While most people acknowledge the importance of their private consumption, eating in public is often excluded from sustainability concerns. For most people asking the waiter to pack left-overs in a Tupperware would be an awkward request so they rather let the food go to waste. This and other social constraints make rethinking gastronomy necessary.
Why is eating out relevant for the discussion about sustainable consumption?
Public behaviour is usually constrained by what we believe to be acceptable in society. In science this is called the "dominant social paradigm", referring to what the majority believes to be right and therefore sets standards. For example, dumpster diving is inacceptable and linked to homeless people. Activist fighting food waste have done it for years, but the general public dismissed their appeals because they were too far from the norm. Later on, they collected expired food (legally) from cooperating supermarkets, which became acceptable and helped spread the idea, that expiry dates are not irrefutable. What we think of as normal today can change.
To shape a more sustainable standard of consumption, eating out is an excellent opportunity to publicly display concern for the environment. If you ask your waiter for a regional, local or carbon neutral choice, he might be surprised, but in the long run, restaurant will provide the information. Alongside allergy information there might someday be the CO2-equivalent of different meals on the menu. To start the change, asking for local or seasonal options is a low-effort first step, as it lies within the usual knowledge of a chef. Companies disclosing the carbon footprint of their dishes is very uncommon, but not unheard of at this point. Check out the pioneering Eaternity start-up from Zurich for more information.
So what information can you look for, when you want to eat out sustainably? Look for restaurants and cafés with:
- seasonal dishes
- regional ingredients
- slow food memberships (snail sticker)
- too good to go-memberships
- small side portions with free additional servings, e.g. rice
- vegan/vegetarian alternatives
- various portion sizes
- reusable to go-dishes
- offer to take home the left-overs
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