07 August 2008

dining out responsibly

It's sometimes difficult to discern which restaurants are serving up sustainable dishes and following eco-minded practices. I know of a few great restaurants around the city that are doing there part by keeping cuisine local and organic, like Franny's in Brooklyn, Candle Cafe and Candle 79 on the Upper East Side, and Counter in the East Village.

But how do you know if a restaurant in your area is helping you eat with a clear conscience? Enter the Green Restaurant Association (GRA). Their mission is, simply put, "to create an ecologically sustainable restaurant industry."

Seems like a reasonable goal. So why was it that when I did a search in NYC for restaurants, it only returned 16 results? According to nycvisit.com there are 18,696 eating establishments in this city. Surely, it can't be that less than 0.1% of dining options here are sustainable. Well, of course that's not the case. The GRA is continually expanding their database, and in order to be listed, a restaurant needs to apply. (Side note: I also noticed a bit of a glitch in the system -- when searching by city, there was a choice of NY, NYC, or New York. They all turned up different listings located in the city.)

Don't see your favorite restaurant on the list? You can encourage them to join by leaving a GRA-supplied suggestion card (just print it out and leave it with your bill).

How can a restaurant become a Certified Green Restaurant (TM)? Here are the guidelines:

  1. Use a comprehensive recycling system for all products that are accepted by local recycling companies.
  2. Free of polystyrene foam ("Styrofoam") products.
  3. Commit to completing four Environmental Steps per year of membership.
  4. Complete at least one Environmental Step after joining the GRA.

Other sources for sustainable dining:
  • VegDining.com -- Find vegetarian restaurants in your area
  • The Great Green List -- Among other things, has a small but growing list of green restaurants
  • DineGreen Store -- Supply source for those in the restaurant biz
  • Eco to Go -- A list of take-out joints in NYC letting diners opt out of disposable utensils and such by simply saying "Eco to Go" with their order
  • Slow Food USA -- The movement started in Italy, but it's spread here to the delight of stateside foodies

evo: a great source for everything eco

Lately, my short-term memory has been a little fried. This is especially true when I'm surfing the interweb -- I often can't remember how I got to a particular site or page. On most occasions, I'm looking for sustainable ideas, news, products, etc., so you'd think it would be easy to retrace my steps. Not so -- believe it or not there are a multitude of resources out there for the environmentally conscious.

One great resource I stumbled upon is evo. It's a comprehensive and customizable source for all things eco-friendly. They've got this fun tool for customizing the site: you answer survey questions about your daily habits (I'm a sucker for surveys), then as you answer questions a virtual tree grows more and more leaves. That is, of course, if your habits are green leaning. Once you're finished with your tree, evo gives you suggestions on how you can live even more sustainably, based on the questions you answered in the survey.

If you're not into surveys or customizing the site, you can just browse for products and tips through the various categories. From clothing to travel, they've rated over 2 million products.

Try evo out here.