When most consumers think about making better food choices, they often reserve those changes for the home: smart choices at the grocery store, an occasional trip to the local farmers’ market, cutting back on meat, and substituting applesauce for butter in homemade recipes. But when diners walk through the doors of their favorite restaurants, these smart-eating policies tend to melt away into the indulgent abyss.

A delicious organic meal gobbled up at Back Forty in New York City. (Photo credit: Jess Damuck, Food=L.O.V.E. NYC blog)

But consumers can continue to use their purchasing power to support eco-friendly restaurants to support small-scale, organic, local farmers. And this is by no means a dietary sacrifice. Sustainably-sourced restaurants boast menus just as (or more!) elaborate and full of taste as their industrial farm-sourced counterparts.

Today, Nourishing the Planet presents five innovative restaurants in the United States that are providing delicious meals in a sustainable manner.

Washington, D.C.

1. Firefly: This whimsical, urban neighborhood restaurant is run by Executive Chef and General Manager Daniel Bortnick. The cuisine is a contemporary twist on American classics, like ‘cadillac grilled cheese with gruyere, cheddar, béchamel, and garlic-herb butter’ for lunch and ‘roasted organic chicken with collard greens and scarlett runner beans’ for dinner. Bortnick is committed to supporting local farmers and allowing the harvest of the season to guide these delectable menu options.

Firefly in action: The restaurant complies with the Monterey Bay Aquariums Seafood Watch list when selecting their seafood and only purchases sustainably raised meat, dairy, and eggs. In addition, Firefly gets bonus points for composting kitchen scraps, recycling fryer oil, using biodegradable products, serving organic and local beverages (including biodynamic wines), and maintaining a small organic herb garden for seasoning and garnishing their dishes.

New York City:

2. Back Forty: Chef and manager, Peter Hoffman is passionate about sustainable ingredients and building a community through relationships between farmers and consumers. Back Forty is a high class burger joint, offering only sustainably raised meat and other menu items. The menu is meant to be easy and comfortable, flexible and yet consistently offering delicious meals that will make consumers think they’re right on the farm.

Back Forty in action: Since starting his first restaurant, Savoy, about twenty years ago, Hoffman has biked to work and to farmers’ markets for ingredients as much as possible, building close relationships with vendors. The simple yet vital mission of his two restaurants is “to create the most delicious and memorable meals by sourcing the very best ingredients from local farmers.” This achievable goal can help to secure financial stability for local farmers, spread awareness of fresh, local food, and bring people together.

Chicago:

3. Uncommon Ground: Voted the ‘Greenest Restaurant in America’ in 2011 by the Green Restaurant Association, Uncommon Ground takes sustainable measures in almost every aspect of food preparation. While dining here, consumers can rest assured that almost every piece of food they put in their mouths, from their bacon wrapped meatloaf to their yellow squash and zucchini croquettes, is organic and has come from local, sustainable farms. Some of the food served at the restaurant is so local that it’s literally grown and harvested right over diners’ heads—Uncommon Ground is home to the country’s first certified roof top organic farm.

Uncommon Ground in action: In addition to growing much of their own produce right on site, Uncommon Ground is committed to purchasing seasonal ingredients from local farmers who refrain from using pesticides, antibiotics, or genetically modified seeds. Chef and staff make frequent visits to the farms they buy from to build relationships with the farmers. Most impressively, this restaurant partners with local schools and uses their roof top farm to educate elementary to university level students, bringing the farm-to-plate connection full circle.

Los Angeles:

4. Pace – Peace in the Canyon: This sustainably-sourced restaurant has been serving delicious, organic food in Los Angeles for over a decade. Pace is the vision of the Head Chef and Owner Sandy Gendel, who is passionate about organic food paired with local art and a peaceful community.

Pace in action: Twice a week, chef Sandy Gendel hand selects produce, dairy, and meats from local farmers’ markets, which results in an ever changing, fresh, and seasonal menu. In addition to this local produce, Pace uses vegetables from its own organic garden. Through the restaurant, Gendel encourages community amalgamation by displaying and selling the work of local artisans and showcasing live musicians. This establishment really emphasizes the way a restaurant can encourage community interaction and collaboration.

Houston:

5. Pondicheri: This restaurant is all about imbuing their meals with purity, love and creativity. The Head Chef, Anita Jaisinghani, born and raised in India, incorporates many of her childhood memories and cultural philosophies straight into the food she cooks. A part of this philosophy is choosing sustainable ingredients from local farmers.

Pondicheri in action: Pondicheri proves that even ethnic foods can be made with local, sustainable ingredients. Based on the common mantra, you are what you eat; the restaurant guarantees fresh, local ingredients of uncompromising quality.

These five sustainably-sourced restaurants are hopefully setting the stage for a world where food choices reflect the local region and the season.

By Stephanie Buglione

Danielle Nierenberg
Danielle Nierenberg, an expert on livestock and sustainability, currently serves as Project Director of State of World 2011 for the Worldwatch Institute, a Washington, DC-based environmental think tank. Her knowledge of factory farming and its global spread and sustainable agriculture has been cited widely in the New York Times Magazine, the International Herald Tribune, the Washington Post, and
other publications.

Danielle worked for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic. She is currently traveling across Africa looking at innovations that are working to alleviate hunger and poverty and blogging everyday at Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet. She has a regular column with the Mail & Guardian, the Kansas City Star, and the Huffington Post and her writing was been featured in newspapers across Africa including the Cape Town Argus, the Zambia Daily Mail, Coast Week (Kenya), and other African publications. She holds an M.S. in agriculture, food, and environment from Tufts University and a B.A. in environmental policy from Monmouth College.
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