Sustainability: Is Going Green Where It’s At?

Sustainability. Slow food. Carbon footprints. Local food. Fair trade. These are hot topics currently in the culture at large and the buzzwords du jour of the food community. And with good reason.

People care more and more about where their food is coming from. In 2009, Merriam-Webster added the word “locavore” to their dictionaries, thus solidifying the farmer-fed movement that cuisine pioneer Alice Waters has been advocating since 1971 (when she opened the quintessential sustainable restaurant, Chez Panisse).

If you ask a kid where their food comes from many may say “the store.” But ask “Where does the store get it from?” and the same child will likely look back at you quizzically. Celebrity chefs like Waters and Jamie Oliver hope to change this by teaming up with schools to promote teaching kids about food sources. Waters’ foundation helps a California middle school’s students to farm and cook the food they grow. Oliver’s Food Revolution is all about changing school lunch programs to promote better nutrition as well as food education. And the White House, with First Lady Michelle Obama as their spokesperson, has launched Let’s Move with the goal of raising a healthier generation of kids.

Do a Google search for “sustainable restaurants US” and you will end up with 6 million returned results. Websites like Local Harvest, Organic Highways, and Eat Well Guide allow travelers and locals alike to find restaurants by location or keyword search that assert themselves to be organic or farmer supplied and the like. It’s not just so-called “hippies” who are thinking local, organic, or natural. Whole Foods Markets boasts stores in 38 U.S. states as well as the U.K. and Canada. Whole Foods also has their Local Producer Loan Program investing in small, local products and their producers.

In Denver–where I live–restaurants build culinary clout by not only sourcing food locally (and changing their menus seasonally as a result), but also in managing their own farms like Alex Seidel’s Fruition. Similar places exist in metropolitan areas large and small in Virgina (Alexandria, Roanoke), Indiana (Terra Haute), Georgia (Summerville), Alabama (Birmingham), Texas (San Marcos), Missouri (Springfield), among others. Talk about a revolution–local found is in abundance!

So what will the next trend among savvy restaurateurs be? My money is on the fully sustainable restaurant. If sourcing or growing your own local food isn’t enough for diners (or owners or chefs), then build restaurants out of recycled materials, use all items and generate zero waste, offset carbon footprints, the sky’s the limit! I found this TED talk from London restauranteur and chef Arthur Potts Dawson, whose Acorn House and Water House restaurants feature gardens, compost, non-fossil fuels, and other green elements.

So is sustainable food just a trend? Will it soon be passé, like Asian-fusion or tapas, glutting the market with so much supply that demand will wane? Perhaps, but I somehow doubt it will disappear into obscurity. Because unlike other food trends there is more romance in local food. Exotic and global cuisines are enchanting, to be sure, but nothing pulls at the heartstrings of diners like the quaint idea that one is eating something in the same fashion his or her great-grandparents might have enjoyed.
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