Sustaina-Mini: Restaurant/Take-Out Edition
As much as I love spending time in the kitchen, taking a break from cooking (and the dishes!) and enjoying a meal that was lovingly created by someone else is a real treat! Here are some simple tips to help make your restaurant or take-out meals more environmentally friendly.
1. The BYO Strategy
Many places will allow you to bring your own travel mug instead of using a take-out cup and some places will even give you a discount for doing so! This strategy comes down to pre-planning so that you have your cup (or utensils or cloth napkins, etc.) when you need it. I've failed at this one many times in many different ways, from forgetting my travel mug, to bringing it and then forgetting to use it, to remembering my mug only to find out that a certain place doesn't fill customer mugs, but if I've learned anything through these misadventures, it's that having a clean travel mug in my car or bag at all times makes me way more likely to use it!
The word refuse makes me picture a customer being handed plastic cutlery or ketchup packets with their take-out meal and shouting "I refuse!" as they push the items away or fold their arms across their chest. Perhaps this strategy should be renamed "politely decline" or "just say no thank you" but then it wouldn't fit so well with all the other Rs (reduce, reuse, etc.). Wording aside, there are many common items that you may not need when getting food to-go, such as napkins, plastic cutlery, straws, and individually packaged condiments - especially if you are going to be eating at home or if you have brought everything you might need with you.
3. Eco-Friendly Containers & Packaging
If possible, find food joints that offer eco-friendly containers/packaging (ideally compostable or at least recyclable) or that have reusable container programs in place such as Friendlier. With Friendlier, take-out food comes in high quality plastic containers that customers return to select locations for sanitation and re-use. There is a deposit fee that is returned to the customer when they drop off their containers. I'm so glad we have this program in Kitchener-Waterloo and I was surprised to see that they are in so many cities in Ontario (GTA, London, Hamilton, Collingwood, etc.)!
Reuse take-out containers if possible, recycling them only as a last resort. We have amassed quite a collection of plastic take-out containers that we use to hold craft supplies or to store food in (i.e., single meals, granola bars, muffins) when giving it to others. It's nice having some containers that we can give out without worrying about getting them back!
5. Choose Local & Organic
If possible, find out which restaurants in your area use local and/or organic ingredients, and choose them more often. Not only does this benefit the planet and your local community, food also tastes best when it's fresh!
6. Choose Meatless or Less Meat
Meat production has quite an impact on the planet, which is one of the reasons our family has been reducing our meat consumption over the past few years. One of the easiest ways of experimenting with vegetarian or vegan foods is to try different restaurant or take-out dishes. If you find something you love, you can try to re-create it in your own kitchen! If you find something you're not crazy about, at least you didn't put a lot of effort into preparing it. Some of our favourite meatless take-out meals include Indian curries, Middle Eastern dishes (i.e., falafel plates or wraps, especially from Arabesque) and tempeh "bacon" breakfast sandwiches (especially from Cafe Pyrus). When the craving strikes, Beyond Meat burgers are pretty delicious too!
It goes without saying that preparing food at home is probably the most eco-friendly option, but I think everyone deserves a night off every now and then, or a little me-time to sit in a cafe and ponder life over a delicious latte, with or without a cute dinosaur* companion.
*Cafe Pyrus uses toy dinosaurs as table markers instead of boring table numbers. So fun! Also, that splotch of coffee on the table? Yeah, that was me being clumsy as I tried to capture the moment and knocked my cup over.