Shake Shack, one of the most popular fast food chains in the US, has recently made a surprising change to its menu. Instead of using the typical soybean oil to fry its burgers and fries, the company is testing a new cooking oil made from sugarcane plants at two of its New York City locations. The new oil, produced by Zero Acre Farms, claims to be more environmentally friendly than other vegetable oils. But how much does the cooking oil matter for the planet?
The Problem with Soybean Oil
Soybean oil is one of the most widely used oils in the food industry. It is cheap, versatile, and has a high smoke point, which makes it ideal for deep-frying. However, soybean oil also has a high environmental cost. According to earth.org, 77% of all soy crops are produced for animal feed, which is related to meat production, a major contributor to climate change. Soy production also requires a lot of land and water, and often leads to deforestation and biodiversity loss.
The Benefits of Sugarcane Oil
Zero Acre Farms, the company behind the new cooking oil, says that its product is made from “rain fed” sugarcane plants, which require 99% less water than olive oil and 87% less land than canola oil. The company also says that sugarcane is a perennial crop, meaning that it can be harvested multiple times without disturbing the soil. This reduces soil erosion and carbon emissions.
The company claims that its cooking oil is healthier than other vegetable oils as well. It says that its oil has a high smoke point, which prevents the formation of harmful compounds during frying. It also says that its oil has a balanced ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for human health.
The Impact of Fast Food on the Environment
The fast food industry is known for its negative impact on the environment. According to a report by FAIRR, a global network of investors focused on sustainability issues in the food sector, the fast food industry is responsible for three key environmental problems: land use, water consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions.
The report says that the fast food industry uses 75% of all agricultural land in the world, mostly for animal feed and grazing. It also says that the fast food industry consumes 10% of all freshwater resources in the world, mainly for irrigation and livestock production. Finally, it says that the fast food industry emits 37% of all greenhouse gases in the world, mostly from animal agriculture and transportation.
The report urges the fast food industry to adopt more sustainable practices, such as reducing meat consumption, sourcing ingredients from local and organic farms, and using renewable energy sources.
How to Choose the “Right” Fast Food
For consumers who care about the environment, choosing what to eat at a fast food restaurant can be a difficult decision. There are many factors to consider, such as the type of meat, the origin of ingredients, the packaging materials, and the cooking methods.
One way to make an informed choice is to look for eco-labels or certifications that indicate that the food meets certain environmental standards. For example, some fast food chains offer organic or vegan options that are certified by third-party organizations. Another way is to use online tools or apps that provide information on the environmental impact of different foods and restaurants.
However, these methods are not always reliable or available. Sometimes, consumers have to rely on their own judgment and common sense. For example, they can avoid foods that are deep-fried or heavily processed, as they tend to have more environmental impact than foods that are grilled or steamed. They can also opt for smaller portions or share meals with others, as this can reduce food waste and greenhouse gas emissions.
Shake Shack’s Experiment Could Be a Game-Changer
Shake Shack’s pilot program to use sugarcane oil in its fryers could be a game-changer for the fast food industry. If successful, it could inspire other fast food chains to follow suit and switch to more sustainable cooking oils. It could also raise awareness among consumers about the environmental impact of their food choices.
Shake Shack’s Senior Vice President of Supply Chain and Menu Innovation Jeffrey Amoscato said in a press release that the company is “continuously exploring new ways to reduce [its] environmental footprint, including partnerships with companies like Zero Acre who are creating sustainable food solutions.”
The company has not announced when or if it will expand the use of sugarcane oil to other locations. However, it has received positive feedback from customers and employees who have tried the new oil. According to The Takeout, a food website that visited one of the pilot locations, the new oil did not affect the taste or texture of the food.
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