How to Dine Ethically During Climate Crisis

Dining in the age of climate crisis

How one San Francisco restaurant incorporated carbon awareness into dining and is changing the way restaurants think and act around climate change.

Update February 2019: Since this story was written, the Perennial restaurant has closed permanently, after three years in business. Read their post about this sad development on their Facebook page.

Climate woes got you down?

The recent report by the United Nation’s scientific committee, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has been giving climate change believers all the feels, ranging from anger to anxiety. It has many of us wondering, again, what else can we do?

Many of us have already made lifestyle changes to reduce our carbon footprint: we carpool more and drive less, we eat less meat or avoid it (or animal products) altogether, and adopt any number of other personal lifestyle changes to produce less greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. We have some semblance of control with the choices we make at home, but that diminishes when we try to have experiences outside of the house. Often times, we have to compromise our values for these experiences, especially if that value extends beyond a food preference to something like environmental sustainability. But what if we can do more than just reduce the amount of emissions we produce? What if we can work to reverse climate change and draw down carbon with our dining choices?

The Perennial in San Francisco has been cooking up dishes and dining experiences that can reduce your carbon footprint and support efforts to reverse climate change. Founded by Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz in 2016, the Perennial was created with climate change in mind. As creatives and climate advocates, Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz wanted to give a message of possibility instead of denial, and that’s what they are doing even if it means using unheard of grains or adding a climate change surcharge to their beef products.

Does your bread or beer trap carbon?                                    If you’re at The Perennial, it does. They serve warm, house-made bread made of kernza, a sweet, nutty grain similar to wheat with one significant difference: it is a perennial (see the connection with the name of the restaurant?), and therefore does not need to be pulled up and replanted. Because of this, kernza builds topsoil rather than erodes. 

Freshly baked Kernza bread with butter at The Perennial. Ph: The Perennial

Wheat vs Kernza: perennial grains for the climate win. Image: Climate Crocks.

Its root system, which can reach upwards of 20 feet, also provides a home for many carbon-storing organisms. They also serve refreshing Long Root Ale, a Patagonia Provisions ale made from, you guessed it, kernza. Perennials like kernza work to create healthier soil unlike most annuals (because of the replanting required), and healthy soil is, according to Anthony (and many others), one of the major solutions to climate change.

A delicious, nutty beer made from Kernza, a grain that sequesters carbon. Find (or ask for) one of the most sustainable beers out there in your local store.

A bone to pick with meat                                                                                                                                               You, like me, probably have a handful of meat-loving friends who have become vegetarians to reduce their carbon footprint. For my friends, and for so many around the world, eating meat has become an ethical dilemma in this time of accelerated climate change, when nearly 30% of greenhouse gas emissions come from food production and distribution. But it doesn’t have to be that way. When meat is sourced from ranches, like Stemple Creek Ranch, who practice regenerative land management, you can have carbon-neutral beef.  While The Perennial is undoubtedly at the forefront of carbon-aware dining, they aren’t the only restaurants providing a carbon-conscious environment.

The Future of Dining is Carbon-Neutral

In September 2018, the first-ever Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) was held in San Francisco. Specifically geared towards businesses, subnational governments, and local leaders, this Summit set the stage for serious climate action by 2020 from all sectors. In honor of GCAS, and to show what is possible, 50 restaurants pledged to a week of carbon-neutral dining. Spearheaded by Zero Foodprint, an organization that works with restaurants to reduce or eliminate their greenhouse gas emissions, Zero Foodprint Dining Week showed that you don’t have to skimp on flavor if you are eco-conscious.

Started by Anthony Myint and Chris Ying, both of whom are well-familiar with the restaurant and food industries, Zero Food Print turns the abstract idea of carbon neutrality into an attainable reality. How does a restaurant work towards being carbon-neutral? Restaurants go through an assessment to get a carbon foodprint(amount of carbon-dioxide-equivalent emissions produced by a restaurant or diner, including ingredients, energy use, transportation, and waste)baseline and recommendations for reducing their impact: which can range from mindful sourcing, finding ingredients that are climate beneficial and producers who use regenerative methods;  switching energy providers; and paying carbon offsets which range from $0.10 to $0.50 per diner.

Look for this logo if you want to dine carbon-neutral.

Choosing carbon neutral at The Perennial.

Through creative recipes that showcase unusual ingredients, climate-beneficial sourcing, and the use of carbon credits to offset their unavoidable carbon foodprint while supporting food-related carbon-reduction projects —restaurants around the world are offering diners, like you and me, a chance at a carbon-neutral meal. Food is a personal choice that reverberates throughout the world and can push corporations to do better. Our individual lifestyle adjustments can make a difference, but pressure must be put on large polluters to do better — we can do that by choosing better.  What is a carbon-neutral dining experience worth to you?

About The Perennial

Located in downtown San Francisco, The Perennial is a climate initative disguised as a restaurant. Founded by experienced restaurateurs who want to make a lasting, positive impact on the world, Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz show the possibilities of carbon-neutral dining. Their advocacy spreads beyond The Perennial, with Zero Footprint, and they frequently work with others to amplify their  impact.                                                                                             To find out what else they are up to check out their website and follow them on social media. Or, just visit the restaurant and try kernza for yourself at:                                                               59 9th Street                                                                                             San Francisco, CA. 

Karen Leibowitz and Anthony Myint.