Dining out is one of life's absolute pleasures and privileges, especially as more and more local, organic cuisine is peppering the culinary scene. Restaurants are a key part of our culture -- think celebrations, business meetings and first dates and it's crucial for us to eat off of greener menus (I am not simply referring to a leafy salad).
I find my own palate has changed as I stick to my own set of eating-values. I now want slow food (but sometimes when I'm out with all three kids, not too slow) and organic menus supporting local food providers. In fact, I'll drive across the city for it (because there are but a few gems). I try to counteract the un-eco-ness of the travel in as many ways possible and hope that as we all demand more, there won't be a "green restaurant" category, and it'll be the standard because it just makes sense for all of us.
Sample and savour the following ways that you can easily dine al-eco and continue to adapt as many that are right for your unique palate.
1. Check, Please! Before you make a reservation or choose where to dine, check out what the restaurant offers in terms of ingredients, menu items and eco-aspects. Ask if they use reusables, including cloth napkins and tablecloths. If you currently frequent establishments that use disposables (plastic cups for condiments and coleslaw), suggest that they switch. Also, when you are seated, take a good look around and see if anything jumps out at you...do the kids have styrofoam cups? Are they giving out paper, throwaway menus? (If so, share one.) Taking a moment or two to think ahead will most likely save some trash (and cash) in the long run and don't think it's unreasonable to ask -- those raised eyebrows may get others to think your way also.
2. W(h)et Your Appetite. We are fortunate in Toronto to be able to drink tap water. It used to be that one would be considered cheap when saying "just tap, please" rather than ordering a fancy (read: rip off) bottle of H20. Now, you'll simply proclaim yourself an eco-hero. There are many restaurants that now offer their own filtered water. But, don't let your glass be filled if you are not going to drink it... There's no sense in wasting our precious resource. When you refuse a glass (and explain why if you can), it might just get the restaurant and those sharing your table thinking about conserving also.
3. Don't Suck. How many times have you seen drinks get served where the swizzle sticks and straws immediately get removed and put down on a plate or table? I'm disappointed if I forgot to remind the server to NOT use a straw. Even those compostable ones are a waste and take our precious resources to manufacture. If you really need a straw, buy reusable ones.
4. Confucius Says: Refuse. Did your dessert come in a little plastic wrapper? How about those wood sticks? Bring your own reusable chopsticks or refuse them and stick to eating with your fork (also an easy way to avoid sloppy chopstick technique from being noticed). Pass on the fortune cookie knowing that we're all more fortunate that you did.
5. Skip That Joint. For health reasons you should skip the fast food line altogether, but if you must, don't take the ketchup and mustard packets, the disposable napkin, the straws and the outer bag that gets trashed immediately. Health concerns aside, eating at a fast food joint is one of the quickest ways to create unnecessary waste.
6. 'Tis the Season If you see fresh strawberries or asparagus on the menu in December in Toronto, you can be sure they weren't just picked in Ontario. Locally grown, organic foods are better for you and the planet, and arguably taste better. Everything has an impact, but give into your cravings -- you are out after all, just choose the most sustainable option you can - lots of veggies trump red meat!
7. Kids Are People Too. Why treat your kids differently? We all tell our kids that life isn't fair, but a restaurant is one place your children should be treated as adults. Avoid those kids' menus (read: crap). If they are too young to drink from a glass, bring your own from home and don't take those plastic cups with lids! And then there are the crayons, why are they considered disposable? Twelve million Crayons are made each day in the USA which equals about 120,000 pounds of petroleum based product. Applause goes to Crazy Crayons in the USA who has been recycling over 73,000 pounds of unwanted crayons into new ones!
8. Stay Out of the Doghouse! If you plan on taking something home, take your own reusable containers along with you. You'll start a trend -- trust me. Don't over-order food and your waistline and wallet will thank you because whether the packaging is styrofoam (arghhh!) or is compostable, it's still waste.
Now that you are full from these ideas, your new table manners should make you a little lighter and a lot greener. I hope you'll enjoy sitting down for your own "trash" talk with your friends and family. Bon Appetit.
Follow Lisa Borden on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lisaborden