With growing awareness, people are increasingly looking for better and most sustainable food choices. The food we eat has an impact on the environment and our choices can make a big difference. So what is sustainable food? When you dine out, is there a way to choose a sustainable restaurant?
If a chef talks about using seasonal produce, fresh ingredients, grows food, buys locally, works with the local communities – these are all great signs! Here’s how to understand sustainable food and restaurants better:
What is “sustainable” eating?
There are many anchor words floating around in the food industry today that make people think that their food is “sustainable.” But what does sustainable food really mean?
The technical definition includes the ability to be maintained over long periods of time. Factory farming, GMOs, and other agricultural practices that are detrimental to the environment have a negative impact, thus veering away from sustainability.
- According to Sustain, the idea of “good food” is that “it should contribute to local economies and sustainable livelihoods, nurture the welfare of plants and animals, avoid damaging or wasting natural resources or contributing to climate change and provide social benefits like quality food, healthy products, and educational opportunities.”
- Finding locally grown food is also important to this concept because of the impact of transportation on the environment. When food is grown locally and eaten locally it cuts down on this impact.
It is easy enough to find food in a grocery store that is truly sustainable, simply look for a label you trust or find the Rainforest Alliance green frog seal. But what happens when you go out to eat? How can we tell if a restaurant or cafe is serving sustainable food?
What makes a sustainable restaurant?
The US-based National Restaurant Association placed local sourcing, natural ingredients/ minimally processed and environmental sustainability in the top six places of their annual What’s Hot culinary forecast 2016. Also, research by Harden’s Restaurant Guides shows sustainability issues have been a deciding factor in the dining decisions of more than 80 per cent of the UK population.
Sustainable restaurants can be identified by look at three main factors; society, sourcing, and environment.
- First, a socially sustainable restaurant is one that is actively looking to create a welcoming environment. This means that they include healthy options on their menu, have active community engagement, treat their employees and customers fairly and with respect, and use marketing only for clarity and truthfulness.
- A sustainable restaurant sources their food ethically, locally, seasonally, and only uses fair trade goods.
- Finally, environmental awareness is key in finding a sustainable restaurant. Energy and water efficiency, effective waste management, and the use of recyclable materials are all important. Also an awareness of the environmental cost of transportation and other logistics measures is key.
How to find a sustainable restaurant?
Some easy ways to figure out if your favorite diner or cafe practices sustainability is simply by doing a bit of research. Food Made Good has a Diner’s Guide to help find sustainable restaurants in the UK as they rate sustainable restaurants. SRA certification enables diners to sit back and enjoy their meal, free from the chore of engaging waiters in a game of 20 questions about the menu’s back-stories.
The Eat Well Guide is an easily searchable way to find sustainable restaurants in the US.
The most important thing is to be open to trying new spots and being aware of every aspect of food production. It’s not all about ingredients anymore.