Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Eat Local: Sustainability Week 2010

For those of you who attended one of the film screenings in SCE on Tuesday of Sustainability Week, Food Inc. is still fresh in your mind. If you missed the screenings on campus recently, it is a movie that many have seen and a movie that has changed many perspectives drastically.

To recap:

Food, Inc. examines the US food industry, exposing how our nation's food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment. Food, Inc. reveals surprising and often shocking truths about what we eat, how it's produced and who we have become as a nation.

I personally saw Food Inc. for the first time at one of the Re-thinking Soup events at the Jane Addams Hull House Museum Dining Hall. When I think back to it now, I see cows "grazing" in pastures of their own manure, chickens growing 10 times faster and becoming genetically altered to enlarge their breast size, and intensive farming that is harming the environment. Although it did not dramatically hit me as hard as those who have devoted themselves to exclusively organic food, free-range meat and dairy, or even vegan-ism, it undoubtedly gave me the initiative to learn more and pay attention to the types of food I am consuming.

It is easy when you have the ingredients at your finger tips. Those who have the time to cook also have the opportunity to chose between using organic products or not, to chose between local products or not, and obviously, to know what ingredients are in the products they are purchasing. I have come to notice that just by looking at the ingredients lists after watching Food Inc. I steer clear many products with long lists of ingredients that contain things like Beta Carotene Color, Gum Arabic, and Natural and Artificial Flavor. I look for more local products and I look at the regulations that the food is processed by.

Although cooking is one of my favorite hobbies, so is going out to eat, especially in a city as large and diverse as Chicago. I can guarantee it would take a long time, if even a possibility, to get a list of ingredients for every meal you would want to purchase when dining out and would probably just ruin the experience.

However, recently I stumbled upon "Guaranteed Green" restaurants. In many cities across the US, restaurants are getting accredited for their sustainable efforts. As I read more into this, I found the two different non-profit organizations, the Green Restaurant Association and Green Seal, that have the ability to give a "Green Guarantee" label. Restaurants receive a 2, 3, or 4 star rating from a minimum score on a set of standards decided by these organizations. They include water efficiency, waste reduction and recycling, sustainable furnishings and building materials, sustainable food, energy, disposables, and chemical and pollution reduction.

Besides passing the standards for reducing waste and increasing efficiency, the restaurants are graded on the quality and standards of food, the amount of meat-free options they provide, and the localness of food they purchase. For an example from the GRA, you can look at their Sustainable Food grading.

There are a number of fine restaurants in Chicago that are in the "Guaranteed Green" family including Avec, Publican, Blackbird, Frontera, Topolobampo, Keefer's, Poag Mahone's, Blind Faith Cafe, Bleeding Heart Bakery, Uncommon Ground, Simone's, Big Jones, and Roti's. I have experienced Publican in the West Loop and Simone's in Pilsen; not only is the quality of food is definitely noticeable but the environment of these restaurants is uniquely satisfying. This Saturday, the after party for the Illinois Solar Tour is located at Uncommon Ground on Devon Avenue, starting at 4pm. Don't miss the chance to experience this "Guaranteed Green" restaurant!

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