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Sustainable Swaps: Restaurant Meals

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How to cut your carbon footprint when dining out

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We all love treating ourselves to dinner out, but there are ways we can reduce our environmental impact when visiting restaurants. From choosing the right places to saying no to plastic straws, here are some sustainable swaps you can make in the culinary sphere.

Sustainable Swaps: Restaurant Meals

Choose eco-friendly restaurants

Silo London

Clare Lewington

First thing’s first: which restaurant will you pick? There are an endless stream of great eateries across the UK, but some are miles ahead when it comes to green practices. Look for restaurants which champion local, seasonal produce, and instill zero-waste policies in their kitchens. Check out our guide to the best sustainable hotspots in London, from horticultural haven Petersham Nurseries to eco pioneer Silo. Elsewhere, Melissa Hemsley brings us her pick of eco-friendly restaurants around the UK.

Another good resource is the Sustainable Restaurant Association, which highlights the venues which meet stringent criteria when it comes to three pillars: sourcing, society and the environment. You can search for accredited names near you here.

Look beyond the menu

When it comes to sustainability in the restaurant industry, it’s not just the food you should be enquiring about. Browse restaurants’ websites to see what kind of equipment is used backstage – from the lights to the heating and the kitchen equipment. Lots of places are exploring exciting new technology, such as LED lighting, solar power and induction hobs.

Consider animal welfare

Cutting down on meat and fish is beneficial for the environment. In a 2019 paper published in journal BioScience, a global team of experts implored us all to ‘eat mostly plants and consume fewer animal products’ to help reduce emissions of methane and other greenhouse gases – so opting for vegetable-centric dishes is always good. 

Cows in field

Getty Images

If you are going for a meat or fish dish, check out where it’s coming from. For meat, look out for native or rare breeds which must meet high standards to be registered, like Herdwick lamb or Hereford beef. As with everything, local is always better – plus British livestock farming is associated with having some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. 

When it comes to fish, check out The Marine Stewardship Council app, which helps make sustainable decisions when it comes to the types of fish we’re eating. Broadly speaking, choose breeds which are in abundance, and are caught on a small scale. There’s more on this in our guide to eating sustainable seafood.

Pick seasonal dishes

We all know eating with the seasons is better for the planet, so when you’re choosing what to order, look out for ingredients you know are currently in season. Many restaurants will change their menus accordingly, but if you’re not sure check out our seasonal food calendar, which outlines which fruits and vegetables are in season each month.

Consider how staff are treated

For a restaurant to be truly sustainable, it must treat its staff well. If you’re a regular, keep an eye out for staff turnover, and if you’re there for the first time, enquire about working conditions: what are the working hours like? What’s the tipping policy? Savvy restaurateurs are looking into ways of improving things for hospitality staff, such as trialling shorter working weeks and offering upskilling opportunities. 

Waterhouse Restaurant

Instagram

Better still, find restaurants with a social conscience. In London, you have Hackney’s Waterhouse Restaurant, which provides chef training and support for young people who have faced challenging life circumstances, alongside Luminary Bakery, a culinary venture designed to help disadvantaged women.

Take home extra food

Eyes bigger than your stomach? We’ve all been there. Try not to over-order – you can always get extras if you’re still hungry – but if you do find yourself unable to finish your meal, ask the waiter to box up the leftovers for you. Tomorrow’s dinner, sorted.

Say no to plastic

Iced coffee with metal straw

This is an easy sustainable swap to make. The problems surrounding plastic are widely documented, so ensure you avoid plastic straws at all costs. Most restaurants are on board with this, but if you are given one, consider asking the restaurant to change their policy. For extra brownie points, invest in a metal or glass straw and carry it around with you, so you can whip it out in times of need.

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