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.