Chick-fil-A's Eco Contribution

Chick-fil-A is America’s favorite fast-food chain.

In the United States, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, Chick-fil-A is the most popular fast-food establishment. As the apex predator for the third consecutive year, Chick-fil-A rose to the top of the food chain by delivering quality service, good sandwiches, and living their Judeo-Christian values.

Whether some may disagree with the values they preach or are just upset that Chick-fil-A is closed on Sundays, Chick-fil-A has a rapport for garnering national attention to promote target messages that relate to their core principles. This led Waverly — an enthusiast for all things Chick-fil-A —to speculate more about another more subdued message.

“Is Chick-fil-A suggesting that eating chicken, as opposed to cows, is better for the environment?” —Waverly

Not only does the iconic Chick-fil-A mascot (read: cow) suggest that consumers “Eat more chikin”, but there is a lesser well-known environmental truth attached to those words. In 2014, the National Academy of Sciences answered this particular question by stating “beef” was worse than “chicken” when considering the carbon emissions of greenhouse gases for the environment.

Further, the study focused on the environmental impact of chickens and cows on land, air, and sea. Specifically, the survey focused on greenhouse conditions — the same conditions oft-cited when discussing our planet — and the nitrogen burdens required in the United States. The study concluded that beef is 10x more damaging to the environment than any other types of meat, including chicken. However, the verdict is more difficult to uniformly apply since the mitigating factors are harder to calculate. Especially, when considering the agricultural industries carrying capacity to switch from beef to chicken or vice versa.

In addition to former Truett Cathy’s claims that he applied God’s principals to Chick-fil-A operations, Chick-fil-A still is working on improving their current environmental standards to diminish its environmental impact. So what’s the issue?

Questionable Chicken Ethics and Dicey Involvements with Factory Farmed Chickens Plague Chick-fil-A

In 2014, Chick-fil-A announced they would no longer use chickens that were raised with antibiotics. Their ambitious plan had a five year time frame. Historically, to place this plan into perspective, the firm created an annual 282 million sandwiches — equating to 141 million birds — in 2010. So the 2014 transition, truly, is a paradigm shift.

When considering the role of factory farming, however, these birds are kept in poor conditions even if antibiotic use was excluded. Dirty, cramped, and with little space are commonplace for these birds. As many of our readers may know, antibiotics are added to livestock to simultaneously prevent disease and increase growth. In the National Public Radio’s most recent broadcast, “Finite”, their was discussion that this practice of liberally injecting antibiotics into livestock is detrimental to bio-security for humans as pathogens become more resistant with each use. Lastly, in 2016, they announced their mission to source 100% of cage-free eggs in the next 10 years — another ambitious plan we will be sure to verify in 2026.

So How Successful Was Chick-fil-A?

After the five year mark for Chick-fil-A’s “No Antibiotics Ever” commitment, the firm proudly reported that upwards of 80% of their chicken supply is raised without antibiotics. A remarkable step in the right direction. By December of this year, Chick-fil-A will attempt to convert that figure to 100%.

While Truett Cathy has made bold claims in the past, maybe his words were not too far fetched? The firm has made changes to become more environmentally sustainable while still maintaining its ability to compete and succeed with near-peer competitors. When considering all the factors, it is impressive. After all, Chick-fil-A is a fast-food chain reliant on chicken.

Mor Than Chikin’

Chick-fil-A has a few other goals on the topic of environmental sustainability. Specifically, they primarily focus on the four areas listed below.

  1. Sustainable new restaurant development

  2. Reducing energy and water consumption in existing restaurants

  3. Sustainable supply chain

  4. Cup recycling

Right now, the firm is working towards the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) gold standard. This is an internationally recognized green building certification system and, notably, gold is the highest attainable certification. Presumably, the gold standard indicates that a building is actively consuming a fourth less energy and generates 34% less of greenhouse gas emissions than previously.

For Chick-fil-A, they are planning to launch their firm’s first test kitchen in Fort Worth, Texas! For other existing restaurants, the goal is to reduce energy usage and water consumption by reinstalling more efficient utilities — including lighting, refrigeration, and water faucet restrictors. Further, when considering the supply chain, the firm is working with suppliers to establish more green-friendly changes. Lastly, Chick-fil-A claims that its use of foam cups are recyclable, whereas some plastics are not. While one maybe the lesser of two evils, neither can be wholly acknowledged as “great”. Notably, foam has many documented challenges with recycling.

Chick-fil-A is not a perfect model for environmental sustainability. However, the changes that it and other fast food chains or companies are committing to making (and actually following through) are and will make a significant substantial impact. Kudos to the firm for working towards a better future.

Soy Crops and Subsidies

Soy is a core crop in our modern world.

Globally, soy is heavily subsidized by the government and consumed in vast amounts. When consumed in moderation, soy has a two-fold effect. It helps to spare animal lives and it also offers potential health benefits. (McCue & Shetty, 2004). In particular, vegans are huge fans because no animals are harmed or killed in the process of soy production. However, underlying these surface advantages, soy-lovers must face the hard truth of its severe environmental impact.

Deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest

Soy is the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest. (Brown et al., 2005). The high demand for soy has led to an uptick in production. In other words, this drastic increase in consumer demand for soy is at the cost of the Amazon. Sadly, the Amazon is undergoing massive deforestation — at an astonishingly high rate — to make more land available for soy. Additionally, soy production has a negative impact on the biodiversity of the rainforest. (Fearnside, 2001).

Unfortunately for the Amazon, deforestation and depletion are embedded into its rich history. Interestingly, deforestation rates resulting from soy production are similar to deforestation rates resulting from cattle farming. One of the reasons for this is that soy is used to feed “pork, poultry, and dairy cows,” and is also used in the production of bio-diesel and vegetable oil. This finding is alarming for those who consider themselves plant-based foodies and, especially, if those plant-based foodies are seeking to make significant environmental change.

Adding onto the list of negatives, indigenous people are being displaced as a consequence of the Amazonian deforestation. Again, the consumer demand for the soy crop is in such a high demand, therefore, this causes deforestation to occur at a, simultaneously, high rate. To emphasize, this again leads to indigenous people being kicked off their lands at a high rate.

While it is intuitive that the food we buy (read: agricultural industries we support) have environmental implications, we do not often realize the humane implications as a result of our purchases — they are, truly, nothing short of eye-opening.

Plant-Based Diets?

When people choose to transition to a more plant-based diet, it is common for them to purchase meat alternatives to facilitate the diet change. Luckily, there are a large number of companies that produce meat alternatives to support vegans, vegetarians, or the occasional Meatless Monday practitioner. However, we must be wary of these alternatives as many of them are made with soy. One of the many reasons that people may choose to change their diet may be to reduce their impact on the environment. However, if individuals with this goal are doing so by consuming meat alternatives laden with environmentally-taxing soy protein, they are not achieving their goal!

As mentioned in an earlier post, eliminating animal products from our diets is a huge step towards sustainability. But, we must also be wary of the amount of soy that we use as replacements for the animal products that previously existed in our diets. So, instead of going to the store and purchasing the latest meat or cheese substitute--which is most likely made with soy--consider buying some sort of non-soy legume such as black beans, lentils, or chickpeas which will still provide protein without sacrificing the health of our planet.

Non-Digital Sources:

  1. Brown, J.C., Koeppe, M., Coles, B., Price, K.P. (2005). Soybean Production and Conversion of Tropical Forest in the Brazilian Amazon: The Case of Vilhena, Rondônia. AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment. 34 (6).

  2. Fearnside, P. (2001). Soybean cultivation as a threat to the environment in Brazil. Environmental Conservation,28 (1), 23-38.

  3. McCue, P., Shetty, K. (2004) Health Benefits of Soy Isoflavonoids and Strategies for Enhancement: A Review. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 44:5, 361-367

Polar Society

If you love Polar Bears, you may want to check out the Polar Society.

Polar Society is an apparel company founded by Geovana Flores and Joanne Wong. When they first started, in 2008, the two conducted research and discovered that the polar bear was listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) specifically because of the projected effects of climate change on their habitat. As you may recall in our earlier articles, there is significant precedent that climate change is real and environmental stewardship is a necessity.

“There needs to be a reduction of gas emissions in order to prevent the declines in polar bear population.”

—Geovana Flores & Joanne Wong of the Polar Society

Polar Society’s apparel brand is “not only fashion forward[,] but provides a means to improve the current natural habitat for polar bears and their preservation.” With every purchase, Polar Society donates a part of their profit or proceeds to organizations that “support polar bear conversation and habitat preservation.” Clearly, both Geovana Flores and Joanne Wong are inspired about how to be activists in a consumer-based economy. They are inspired, simply, by both preservation of the polar bears as climate change worsens and are concerned about the future generation.

Success for the duo is a work in progress. Each time the company is able to donate part of their profits to Polar Bears International is something they consider a success. In January 2019, the company donated $300 to the cause! This is fantastic! Further, the love and positive optimism they have received from customers or with their brand ambassadors is what helps them keep their focus, according to the owners.

Parting Thoughts

When asked what are a few things that everyone should know, they said… eat less meat, use energy efficient light bulbs, turn off electric devices when you’re not using them, walk, ride bicycles or take public transportation whenever possible. Not only are there immense benefits to you health, but these simple ideas have benefits psychologically too! So, be sure to get out there and save the world with one small decision at a time!

If you want to learn more, check out their website or follow them on Instagram at @polarsociety!

Katie Nation: Vegan Nation

Be Vegan AND a Foodie!

Why can’t vegan food satisfy those midnight-snack, craving, taste buds?

Meet Katie Nation, a 26 year old professional, who knows how to cook up a storm in the kitchen! Not only does she love good food, but she seeks to share her vegan recipes with her hungry followers. Her hungry followers include those who just begun or haven’t even started their journey with veganism to those who are fully immersed vegans with years of experience. Her content is great which is why she has amassed a strong follower.

“The future is vegan.”

When Counter Current interviewed Katie, she was adamant that veganism is not a cultural shift that will happen over night, but rather a slow transition. However, that transition has started. While most know that processed meats like bacon are not healthy, other types of meat may shock you. Like plain chicken breast? Katie can still recall how shocked she was when she learned more about the meat and dairy industry. Not only were these products not environmentally sustainable, but they were not as healthy as most people had assumed. Despite her past blindness, Katie is convinced that people are starting to catch on as veganism becomes less of a fringe issue and more mainstream. Unfortunately, the gradualness of this ‘enlightenment’ is too slow for her. She wants to help others realize how preconceived notions may not always be correct, especially when it comes to the meat and dairy industries.

“Since the meat and dairy industry does such a good job of masking the true ugliness of it, people don’t see it’s a very cruel industry. Profit rules all — profit to these companies is more important than your health, your safety, the environment, and the lives of innocent animals.”

After Katie made this claim, we did some research and we found that there is truth to her statement. Meat and dairy are linked to various chronic diseases such as inflammation, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and type-two diabetes. In particular, milk has been linked with the onset of dementia, conducted by one study. Further, animal agriculture is the leading cause for climate change, and this needs to be slowed down!

If the apparent negatives outweigh the positives, why do we continue to consume meat and dairy in such large volumes?

Habit patterns. We, as a society, have established cultural norms and whenever norms are established it is harder to shift away from them — even if they are wrong. For example, a majority of people in the 1700s may express slavery is wrong despite partaking in the system. Similarly, whenever a person makes a choice the person must consider the outcomes. Katie is helping us realize the consequences of our actions through sharing vegan recipes. Despite juggling her work in marketing and going back to school to become a nutritionist, she still finds time to live her values. This is a practice we encourage. To her, a successful life and life for her company is one dedicated to those values.

“There is no trophy at the end of the finish line, so you have to focus on what feeds your soul and keeps you going.”

This year she plans to set up a blog website to further share these ideas across the world. So, go support Vegan Nation to help you make eco-conscious choices and eat yummy food! Thanks so much and it was fantastic to have you!

“With just a little knowledge we can make a world of difference…”

Disclaimer: This is not an endorsement of veganism, rather an informational interview meant to expose the reader to a different perspective.