Got a lot of blackberries? Then check out this recipe for Blackberry Mojito Fruit Leather.

I'm not a huge fan of fruit leathers, but this turned out super good! And, really, you can't go wrong with blackberries, mint and rum.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Is eating out more eco-friendly?

Dining outHere'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.

Chef Jefe, poster chef and sustainable restauranteurOne 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?

25 comments:

Kim said...

what about when factoring in transportation costs? If you walk, or bike to the restaurant, obviously the impact is nil...but...

Otherwise, I totally buy it.

equa yona(Big Bear) said...

Good point Kim. you do have to go to the grocery, co-op, market whatever, but you can make one trip for a lotta days. But as you say otherwise it makes sense- but it sure isn't frugal. Now to find such a joint here.
Ah, if only we all lived in Seattle.

Jay Andrew Allen said...

The most eco-friendly way to cook is to combine a restaurant and a private residence and cook communal meals in a co-housing environment. Cohousing complexes use as little as half of the energy of individual homes.

DC said...

I think it's important to support locally owned restaurants, particularly those that use local, organic food and have a commitment to sustainability. Even if you have to drive to get there, do it anyway -- there are many benefits that offset the environmental cost of driving to these types of restaurants. Not only are you are supporting local farmers and organic production, you are helping to take the community in a new, positive direction. The more people who eat at places like Austin Cantina, the more incentive there will be for others to follow this business model in their restaurants. We need to support people and businesses that are helping to create the kind of world in which we want to live.

jewishfarmer said...

I think this is one of those "how do you draw the circle" questions. For example, my solar oven is a heck of a lot more energy efficient than my local restaurant's propane (we don't have gas lines out this way). Are you driving to the restaurant? Working more hours to pay your credit card bill? Doing what?

The reality is that there probably isn't a single one-size answer. And yes, supporting local restaurants that engage in good environmental practices is usually a good idea. But it is also worth noting that it is probably possible for most of us to lower our personal usage to match or beat what a restaurant will use. They can't wash their dishes in cold water - they have to take a truck to the farmer's market, but we can take our bikes.

It really isn't an easy question to answer, but I'm glad you are raising the questions.

Sharon

Ashley said...

Okay, I'm totally going out to dinner here tonight: http://christophers.biz/

Mmm...Vegetarian chili and their homemade veggie burgers. Plus, fair trade coffee!

MamaBird said...

Interesting post -- I love to cook and used to argue about this when I was a young whippersnapper with a coworker who ate out for every single meal. In reality, I'm pretty light green so I think unless I challenge myself more and more not to waste food, to reuse all of my leftovers, to source responsibly, then an eco-conscious restaurant probably kicks my butt. However, it wouldn't be feasible for me to eat out all the time. What I do love to do is to support local restaurants whose mission matches my own, like Hook and Agraria and Nora Restaurant in DC (sustainable fish, farm to table, local + organic).

Jennifer said...

Interesting. It makes a LOT of sense... especially having WORKED in restaurants for a number of years.

However, in general, my wish to have "NoWaste" draws me to eat in 95% of the time. Food eaten out is virtually always laden with fat... even things like spaghetti with red sauce, which at my house would be fat free have 15 grams of fat at a restaurant (actual restaurant example).

While a restuarant can certainly make my food more efficiently, I can make my food MUCH more healthily. I haven't met a restaurant yet that cooks without fat like we do... and we already know what expanding waistlines are doing to the environment. :)

Greenpa said...

What we have here is the slippery path to... (gasp!) "situational ethics". It would be lovely to have clean cut dogmas that are always correct. The irritating reality is that in Case A; Factor 10 outweighs Factor 12, so the "correct" answer is Yes. But in Case B- it may be the other way round.

Hopefully we can cope. Another reason to eat out sometimes is here

Oldnovice said...

Ah, if only we all lived in Seattle.

Yeah ... this won't be coming to North Texas any time soon.

Cute distraction there, Greenpa - Support ME! Support ME! Heh.

Residential cooking uses so little energy (especially microwaving)that, IMO, there's NO WAY that eating out would use less if you include the energy involved in transportation of y'all, the food involved, etc. [You got all YOUR food from your backyard, right?] That said, I don't think any of us need a "green" excuse to eat out on occasion any more than we need a "green" excuse to have sex.

Tara said...

I was going to bring up the same point Jay already did. I'd love to move to a co-housing situation. It seems to make so much sense.

LL said...

Having worked in the restaurant industry for many years, I would be VERY skeptical that restaurant dining is more eco-friendly than eating in. Granted, I didn't work in the eco-friendly type of places you mention, but the amount of waste in your average restaurant is unholy. Nothing can be served that is not perfectly attractive and at the optimum temperature; food which is poorly cooked or prepped is tossed. If it goes out to the wrong table and someone else breathes on it, it's tossed. The massive amount of disposable gloves, aprons, hairnets, straws, staff drink containers, to-go silverware, straws, cooking oil containers, etc. would make you sick, even if it is being recycled. Your leftovers must be boxed in a disposable container for you to take home. My point is, that when you go out to eat you are paying for 1. convenience, 2. speed, 3. attractiveness, and the eco-friendliness of a given meal must of necessity be sacrificed to meet these objectives. If you have access to an eco-friendly, local eatery (which we do not here in Louisiana), it might be worth asking some questions of the proprietor about what goes on in the kitchen and goes into the dumpster.

Green Bean said...

Interesting post. I guess it depends on the restaurant, where it is located and how you get there. I will say that we frequent a favorite eatery that specializes in locally grown, vegan deliciousness. I think it important to support places like that, to encourage other restaurants to serve more responsible food plus it gives me great ideas on what to cook. ;-)

arduous said...

You know I was JUST thinking about this over the weekend! I think like others have mentioned, that it's important to patronize restaurants that are committed to local, organic food. But obviously it isn't feasible for most people to eat out more than once in a while. It's just when you do splurge and eat out once in a while, you should do so guilt free! (Provided you are going to a restaurant with sustainable practices as opposed to Applebees.)

Robj98168 said...

At last! I am JUSTIFIED in my kitchen gadget addiction! Using a broiler oven takes less energy than warming an oven, using a toater oven will do the same. I love my Showtime rotisserie - For my birthday we had roast beef- I cooked three roast beefs at one time and it only took 75 minutes, with no pre heating! And when I get my SOlar oven_ No stopping me babe!

novemberjuliet said...

While I was reading this I was going to suggest that we all eat at composting Cupcake Royal...but I have missed this new restaurant opening! Better get in before those new condos fill up and there are still seats available.

kelli said...

Oh, say it isn't so. I want to believe that a simple meal prepared with local food at home is as good as it gets. Well, there goes my dogmatism (again). Fortunately, we do have some eco-friendly restaurants here in Gainesville, althought maybe not quite on the same par as those in Seattle. This was interesting. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Another way to make home cooking less energy-intensive might be to make it all at once, no? Fire up the oven once on Sunday afternoon and make your lasagna, bread, etc, for the whole week while some soup simmers on the radiated heat. Or make a big pot of soup to last 3 days. I'm told microwaves use little energy for reheating (but that's probably debatable, just like anything else). You only need to reheat what you'll actually eat at that moment, not the whole thing (if you have a dish that'll work for 3-4 days, say). For chilly storage in wintertime, put the pot or the tupperware in your garage--no need to make the fridge work....

Of course, the cooking-in-bulk option works best in a small household!

Anonymous said...

It's getting expensive. I've been eating every meal out for the past couple of weeks because I'm selling the house and do not wish to dirty the kitchen.

May be time to try the raw food diet.

Chile said...

Anonymous, we had a house on the market for 7 MONTHS. No way could we afford to eat out that whole time. Just clean up as you go and wash/dry the dishes immediately after meals. Make sure your realtor knows to give you a call before bringing someone over. That 15-30 minutes gave me time to get everything picked up and showroom ready (and we were in a large house at the time).

Erikka said...

Wow! Thank you for finally taking the opposite side in this discussion and showing their are even other values of eating out than simply supporting local business.

oakling said...

this just reminds me of how happy I was to find out that dishwashers use less water than I do washing dishes by hand :)

N. & J. said...

I think that some restaurants are eco friendly but they are more likely to be small local ones that would purchase their produce, meat etc from local economy versus a large chain that probably has all their food shipped in from goodness knows where.

N.

http://badhuman.wordpress.com

Laura said...

I think it is not more eco-friendly if it leads to one being uninterested in or not knowing how to cook. Cooking is fun! Beyond that, getting into the kitchen and experimenting with making my own yogurt, cheese and bread has led to me seeking out local vendors for veggies, milk and meat.
We should be getting back in touch with every aspect of the food we eat, not farming it all out to even the most eco-conscious restaurant.

Now. I am not saying that I won't/don't eat some meals out. Dining out is fun too! I am just saying that it is not, shall we say, a silver bullet sustainable solution.

Amy in Tacoma said...

Deanna, did you know that according the web site, Austin Cantina is: "CLOSED. Austin Cantina was not able to survive the economic downturn.

The Restaurant is closed and vacating the space at 5809 24th Av, Seattle."

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