What is a green restaurant? How can we measure our impact when we go to a restaurant? If we care about our nutrition, we need to start caring about restaurants' food origins too.
The GreenPick wants to emerge you into the definition of a green restaurant , getting inspired from other organizations such as Green restaurants associations in the US for example.Green is what’s notharmful for the environment. But what is an impact on the environment? Do we talk only about carbon footprint? Or does the restaurant have a responsibility in the food processing too? How can a restaurant control its impact?
We started from the beginning. What are the reasons that make you want to go to a restaurant?
Of course, we go to a restaurant for the food. It seems obvious but well, it is also interesting to understand why.
From the taste of the dishes themselves to the way each ingredient is sourced, we love to experience new savor and enjoy something orgasmic – thinking of some fabulous desserts I have tried…mmmm.
But weirdly, we never wonder where the food really comes from.
While a restaurant explains on its menu that the meat is a piece of Angus beef, what do we know about it? We know of course that it is Angus cattle, hence the meat is quite tender and it is from a specie that originally came from Scotland. But the Angus meat is now produced a bit everywhere in the world. From Brazil to Romania, the Angus is everywhere. We go to restaurant for the choice and because we want to taste great products right? But if we care about the origins of the food when we do our groceries, asking for better labels in supermarkets and country certifications, why don’t we even ask a single question at the restaurants?
That doesn’t seem right. Restaurants are educating our palates to great flavors and aroma, but they also should be the leaders in educating us in what is a good product. If I can find organic products that don’t cost an arm and a leg and products that certify a good life for the animals, why can’t the restaurant?
Do we know what we really eat in restaurants? Or do we trust blindly chefs and cooks to use products we would buy ourselves? I don’t believe so. In a world where a better margin is the most important, restaurants try to decrease their costs everywhere they can. So in some restaurants, where you think you eat a fine piece of Angus meat, you would actually eat a piece of beef (which specie can be indeed Angus even if not necessarily as no one would think of asking to check the meat label) that was raised in the US, fed with antibiotics and corn, killed in terrible conditions and processed with so many chemicals to look fabulous and tasty that you would actually not know if it is meat that you are actually eating. This is just an example. But the global food supply chain is vast and complex, with ingredients for simple ready meals sourced from multiple countries so restaurants need to check on their suppliers to make sure they feed their clients with controlled origins. I don’t know if you remember the 1993 Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak, one of the US biggest restaurant scandals, resulting in 35 deaths. You could think that restaurants got their lesson. Well, In October this year, another restaurant served poisoned food to their clients, and they had to close because 22 people got sick. And the restaurant industry has many scandals under its belt.
There are 2 things that seem very relevant to us when it comes to food origins in a restaurant:
- Hygiene and sanitary concerns: there are about 76 million estimated annual cases of foodborne illnesses result from eating in restaurants and other food service operations. I want to know where the food comes from and what kind of products we are putting in our bodies. We can control at home, why can’t we in a restaurant even though we pay greater price for it?
- Values and principles: I want to eat organic and local raised food because my values make me care about the planet and the people. I want to know if the broccoli I am eating was grown with environmental friendly pesticides, hiring locals and treating them decently. I respect the life I am ending by eating a piece of meat or a fish, so I want to know how this life was raised and taken, and if the animal was at least living in decent conditions, because it will be healthier so I will.
The impact the food industry has on the environment is huge (without going into details the food industry is contributing to pollution of air, water and soil, important carbon emissions linked to production but also transportation, impoverishment of many local populations and the rise of new diseases which didn’t exist before). Starting to define a restaurant as green should then start with the food.
This is why we defined as green a restaurant that serves organic food, raised locally and that buys meat from animal friendly farms and seafood from sustainable farming or fishing.
Of course as next criteria comes the waste. It is estimated that just one full service restaurant can create over 2,000 pounds of total disposed waste a week. If this fact is alarming to you, perhaps it’s time to consider how your food establishment can recycle all that waste. The restaurants industry is responsible for more than 14% of the global food waste. So a restaurant that will try to cut the waste or recycle this waste can be seen as greener. Many ways exist to reduce waste, we just wish for all the restaurants to have a real waste management in place. The food waste can be donated first of all. When I was a student, I worked for Pizza Hut in Paris, and I remember that the policy was not to give away the leftovers. We had about 10 pizzas every evening that either people didn’t pick up or made by mistake. But you ” can’t give free food away because people will start begging for food all the time”. But what about giving away to organizations which can be a way to prevent waste and to help people in need.
Water and Energy
After the waste we thought of the water and the energy a restaurant was using. Of course dishwashers, washing machines and all the lighting and appliances, that must consume a lot. Restaurants are the most energy intensive commercial buildings in the United States according to the Energy Information Administration and I guess in the world too. What is interesting is that energy efficiency appears to be a very cost-effective measure for restaurants. A restaurant that has an efficient energy management and manages to save 1$ in energy costs, is equally saving 12.50$ in sales at an 8% profit margin. So being a green restaurant is not only good for the planet but also for the business.
Did you know that usually, because considered too small, restaurants and supermarkets discharge directly into municipal sanitary sewer systems their used waters? No controls on the grease nor other food waste that could be discharged in the water.
Did you know that the water used in hospitality and food service establishments accounts for about 15% of the total water use in commercial and institutional facilities in the United States? Most of this water is consumed for the cooking and the dishwashing processes but 31% of the water used by restaurants also comes from restrooms. So this is why a green restaurant must have efficient energy and water management as this is extremely interesting financially interesting for them but also important for the planet as the restaurant industry represents a very consuming industry.
So of course, to have an efficient energy and water management, it is relatively important to also have facilities that are built-in order to be as self-sufficient as possible. One other criterion is the building itself and its impact on the environment on ecosystems and ecological footprint. The more recent is the building, the better it is in general, but some hotels or resorts are sometimes built, thanks to bribery, in parts of the world where they shouldn’t be built, creating a local ecological disaster. In the Caribbean, besides the damages caused by the tourists themselves, the coral has suffered from massive extinction over the last decades. The reason is mainly linked to the coastal development and the construction and operation of related tourism infrastructure which caused and increased runoff and sedimentation. Sedimentation is one of the main reasons for reef degradation. Increased sediment loading of coastal waters increases turbidity, reduces light levels and leads to stress on corals, usually expressed by “bleaching” of corals. Heavy sediment loading may also cause corals to suffocate and die. This is an example of ecological damage a facility can have by its simple existence to the environment.
Finally last but not least, the pollution caused by chemical usage, disposable and transportation. A restaurant needs to be as efficient as possible about those 3 elements. It should limit its chemicals usages such as refrigerants, extremely toxic for the environment and for us. It should also make sure its suppliers are not located tons of kilometers away and cut the frequency of deliveries. This would be good for the supplier’s budget and for the carbon footprint of the restaurant. And finally regarding the disposable, reducing the plastic and aluminum would be a first step towards a greener restaurant label.
Being a green restaurant is then a combination of those different factors and The GreenPick will check every single criterion in details and report it to you so you can feel fully in control of the way you will eat and how you will eat. Because after all, we all go to the restaurant to enjoy a perfect moment around a great dish, so let’s make sure it is.