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[This is a worthwhile topic - thanks for starting it, Eric. I think we should do the opposite: a list of restaurants that focus on *sustainable* foods. It will be *much* shorter, and people can get into depth about the hows and whys. We should also link to the discussions we've had on what, exactly, "sustainable" even means, or if these don't contain adequate info, let's start a conversation about that, too. Don't be disappointed or surprised if this turns out to be quite a short list; also, know that a restaurant can "care" without devoting their very existence to this (Chix comes to mind), so these places should be mentioned as well, and what they do, and how they do it. Ben's Chili Bowl and their sustainable energy credits, for example. Restaurateurs should feel free to chime in about any and all efforts they make regarding this important subject that so many people merely pay lip service to. We have several members who are experts in this very subject, and I'll email them and alert them to this very thread. *This* is a prime example of why I like to know what people do - so I can write them and alert them to things that directly relate to their lives (in case people haven't noticed, I've been sending out a *lot* of very personal, private messages to folks lately - if you've gotten one, you're by no means alone. I'm trying to get to know our members better, even if it's only virtually. Please don't be creeped out if you do get one of these messages - they're going to many people.

One other thing: this thread will probably end up in News and Media unless it becomes restaurant-specific.]

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When dining with my in-laws we dine at a lot of chains. They don't care if the salmon is farmed (in fact they prefer it) or if the vegetables are glowing in the dark from all the pesticides.

I order mussels almost everywhere we go with them if they are on the menu. I think it was Dean Gold who pointed out to me that farmed mussels are almost always done in a sustainable way. And you would be surprised--you can get mussels almost everywhere these days. Bonefish Grill--two appetizer orders of mussels is enough for me and the boy.

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BY their nature, almost all farmed shellfish is sustainable as they filter so much water. I know of no shellfish farming were there are environmental concerns due to the shellfish itself.

In Tomales Bay, CA, there are oyster farms sitting in what are reclaimed wetlands and the government is not renewing their leases. But that is a matter of restoration, not sustainability.

Sustainability is a difficult concept to actually define. Neither local nor organic insure sustainable.

In fact, industrial scale organic is quite often similar or much worse for the environment than conventional. Horizon, Organic Valley, Muir Glen, Earthbound Farms and Cal Organics are, in my opinion, not worth buying and unsustainable despite being organic. Organic in name only is not virtue.

Local farming can easily be sustainable when the farmers use low input methods. If you don't add imputs to the cycle of life on your farm, then chances are you are doing it right. Biodynamic is more or less sustainable by its nature, its just that certification means burying cow shit and doing other things that have no seeming mechanism for doing anything beneficial for your output. But it as it is useless, it is also harmless. It would be nice to see organizations define certification for biodynamic that eschew the mumbo jumbo of the founders of the movement.

The biggest issues for sustainability to me are:

how is the waste product handled? Farming is a shitty business and concentrating the waste product as high intensity farming does is clearly detremental. However there are issues on small farms in Pennsylvania with waste handling and PA is trying to wrok with these farms to reduce the issue. In a rather adversarial fashion unfortunately. But the second biggest cause of the bad health of the Chesapeake Bay is farm runoff. Home runoff of overused fertilizers is the number 1. So green lawns and Purdue chuicken are the real culprits {Neither of which I have!} Waste from commercial hi intensity feed lots have been implicated in antibiotic resistent bacteria that is getting deadlier every day and in the rendering useless of more and more antibacteria.

How are soil loss issues handled. Tilled bare soil creates erosion and downstream water issues. The clar cutting of the fiorrests in Northern California required roads to be built. When the trees were gone, the large lumber companies abandoned the roads thru the device of having each small plot of land being "harvested" by a separate corporate entity and then when the income stream dried up, having each entity declare bankruptcy before the roads were restored. The result, the loss of huge recreational and commercial fisheries as well as the damage to the eco tourism business that equaled 10 times teh value of the lumber harvested. Not farming, but a glaring example of how bad erosion can be. Industrial farming has reduce 90% {according to some, 60-70% to others} .of the top soil it took since the last great ice age to produce, all this since the 1920/30's.

Economic impact. I am a fan of Joe Stiglitz and his work on income inequality. I believe that industrial agriculture adn the resultant concentration of the agriculture world has been a driver of income inequality. I believe, and this is my personal belief, that this is an unsustainable model.

Hypocracy: I also believe that we live in a time where truth and critical thought are in short supply. So when McDonalds starts a from the farm campaign, it bother's me that it isn't ridiculed off the airwaves in a few minutes since all food today basically starts from the farm. But by the time that beef becomes a McKingdy's burger, so much has been done to it that to call it food is laughable. Eat Fresh? not at any of the large fast food options But so too is it bad when the Sysco truck delivers conventional beef, processes foods and corporately manufactured food to a restaurant that touts itself as farm to table. When a top restaurant says that it supports local farms and stresses how important its relationship to farms, and in reality it has IBP beef and Smithfield Pork and endangered, red listed fish species in house and on its menu, well.....

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I had a conversation recently in which I was told that the organic vegetable farms that are in the Chesapeake watershed are very detrimental to the Bay because the conventional farms do no-till and have very little runoff, while organic farms till and send enormous loads of sediment into the water. Mr. lperry and I talked about this issue on the drive home: do we choose our health or that of the environment, and at the same time, the two are so intertwined that it feels like there are no clear answers. On top of what we see with food choices in stores, there is a set of buzzwords that restaurants throw out there, however, apart from USDA Certified Organic, it's difficult to know what they really mean because there are no standards for "local" or "sustainable" or even "farm to table." Without some sort of standardized terminology and policing, how can the average consumer really understand the impacts of her choices?

In the meantime, we will continue to dine by lightning bug light on the deck chez lperry, where a large percentage of the food is grown organically on site, and runoff of any composted materials is controlled by a hand-laid brick edging. ;)

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So, who are the good guys, Dean?

Our system is so corrupt and so out of whack that it is hard to say. What is considered acceptable is so unacceptable that you are face with buying the least worst of the lot. So I thry and avoid hypocracy and avoid Trader Joes and WFM whenever I can. They can an should know better. I buy a lot from H Mart and other Oriental groceries. Buy your meats at teh farmers market and use your freezer. Look at Red Apron, Jamie Stachowski etc.

I shop almost exclusively at Farmers Markets and eat only seasonally. I do boy onions, potatoes {Idahos only}, carrots & celery, citrus and herbs conventionally at Restaurant Depot. Either I can't get thee items from local sources or theprice differential is too ruinous. We are not perfect in our buying, but we are very conscious when we draw the line.

Take potatoes, I have not found a local russet or tastes that cooks like a commercial Idaho russet. Since Tuscan potatoes are a huge part of their cuisine, either I leave a huge hole on the menu or just hold my nose and buy them. But I am 99% local {if I run out on a thursday and the next market I can hit is a Saturday, I will sub but disclose. Have not done that in over 2 years however} on golds and fingerling etc. I do not buy conventional gold or other small, specialty potatoes as they are even more egregious in the chemical treatment to assure regular shape and size. Plus they taste like cardboard.

What we need is full disclosure labeling {if its in there intentionally, list it on the label. You can treat meat with amonia and not list it. You can separate and reconstitute it without labeling it. There is a list of hundreds of chemicals that can be used without disclosing on the label if used according to package instructions.

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I'm no expert in this field at all, and I ask with complete sincerity, but is it even possible that a fish that's only caught once every five years really be "sustainably harvested"?

The beautiful, 138 pound fish was long line caught off the coast of the Philippines....

...Sourced from all over the world, Bigeye Tuna are sustainably harvested and loved for both cooked and raw applications.

The Philippine tuna fishery is not well managed. Long-line fishing has close to a 50% bycatch rate (turtles, sharks, birds). Even Monterey Bay list foreign/Pacific long-line tuna as "avoid".

From the FFA (Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency): "Limits on long-lining – At present there are no limits on the number of long-line vessels that can operate in the region. Although longlining does not usually capture juvenile yellowfin and bigeye, this fishing technique is thought to be responsible for most of the biomass reduction of yellowfin and bigeye, hence some controls are considered necessary".

Any establishment can call themselves "sustainable" or use such a term with impunity since there are no regulations or standards. It is just a matter of saying so and it flirts with consumer fraud.

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(Note: I have no affiliation with this group. Simply posting as an FYI as this has been a topic of conversation. Also the COMFOOD listserv is a great resource on these types of issues.)

From: "Christa Blue" <>
Sent: Thursday, July 11, 2013 10:04pm
To: "comfood@elist.tufts.edu" <comfood@elist.tufts.edu>
Subject: [COMFOOD: ] NYC Sustainable Restaurant Survey and Press Conference
We have big news!
The Sustainable Restaurant Corps has launched our survey of New York City restaurants! We want to find out what sustainable practices restaurants are following, which ones they don’t, and why. The survey will reach about 1500 restaurants and guide us towards developing our rating system.
This survey will introduce restaurants in the city to how we approach sustainability. It includes cutting utility costs by saving energy and water, using less toxic chemicals, reducing waste and diverting the rest to the needy, composting and recycling, and using more sustainable food and disposable products. We also believe that sustainable solutions address the specific challenges and advantages of having a restaurant in NYC. Our survey will help us develop a rating system for restaurant sustainability that brings as many restaurants as possible on board but rewards and celebrated the ones that go above and beyond. And the rating will be free for restaurants to participate in.
To announce the launch of the survey and increase exposure, we’ll be holding a press conference on the steps of City Hall at 11 A.M., Tuesday July 16th. We’d love for you to join us. And don’t forget to bring all your friends who both love New York’s restaurants and are passionate about making them greener!
So, what can you do to support The SRC?
  1. The best way for us to spread our name is by word of mouth. Follow us onTwitter, Facebook, Foursquare, and LinkedIn. And of course, pass this info along to your friends and to anyone you know who’d be interested.
  2. Stand with us on the steps of City Hall at 11 A.M., July 16, at our press conference to announce the survey. You might just run into a celebrity chef or two . . .
  3. Ask your favorite restaurants if they’ve heard of us or have taken our survey! Restaurants know to listen to their customers, and customers who care about sustainability can make a real difference. The survey can be found on our web site, www.sustynyc.org.
We look forward to analyzing the survey results and publishing them later this summer.
Until then, onward!!
Christine Black
Founder & Executive Director | The Sustainable Restaurant Corps
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