Green Dining: A Case Study

One of Founding Farmers's large dining rooms

Last week, the Washington Post published an article in which the author describes the difficulty of serving “green” or “sustainable” food in restaurants, using DC’s popular Founding Farmers as an example. This quasi-exposé begins by pointing out misleading and not-so-environmentally-friendly aspects of the restaurant’s menu, such as the farm raised (not wild) salmon and the vegetable salad, which is not composed of local produce despite the list of small farms provided on the menu.

The article goes on to essentially list direct quotes from Dan Simons, the chief executive of Founding Farmers’s management company, offering excuses for these missteps. WaPo reports: “’We’re not Equinox,’ he said, referring to the Washington restaurant that has built its reputation on a decade of promoting local farmers. ‘Is green [only] about what people put in their mouth? Or is it about the whole experience?’” I suppose by “whole experience” he is referring to the building’s US Green Building Council’s LEED certification and the use of organic cleaning products.

I’m pretty sure that “not being” Equinox is not a very good explanation for misleading diners into believing their food is “farm fresh” when it is not. And yes, it is nice that Founding Farmers was built with sophisticated environment-friendly architecture, but when I think about the “dining experience,” the quality of the food is the first thing that comes to my mind.

The list of excuses goes on, and can basically be summarized as such: it is more difficult and more expensive to order food products from many small sources than fewer large sources, it is a pain to change the menu constantly, and Founding Farmers is so busy and puts out far too many meals to deal with these tasks. But I thought these are precisely the measures restaurants who market themselves as “green” should be taking.

I think there are two main lessons to be learned from Founding Farmers. The first is that perhaps “green” restaurants need to be smaller, with fewer tables and shorter menus. This might make it easier to offer dishes catered to the season and local produce availability. Second, the certification standards for food that qualifies as “sustainable” should be more detailed. The Green Restaurant Association’s standards seem a little broad. If these are are tightened up, diners will surely understand what they are ordering.



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2 responses to “Green Dining: A Case Study

  1. Dear Maddie About Food,

    Please understand that Founding Farms was Certified by the Green Restaurant Association under our former standards, not the current ones that are available on our website. The former standards required restaurants to make 4 environmental changes per year. Now, restaurants are required to meet a minimum of 10 points in 6 of our 7 environmental categories, one of which is food. In the food category, you’ll note that our requirements are very comprehensive. We carefully take into consideration what percentage of a restaurants menu is sustainable, organic, local, vegan, vegetarian, etc. and point values are assigned based on high percentages. Rather than criticizing our 20-year old organization and standards, we encourage you to really read through those standards and understand them better. As I mentioned before, Founding Farmers was not certified under our current standards. This means that the GRA has never assessed their food purchasing, but we will when it’s time for them to renew their Certification this year. Founding Farmers was Certified in 2008 and they were required to make 4 environmental changes that year. To date, the GRA has given them credit for making 17 changes…far beyond our 4-step expectations of our former standards. Our Certification encompasses much more than just food. Being a truly Green restaurant means reducing water and energy, using non-toxic chemicals, sustainable furnishings, reducing waste, using sustainable packaging, and much more. Founding Farmers will begin working within our new standards program in the coming months and we are confident that they will meet our requirements to renew their Certification status.

    Colleen Oteri
    Communications Manager
    Green Restaurant Association

  2. Hey your website is neat!

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