I just got back from the Fast Casual Executive Summit in Dallas, an annual meeting of restaurant execs who bring fast casual dining experiences to busy Americans everywhere, where I dished with them on putting a green sheen on mealtime.
The good news is that many of these CEOs were super interested in bringing more sustainable food to diner’s plates-which is why they invited me to come and speak with them, and I was grateful for the chance to share my message.
With nearly half of every food dollar in this country being spent on food prepared outside the home, bringing more restaurants into the discussion of eco-friendly, sustainable eating is critical to transforming the collective State of Our Plate.
So what did I tell them? The gist of my message was this - premium eating is no longer about massive amounts of cheap, over indulgent food, but food that is delicious but for you and the planet-ecologically honest food that people can feel good about supporting. And contrary to popular belief, healthy food isn't bland, boring, pallid stuff that reminds one of twigs and gruel-it’s bursting with flavor, vitality and the power of Mother Nature’s pharmacy to help you feel and look your best, starting today.
While I hope to help several restaurants in the months to come put a greener sheen on what they’re dishing up, here are six simple steps YOU can take, starting right now, to be sure your next meal out helps you tread more lightly on the planet in every sense. Call it a Green Plate Special.
6 Ways to Put a Green Sheen on Your Next Meal
1. Pack your plate with plant foods.
Did you that roughly 50% of an average person’s “food footprint” comes from the amount of meat and dairy in their diet? So the key to leaner, greener eating is to pack your diet with plant foods, and use meat/animal products in smaller amounts. Better yet, choose a vegetarian option and discover some of the amazing flavors from healthy lean and green cuisine around the world.
2. Choose a Green Certified Restaurant.
Log onto www.dinegreen.com and find one of the thousands of certified green restaurants from across the country-these restaurants have followed a rigorous protocol to slash their environmental impact while still serving up delicious fare. You’ll also find tips for dining green, plus info on how to encourage your favorite chow spots to get certified by the Green Restaurant Association.
3. Order the Right Portion
For years, mega portions were thought to attract diners and create “value” for consumers. But portion bloat leads to two things: Belly bloat (it sets you up to over indulge in way too many calories) and carbon bloat (bigger portions of everything require more energy use to bring to your plate), neither of which is very pretty. It also creates something else-food waste .Did you know roughly 26% of all food in this country is thrown away as food waste? The reason this is a double whammy for the planet is that food waste, when it hits the landfill, doesn’t just “break down back into earth”, (which is what I used to think), but rather it breaks down and releases methane, which is 23X as powerful a warming gas as carbon. If your favorite eatery still insists on dishing up mega portions big enough to lose your firstborn child in, ask them to offer smaller portions.
4. Bring Your Own To Go Box
Eliminate one of the big sources of resource use-all that packaging-by bringing your own to go container to bring home leftovers with. Can’t be bothered? Then refer to Tip #2 and be sure to tailor your order to be sure you don’t need one. Food packaging and to go containers are resource intense to make, and often spend centuries in landfills before breaking down. Even the new wave of eco friendly ones, while definitely an improvement, still aren’t as green as eliminating the need for them in the first place.
5. Check Your Sustainable Seafood Pocket Guide
Be choosy about the fish you choose-this will not ensure your seafood choices is a greener catch, but will help keep YOU healthy and reduce your risk to environmental toxins too. As I wrote about in my last newsletter-you can get this vital info on your mobile, by text, iPhone, or website, or even pick up a guide at your local seafood counter (or aquarium). Visit the Montery Bay Aquarium website to get started. Don’t see any sustainable seafood on your fave restaurant’s menu? Start asking them to carry it, and try to patronize restaurants that do support sustainable seafood.
6. Skip the bottled water
Bottled water is 2000X as energy intense to bring you as tap water-and is not as strictly regulated for purity to boot. Tell the waiter to bring you plain ol’ tap water-or if you’re at a fast casual bring your reusable water bottle and fill up with water from the soda fountain. An added bonus? This one will also start saving you green immediately too, as few people realize they pay more for bottled water than they do for gasoline. While sipping zero calories is a great strategy for getting lean (because liquid calories don’t register with your brain, so you don’t cut back on food), remember that zero calories doesn’t always mean zero impact.
Got other ideas? I’d love to hear them.