Friday, December 19, 2008

Eating Out

Down and dirty today, here are a few tips on wasting less when someone else is slinging your hash.

Fast Food  OK, I know this is an odd place to start but sadly, more food is consumed daily in America at fast food establishments than at any other type of eatery. Now when you think of fast food, you think of a lot of things, but one of the big ones has got to be waste. While there are certain things you are just not going to be getting around (and I’m not even going to get into nutrition here), you do have some options.

A few weeks back I was out with a friend and he asked if I minded if he drove through a certain Scottish/American establishment that he happens to frequent. I told him I was fine as long as I could order. When we came to the window, I asked for what he wanted and then proceeded to ask that they skip the bag, ketchup, straw, and only give us one napkin. A few surprised questions later and wouldn’t ya know it, he was headed out with roughly half the stuff he would have been handed otherwise. It never hurts to ask.

Eating with Kids  We have two young kids and this is always a big one for me. It seems that no matter where we go, even the nice places, they tend to bring Styrofoam cups with plastic lids and straws regardless of what’s what. So I’ve gotten into the habit of asking the waitperson if the kids drinks be brought in actual glasses as it makes them feel more grownup and therefore they don’t spill as much. It generally works. As for the straws, we bring our own reusable curly cue straws so the kids have ones that are far better than the restaurant would give out anyway. Finally, if your kids are like mine, they rarely finish their food. So we’ve begun packing in a little plastic food storage bowl so we don’t need those nasty Styrofoam take out containers. It’s not fool proof but you can usually get by. And if they give out crayons, snag em rather than leaving them behind or better yet, bring your own!

Straws  Kids aren’t the only ones who get these. I am shocked at how many people get straws in their drinks and then take them out and put them on the table. I was at a lunch meeting last week and ordered an ice tea but asked for no straw. The people I was with were shocked as they had never thought of this before, but after considering it for a second, asked that their drinks not contain straws either. And the dominos tumble.

Chopsticks  Sure impressing the boss by using chopsticks is a cool thing, but do you have any idea how much wood is used annually just to make these things? China alone goes through 25 million trees a year. So next time you head out for Asian food, bring a reusable pair from home or at least grab a fork.

Water  Don’t want water for the table, ask for it to not be brought. Many places will only bring water if it’s asked for but for those still behind the times, it’s an incredible waste of a precious resource when it’s not going to get used.

Plan Ahead  The big piece of advice I can give you on the restaurant front, as with most others is, plan ahead. For starters, choose your eatery wisely. Do they use “disposable” versus reusable plates and utensils. If it’s the former, can you use the stuff in your bag instead of what they give you?

When you sit down, take a good look around and see if anything jumps out. Do all the kids have Styrofoam cups? Are they giving out “disposable” menus (in which case you can share one)? Taking a moment or two to think ahead will most likely save you some trash in the long run and don’t be afraid to ask for something if it’s not unreasonable.

Finally, if you are really the type to prep ahead, check out Eat Well. You’ll be able to find an organic restaurant near you and if it’s a good one, half the battle is won before you even arrive.



hillary said...

It would be awesome if the folks who make the folding bowl could also make a folding food storage container. It's hard to remember to pack a tupperware before going out to eat, but something foldy could always live in my bag, like my stash of plastic bags for reuse.

Anonymous said...

Straws seem typical of USA, I have never seen that before in other countries... I am always suprised that even in nice restaurants (and not only fast food) that they consider adults such as children...
It is probably cultural, but I hope that it will change soon for ecology!!

VG said...

Here is something that you might suggest to your concerned restaraunts that use styrofoam for the kids: reusable plastic cups. This is what the concerned restaraunts here use. (Oh, the expense of all that styrofoam!) I realise that I'm suggesting that they use plastic (which is bad), but at least it's better than styrofoam. If they used recycled plastic for the cups, it would be even better. As a plus for the restaraunt, they can put colourful logos and advertising on the cups for the kids to look at. I know when I was a kid, I usually liked these better than glass, because they were shorter and lighter, and so easier to use.