Categorically Eating.

What constitutes a green restaurant? I asked our waitress this question, in the middle of the Saturday brunch rush. And this wasn’t the only question we (I) asked. In retrospect, I hope that I tipped her well. She must have hated us. She must have hated me. [Maya note: She didn’t hate us. Or if she did, she hid it very well. I.e., she was a good waitress.]

We left the Burlington Farmers Market (much to Maya’s chagrin; she could have snacked on cheese samples, specialty samosas and baked goods for another hour or so) in search of coffee and breakfast, and found ourselves at Magnolia Bistro, a restaurant that touted itself as Vermont’s first certified green restaurant.

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I work in an industry of marketing promises. All natural. No preservatives. Organic. Free range. Specialty. Most, if not all, of these claims cannot be verified, or, in most cases, are judged by standards within the industry. So the claim – one that, I admit, helped to get me in the restaurant’s doors – was one that made me curious.

The standards for this classification for restaurants, are here. They are, pleasingly, measurable. Water efficiency, waste reduction and chemical and pollution reduction all help to attain a green status, but the category that’s most interesting to me is Sustainable Food.

For the highest ranking of green in sustainable food:

• poultry, pork and eggs should have a vegetarian feed; beef should be grass-fed
• cows and pigs should be free range
• a vegan menu weighs more heavily than a vegetarian menu, and if meat is served, 30% of the dishes must be vegetarian
• non-processed foods obtained from within 300 miles receive a total of 20 points (toward a goal of 470) while the same types of foods obtained from within 100 miles receive 40 points

A restaurant that wants to be certified green shouldn’t even dream of using styrofoam. It must have a recycling program, as well.

The only restaurant in Ohio to meet the standards is The Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland. In New York, 43 separate restaurants meet (and have registered for) some version of the standards. (I counted chains as one restaurant.) While some restaurants, including a restaurant at the Statue of Liberty, might do it for tourism reasons, it seems as if this U.S.-Wide set of standards may actually be taking root.

We did not learn any of this from our waitress, though she was pleased to tell us that our salt and pepper shakers were made with recyclable materials. She was, in fact, instrumental in helping us find a pub with Maya’s soccer channel and in making sure that we did not make a compost pile one of our destinations in Vermont. (I’d seen several activities at a place called the Intervale, while doing my research about the trip. When I asked her about the place, which I had assumed was some sort of local foods shrine and/or a museum about canning and freezing, she looked at me and said, “The Intervale? Where we dump our compost?”)

And so there we go.

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