Running a Green Kitchen: at Work, at Home

Videos of sick and downed cattle at the slaughterhouse, people getting sick on poisoned spinach, increases in all our food costs. As our society gets larger and more complicated, the safety and health of our planet becomes more important, complicated and confusing.

There are so many buzzwords, information and misinformation out there that it’s hard to know what’s what.

"Greenwashing" is a term used to describe the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company of the environmental benefits of a product or service. You claim to be doing something good, but in truth the positives don't outweigh the negatives. Smart water comes to mind. Is it smarter to drink out of a plastic bottle given the amount of energy used to process and deliver it, or to simply drink filtered water that sustains our bodies equally well?

It is becoming clear to all of us that we have a responsibility to change on both the corporate and individual level if we want to have a healthy future.

George’s at the Cove has been a member of the Green Restaurant Association since 2001. We use our relationship to help formalize steps the restaurant can take annually to help us be responsible to our community and planet. We have completed 37 steps so far that cut down on our waste, change our waste to a more recyclable product and use more sustainable ingredients. We have found in doing this, we not only help the environment, but also help control some of our costs.

We cut down our energy usage with timers and more efficient light bulbs. Our recycled, bleach-free “to go” boxes cost less than conventional ones. Our locally bottled water has a much softer carbon footprint than what we previously purchased from overseas, and it helps keep our local economy healthy. We are now considering a paperless hand-drying system for our bathrooms, one that actually works. Not only will it help us use less paper, it will keep our restrooms cleaner (it’s unbelievable how much paper ends up on the floors!).

Unfortunately while our costs decrease in some areas, they increase in others. As our wild fish populations become more endangered and stricter quotas are put in place, we have seen major increases in our seafood costs. Each year there are new surprises. This year wild salmon prices are going to be so high we will not be able to offer it in the restaurant unless our guests are willing to pay substantially more. (This price inflation is because the salmon population returning to their native rivers to spawn is way down.) Halibut prices are on the rise as well. So, what’s the answer? Farmed fish? Some farms are absolutely horrible for the environment, while others are using sustainable practices with low environmental impacts.

We used to source our salmon from a seafood company in San Francisco. As I have worked with our local companies to carry more sustainable and better quality seafood, we have been able to shift to local suppliers. This cuts down on our carbon footprint in that we no longer have our seafood shipped to us overnight in Styrofoam containers. We have been using a sustainably harvested, farmed salmon from Lock Duart in Scotland for several years. We first purchased it from the San Francisco supplier when wild salmon was unavailable or too expensive, and we were only able to use it in the dining room due to the expense of the fish and transportation cost. I eventually persuaded Pacific Shellfish to carry it and they were the first company in San Diego to do so. They now sell more Lock Duart than any other salmon, and they are purchasing so much that prices have come down to a level that enables us to offer it in all levels of the restaurant at a menu price that makes sense. So we benefit, the environment benefits, you are able to enjoy a better product and we support our own community.

Of course, it is a product that is flown from Scotland so its’ carbon footprint is large. Does it outweigh the decision to buy a farmed salmon produced closer to home? I believe it does. There are no antibiotics or hormones used, they are fed a natural diet and the pens are left fallow for a year after each harvest. The best solution would be for one of the salmon farms in British Columbia to start practicing sustainable farming, but until that happens we will continue to use Lock Duart.

We believe to make informed sustainable decisions on what to buy is more important than ever – for the planet, our health and our pocketbook.

We are all seeing rising prices for grain-based products, from flour to dairy to eggs. All these things are tied together in a huge and complicated web of decisions that we all make on corporate and individual levels. Our reliance on fossil fuels is changing the global climate and causing the drought in Australia, one of the world’s largest wheat producers, which in turn puts a squeeze on U.S. grown wheat products. Corn subsidies for ethanol raises the price of corn, in turn raising the price of the millions of things made from corn.

All of our individual decisions have a cumulative effect that we are seeing show up in our grocery stores. As I’ve mentioned in other newsletters, one of our advantages and challenges is the size of our operation. It allows us to demand of our purveyors what a smaller restaurant in all likelihood cannot. For example, we demand that our fish suppliers deliver our seafood in reusable boxes that we clean and they pick up the next day with their next delivery. This cuts down on the amount of Styrofoam that is delivered to the restaurant.

Running a green restaurant is an ongoing process. As new materials, products and systems come into play we are constantly evaluating whether the benefits are real and whether it’s affordable. We feel that we can share what we have learned to help you understand what you can do at home. The decisions you make affect us all.

At home:

  • Take canvas bags to the grocery store, or better yet your local farmers market. A family of four uses an average of 1,200 plastic bags per year.
  • If you have a garden, start a compost bin.
  • Buy a good water filter and a reusable water bottle and stop buying bottled water.
  • Educate yourself on what’s in your food and where it comes from.
  • Make part of your purchasing decision the packaging of the item.
  • Don’t misuse our water or energy supplies.
  • Purchase biodegradable cleaning supplies.