Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Eat out AND be green

When I first started the local eating experiment (gee, almost a year ago now), I had to make some choices about what I was and was not willing to do. Would I go cold turkey into eating 100% locally or make gradual steps? Would I allow for any exceptions and if so, why?

In the end, I was able to layout a challenging but accomplishable path (you can read about the "rules" here). One of those choices was to continue to eat in restaurants. My reasoning was simple. Not only is it something that I enjoy, but as someone who tends to be a bit of a recluse by nature, I didn't want an excuse to completely withdraw from society. It's important to me to get out, be with friends and family, celebrate important events, go on dates with my hubby, etc. and I didn't want to tell someone that no, I couldn't attend her birthday party because, well, I'm on this diet. That's too extreme. The eating local challenge for me was about reconnecting to the world, not withdrawing from it. Thus, eating out was on the menu.

Now, that's  not to say that I haven't changed the WAY I eat out. And that's what this post is about. You can still eat out AND be green. Really! 

The first thing I did was to make eating-out a treat. In other words, I quit eating-out every single day at lunch. It wasn't like it was a social event. I would buy lunch and just eat at my desk while I worked. So I started packing my lunch and only eating out when I had someone to share it with. Now, not only have I saved a whole load of money by packing my own lunch, but eating out is a real treat for me and I enjoy it so much more!

Second, I got picky about where I eat, frequenting small local restaurants more often than chains; or if I did visit a chain, I tried to pick a place that was within walking or biking distance to my house so I didn't waste gas or pollute the air by driving the car.

Finally, I started planning ahead. What kind of utensils, napkins, and cups are used at the restaurant I'm going to? Is anything disposable? The photo above is my lunch last weekend at Blue Baker (our favorite local deli). I know that they use disposable cups, napkins, and silverware. So, as you can see, I brought my own. And that salad bowl is made from cheese (Mmm... cheese), so it's totally edible. The only disposable item is the paper sleeve in the tray. Not perfect, but I've greatly improved the situation.  Think you might have leftovers? Bring along some tupperware. Tuck it in your backpack, purse, or just leave one in your car next to those canvas bags you keep on hand for quick trips to the grocery. Seriously, what are we going to do with those styrofoam containers? They are big; they're bulky; and they are destined for the trash. No thanks!

I guess the main point I'm trying to make here, is that the goal is not to be perfect. Rather our objective should be mindfulness. Is it really necessary to eat out every day? How much paper would I be saving if I brought my own napkin? Why do I need a straw? Step out of auto-pilot mode and think about it; discover your own ways to eat out AND be green. It's kinda like having your cake and eating it too. Speaking of which, how about a dessert menu?

Happy (and mindful) eating!


Burbanmom said...

I agree 100%! Perfection is overrated - not to mention all too often impossible to achieve. Mindfulness in our actions is what we should all be striving for!

Great post!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the great tips! Over the past 3 to 4 months, our family has quit eating out all together. Not only is everything more expensive, but our paycheck actually seem to be getting smaller. So meals out is something we have stopped!

EcoBurban said...

Yes, I agree, you have to compromise! You can't cut out everything, making your life miserable. We eat out on rare and special occasions, avoiding chain restaurants like the plague. It makes it fun and enjoyable when it's a treat! You go girl!!

EnviRambo said...

We really don't eat out much as a family, maybe twice a month. But, individually I regularly meet with clients and have meetings over lunch. I hadn't thought anything of it until as of late after reading all your blogs. Now I notice every little detail! All the paper napkins, straws, wrappers on the straws, glass or disposable cups, whether they have paper towels or air dryers in the bathroom, and fast food joints...Oy!

It certainly is about being mindful and aware.

hmd said...

burbanmom - thanks!

bobbi - I can certainly understand that. We've been watching meal prices rise here as well. If it's just two of you, it's doable, but when you have a family, costs escalate quickly and what will the kids eat at the restaurant anyway? Mac-n-cheese? Hot dog? Easy enough just to make at home with less hassle.

eco 'burban mom - eating out was just one of those things we didn't want to give up. There were so many other things we have weeded out of our lives. Of course, we've said numerous times that it would be one of the first things to go if money got tight. We enjoy it now, but keep it in perspective.

greeen sheeep - it's amazing how much goes to waste, isn't it. And really, bringing your own isn't so big a deal. And who knows. Someone might see you, think it's a great idea, and try it themselves. :)

ttammylynn said...

Thank you, Heather. It is so easy to hope that someone else will save the world as you scarf junk food and watch the world go down... You make me think. I like the anti-styrofoam tupperware idea. I hate restaurants because the food is sub-par for the most part. My hubby was a chef and I have been cooking since I was about 5 years old(so 32 years) I occasionally eat at Subway or something because I would rather eat than starve(not that I would starve anytime soon,lol, but I try to eat many times a day--I have lost 50 pounds I needed to lose and small meals are very smart). But, having said that, if I can plan to not eat out, I often do. I take a large thermos of water on my job with me.
We went to Austin the other weekend, I searched the web and found a health food store in Austin. We took a cooler, filled it with ice at the hotel and bought a picnic lunch for Schlitterbahn. My kids are teenagers and they enjoyed the idea more than I did, I think. We aren't a typical family anymore...

Joan said...

By nature, I could stay home and be fine but I need to get out. We were in the mountains last week. It was a college town and has green awareness than some other places. I noticed our favorite bakery uses disposable utensils and plates. It's small and there probably isn't enough room in the kitchen for a large commercial dishwater but they did use Eco Products utensils and plates.

Lisa said...

We have the same thing on our mind today I see. :)

hmd said...

ttammylynn - 50 pounds? That's amazing! Congratulations! We're pretty picky about where we eat too (although unfortunately, neither of us are chefs - do you ever loan him out for cooking???). Anyway, since I know you're local, I absolutely love both Blue Baker and Freebirds - good food and local places.

joan - yeah, I can see why some of these places use disposables. At least the place you found is a little more mindful about it. You did mention bakery, right? What goodies did you get? :)

lisa - what can I say? Great minds think alike!