Restaurants Get Environmental Ethics

Apr 20, 2007

By Bernice Hurst, Managing Director, Fine Food Network

One thing many small business owners often share is a determination to create a business matching their core values. Although they certainly want to be profitable, their strong personal stake provides an opportunity to do the right thing.

Good intentions, however, are not always enough. Allegra McEvedy, co-owner and chef of Leon restaurants, a London chain of five restaurants that has items such as organic porridge and ‘superfood’ salads on its menu, points out the difficulties trying to provide relatively cheap meals while sticking to an environmentally friendly menu.

“We have to pick and choose our battles,” Ms. McEvedy told the Financial Times. “It’s hard to find the time to research more sustainable ways of doing business.”

Ms. McEvedy feels that support in the past has been lacking and has become one of the founding members of a new network of small restaurateurs in the U.K. trying to increase the number of ethically-traded ingredients used in kitchens.

Ethical Eats, a group established by London Food Link – a division of the food and farming charity, Sustain – has started bringing together restaurant owners to discuss how they can make their supply chains more environmentally friendly and how they can educate diners to ask questions about what they are eating. The network will meet several times each year to discuss issues affecting the restaurant trade such as ethical sourcing of ingredients, dealing responsibly with waste and putting sustainability at the heart of catering training. Farm visits and other educational trips will also be organized.

“It’s amazing how little support there has been until now for chefs and restaurateurs who care about the environment,” Ms McEvedy added. “I cannot stress what a difference Ethical Eats will make by helping us and other like-minded businesses get the right information and advice and meet the right people – in short, by just being there to help. Having this as a resource to draw on is an all-round good thing for any caterers with a conscience.”

Caroline Bennett, founder of Japanese sushi chain Moshi Moshi, tells the Financial Times she would also like to change some of her suppliers, and welcomes the formation of Ethical Eats.

“Most people care hugely … they just don’t know how to go about getting their supply chain better,” she explained, pointing out that the likes of Tesco and Sainsbury’s have a clear advantage over restaurants because they can afford to “throw money” at the issue.

Charlotte Jarman, project officer for London Food Link, believes that while consumers have become more particular about what they buy in supermarkets, checking food labels to see where and how goods are produced, they are less proactive when they eat out. “People don’t want to be seen to be making a fuss,” she said.

Discussion Questions: With households in both the U.S. and U.K. spending more on eating out than eating in, can ethical practices in restaurants teach lessons and influence the way people shop for food and cook at home? How should food retailers respond?

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2 Comments on "Restaurants Get Environmental Ethics"

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Al McClain
Al McClain
15 years 26 days ago

As we approach Earth Day, one of the things that has always bothered me about the restaurant business is the incredible amount of waste. While each restaurant and class of restaurant is different, there has got to be a better way of getting leftovers to soup kitchens, and/or composted or whatever rather than simply throwing things away.

Walking through Manhattan late last night, there were bags of trash on the sidewalk in front of every restaurant and an entire dumpster full of shredded lettuce, of course in plastic bags, in front of one.

Mark Lilien
15 years 25 days ago

As Ms. McEvedy points out, it’s harder for price-sensitive customers to use eco-friendly, sustainable practices. It wouldn’t be easy for fast food restaurants to stop using plastic foam containers unless the majority of the big chains agreed to do it all together. Al McClain commented on the huge waste created by restaurants. Maybe businesses should pay a 100% sales tax on garbage pickup. Would that be enough of an incentive to cut down the waste? If it wasn’t, it might help balance the government’s budget anyway.


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