March 29, 2016
When cooking sustainable, it's important to know where ingredients, like your veggies, came from.

When cooking sustainable, it’s important to know where ingredients, like your veggies, came from.

As the Environmental Protection Agency pointed out, sustainability refers to an understanding that our survival is irrevocably linked to the natural environment. Human beings need to take steps to protect the world around us, and that inevitably extends to the foods we eat. Not only is sustainability socially responsible, but it’s important to consumers. A 2014 survey from Cone Communications found that 77 percent of people consider sustainability as a factor in the foods they buy.

“Over 77% of Americans factor sustainability into their food purchases.”

Whatever the motivation, here are a few pointers for becoming a more sustainable chef today:

1. Consider secondary usage
At the San Francisco-based NOPA cafe, chef Laurence Jossel runs a truly eco-friendly restaurant. His secret? Nothing goes to waste, and everything has an alternate purpose. For instance, he won’t throw out old or damaged silverware, and instead finds ways to repair anything. Not only does he reduce waste, but he’s found that the restaurant saved a lot of money. Similarly, the restaurant also engages in composting, placing non-recyclable trash and old scraps into a pile. This is a fast and easy way to recycle on the grounds of your restaurant. NOPA even sells old oil to companies who convert it into biofuel, which is a great way to bring in added income while going green. Follow Jossel’s lead and consider how you can better use resources in the kitchen.

When cooking sustainable, it's important to know where ingredients, like your veggies, came from.2. Know what you’re buying
Part of the sustainable movement is buying local. However, engaging in this culture of commerce can be particularly challenging if you don’t understand how it affects pricing. Speaking with Food and Wine magazine, farming activist Dan Barber said that there can be noticeable differences in prices of food items, like $7 per pound for heirloom tomatoes, grown nearby, versus $2 per pound for standard tomatoes. The difference depends on a number of factors, including how much effort it takes to grow something and how much of the yield is unusable (some farmers lose 30 percent of tomatoes due to breakage). Barber added that you can save money if you buy damaged crops, which are the exact same nutritionally.

3. Keep your inner circle tight
Just as it’s important to know what you’ll be spending on ingredients, Los Angeles magazine said all chefs should know who they’re buying from. Several chefs who spoke with the magazine noted that it’s important only to buy from people you have good relationships with. That way, you’ll get access to better ingredients, cheaper prices and you’ll know just where the ingredients came from. Part of that relationship building process is choosing only the best suppliers in the first place. When looking for a supplier, be sure to ask questions about their operations, where the food is grown, if pesticides or other chemicals are used, and their overall approach to growing. To help, you can use referrals from other vendors and chefs you know and trust.