Recently, I’ve been increasingly engaged in dialogue about food sustainability – whether it be in panel discussions, seminars, or casual conversations with friends. The food cognoscenti – media, consumers, and chefs alike – are turning the spotlight to this subject. And that’s a great thing.
Yet, I have great unease as I listen and learn. In quickly realizing that I am in the sliver demographic that is able to eat primarily at restaurants with the smallest carbon footprint, it has become concurrently apparent to me that there is an increasingly inverse correlation between the carbon footprint of a restaurant and the carbon footprint of its clients.
Looking at it from that angle, I am very much a part of the problem.
Maybe this is because we’re only at the foothills of a steep climb in reprogramming the way the world thinks about its foodways. And so micro-sustainability is a novelty that will attract the novelty seekers – gastronauts who have the resources and time to crisscross the globe in search of what I call hyper-terroir cooking. Given time, perhaps that kind of cooking will normalize, and the novelty (and thus the novelty seekers) will wear thin. As more and more chefs and restaurants shrink the carbon footprint in their kitchens, hopefully, the carbon footprint in their dining rooms will shrink as well.
But for now, it is ironic that many of the most visible chefs, the ones with the biggest platforms, the ones leading the global dialogue on sustainability, run restaurants that primarily attract clients from faraway. And inversely, it is ironic that many diners who pride themselves in dining sustainably, are not necessarily doing so.