Here's an idea that may seem counter-intuitive to you, but it can be argued that eating out in (certain) restaurants is more eco-friendly than cooking at home.
What? Yes, you heard me. Although I am not exactly advocating that you give all your dishes away, there are several arguments that can be made towards leaving the cooking to others.
1. Energy costs - Cooking for a family or, even worse yet, cooking for one is energy intensive. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to bring a single oven up to temperature to heat up or cook something for a few minutes that will feed only a few people. In a restaurant environment, the oven is brought up to temperature and used to cook many items for many people. Keeping the oven at temperature, once it is reached, is not very energy intensive for each additional person added to the mix.
2. Storage - Keeping a refrigerator or freezer well stocked for a family or single person is, again, way more energy intensive that the more efficient large fridges and freezers used in a commercial environment. In addition to energy, commercial kitchens are better managed to make sure that food is better used and in many cases, less food waste from rotten food is incurred. Leftovers are generally sent home with diners and, hopefully, consumed.
Depending on the restaurant (and this makes or breaks the argument), commercial environments generally can have more intimate relationships with local farmers and producers, ensuring both entities long term success in the market. Many farms do not sell directly to the consumer and rely heavily on restaurants to purchase their items. Some chefs or business owners will choose organically or sustainably grown meats and vegetables, further adding to the ecological benefit.
3. Waste - It's also up to the restaurant as to how they deal with their waste. If you are in luck, you will have a few restaurants in your area that have a comprehensive recycling program as well as a comprehensive food waste program. Additionally, some have gone the extra step to recycle all their cooking oil. For the restaurateur, they generally have to pay for these services.
One of my favorite new Ballard restaurants that fits the whole bill, is Austin Cantina. It opened a few months ago and I had the pleasure of getting a personal tour from the chef, Jefe Birkner. Not only do they support local organic and sustainable farmers and producers, but their recycling, food waste and cooking oil recycling programs are to die for.
Austin Cantina goes the extra mile and recycles all their cooking oil through Standard Biodiesel. They also have the full range of recycling picked up as well as paying for food waste pick up (pretty much everything you can think of). Just about the only thing they can't recycle is broken glassware. I hope other restaurants, not only in the Seattle area, but in the country follow this outstanding leadership.
When I first heard this argument, that eating out was more environmentally friendly, I was a bit taken aback. What's your take?