Dining out may not be the most socially-conscious, environmentally-sound practice. After all, you can be more careful about sourcing, cooking practices, composting, and recycling at home. That doesn't mean there aren't things you can do to make eating out more socially conscious.
According to the Green Restaurant Association, 48% of the average American food budget is spent on dining out. Eating at Certified Green Restaurants is one way to dine responsibly. The Green Restaurant Association lists more than 150 restaurants across the country that they've certified as "green." Some of the most interesting and high-profile restaurants might surprise you.
You can also encourage restaurants to be more environmentally conscious. How? Leave comment cards or email them encouraging them to "go green" if they already aren't. Standards they need to comply with include water efficiency, recycling, using sustainable building materials, serving sustainable foods, efficient energy use, disposables, and attention to chemical and pollution reduction.
Not so interested in activism, but want to still be environmentally conscious while dining out? Curious about things that more often than not aren't going to get in the way of your dining experience? Read on for some of the best tips on the web culled from the Green Restaurant Association, Tree Hugger (that's right), and Bon Appétit.
Deciding Where to Eat and Getting There
• Transportation: Take public transit, carpool, or walk to dinner.
• Support Local Green Restaurants: Find neighborhood restaurants, bakeries, butchers, and markets serving fresh, sustainable, organic food by using sites like eatwellguide.org.
• Portions and Courses: According to the Green Restaurant Association, many restaurants report 25% of food ordered is wasted. Think about how hungry you really are when ordering.
• Become a Locavore: Eating food that has been produced nearer to you cuts down on your food's carbon footprint. You may have heard a 100-mile radius given as a guideline. That's because typically it enables you to still vary your diet. It does however, require knowledge about local farms and restaurants that feature their goods. The site 100milediet.org can help with that.
• Consider Environmental Impact: Order menu items lower on the food chain. Chicken has a lower environmental impact than beef. Sustainable seafood has a lower impact, and vegetarian and vegan dishes have the lowest.
• Sustainability: Make smart seafood choices whether you're eating sushi or whole-grilled fish. Carry a guide, or download an app on your phone to a sustainable seafood site like the Blue Ocean Institute or The Monterey Bay Aquarium. A lot of people choosing wild-caught, sustainably-raised fish a little at a time can make a difference.
• Eat Grass-Fed Beef: Grass-fed cows are said to be healthier than animals whose diets are corn-based. Removing them from feedlots also helps solve waste-management and contributes to fertilizing the soil.
• Eat Tofu: Eating soy helps conserve water. Rearing livestock requires water for them to drink, to grow their food, and for cleaning after them. According to Bon Appétit, If you replace one pound of beef with tofu each month, in a year you'll save 20,000 gallons.
• Tap Water: Skip bottled water. Drink tap. And ask about the tap water. These days, some restaurants even filter their own water.
• Support Local Winemakers: With wineries abounding across the U.S., local winemakers are never that far away. Aside from well-known wine-making areas like California, Washington, Oregon, you'll find vineyards with growing reputations in Virginia, Arizona, and Long Island.
• Take Leftovers Home: Bring a re-usable container and ask your server to pack your leftovers in it. It reduces the restaurant's waste and doubles as a trick to help you lose weight and save money. Box half the meal once it arrives, or ask the waiter to box half of it before it ever even gets to your table. Half the calories. And with the leftovers, there is such a thing as a free lunch.