Where Y'Eat: Greening The New Orleans Plate
From sourcing their groceries to composting kitchen waste and everything in between, more New Orleans restaurants are getting serious about going green, and new resources are emerging to help them do more.
There’s more green at some New Orleans restaurants these days, and it’s not just kale and spinach. I’m talking about green sustainability and the energy-efficient and eco-friendly steps more restaurants around the city are taking to get there.
Of course, the most high-profile road to greening a restaurant involves sourcing local foods, which can reduce a meal’s carbon footprint from transport and support the return of responsible agriculture. Local food sourcing is also by far the easiest to promote to customers, the one that — let’s face it — gets the most media attention.
But there is a lot more happening in the multitude of more mundane business decisions at restaurants committed to a greener approach. Once you’ve sourced your happy chickens and heirloom eggplants these steps grow rapidly less sexy. But it’s happening, from the tankless water heaters and low-VOC paints that the owners of La Divina Gelateria insisted be part of their Uptown gelato parlor, to the automated light switches and non-toxic pest control measures the owners of downtown’s eclectic café Carmo worked into their business plan.
Carmo has been implementing that plan in stages since first opening and some significant recent recognition shows how it can all add up. Last spring, the Boston-based nonprofit Green Restaurant Association awarded Carmo its three-star certification after evaluating factors as diverse as food sustainability, water efficiency, building materials and energy use. The Audubon Nature Institute, which runs Audubon Zoo, also earned its own two-star certification from the Green Restaurant Association for its catering operation, thanks to an effort that includes recycling, composting and feeding suitable kitchen scraps to the zoo’s resident elephants.
Of course, not every commercial kitchen has access to elephants. And just go behind the scenes at some restaurants and you’ll wonder how the cooks can squeeze around each other, never mind squeeze in a composting operation. And that points to a significant problem. While restaurants are showing more care for what comes into their kitchens, there isn’t much in the way of local resources or infrastructure to help them address what comes out of it. There’s opportunity here, but the restaurant industry needs help to tap it.
Still, across the city, some promising initiatives are under way to help more restaurants reduce their environmental impact. One is a pilot program that’s funneling spent oyster shells back into Louisiana waterways, where they can help build up new oyster reefs or become material for coastal restoration projects. And the summer saw the debut of the Green Restaurant Group. This cooperative purchasing program gives members discounts on eco-friendly supplies, like utensils and food containers made from plant-based plastics or from readily renewable resources, like fast-growing sugarcane. More than 40 restaurants now participate.
Of course, recyclables only work as intended if diners actually recycle their lunch containers instead of trashing them, and building that habit may take more practice in New Orleans — a city that still can’t manage to offer curbside glass recycling. But as we know, if there’s one place where New Orleans people give their full attention, it’s at the table. Tying more green steps to great meals seems like a good way to show what’s possible.
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