has crisscrossed the country speaking to anyone who would listen about the state of our oceans. By opening our eyes to the impact of our purchasing decisions, she has forever changed the way we do business at Bon Appétit. She showed us how much power we wield and how to use it for positive environmental change.
What’s your environmental vice?
Definitely my car.
Read any good books lately?
I just read Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach. It brings new meaning to the idea of recycling.
What’s your favorite meal?
Vietnamese barbecue lemongrass beef over cold vermicelli noodles — I love the combination of the hot meat, cool noodles, and crunchy bean sprouts. Plus, I have an undying need for Vietnamese fish sauce — please don’t tell me the fish they use to make nuoc nam is on the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch “Avoid” list. Actually, I think it is made from anchovies, so I’m safe.
Which stereotype about environmentalists most fits you?
I’m a bleeding-heart liberal.
What’s your favorite place or ecosystem?
The underwater world. I just came back from 10 days of snorkeling in Fiji. That was pretty amazing.
If you could institute by fiat one environmental reform, what would it be?
I would have food carry its actual cost — the true cost of production, which to me means a fair return to farmers, living wages for farm workers, and the reflection of the environmental impact of farming and transport methods. All of a sudden, local organic produce would look like the bargain that it is and processed foods full of empty calories would be prohibitively expensive.
Who was your favorite musical artist when you were 18? How about now?
My musical taste is surprisingly steady (or I’m just stuck in a huge rut). Then and now, the English Beat. It doesn’t hurt that lead singer Dave Wakeling is a supporter of Greenpeace and Heal the Bay. Gotta love a rocker who is trying to clean up the oceans.
What’s your favorite movie?
Which actor would play you in the story of your life?
Ashley Judd. C’mon, a girl can dream, right?
If you could have every InterActivist reader do one thing, what would it be?
Buy a share in a CSA (community-supported agriculture). That simple act would support our small farmers, decrease the carbon footprint of food miles, and ensure that we all eat fresh, great-tasting, healthy vegetables.
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