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Restaurants and global warming: Changing energy-consumption practices will be a very big job

Regarding the Community Voices commentary “Climate action at the dinner table: Your meal choices can make a difference”: The unspoken truth about restaurant cooking, no matter how local or vegan or farmer friendly it is, is that outside of every restaurant, stuck to an exterior wall, is a spinning gas meter. And on the roof of every restaurant is a spinning exhaustion hood. Changing the standardized energy consumption practices in the industry, from the health departments to the city planners to the owners and chefs, is going to be a very big job.

Chefs like gas because it’s instant on, easy to regulate, looks sexy on TV and is familiar. Pulling grease-laden steam through some kind of heat exchanger would be a filtration nightmare. People have worked on such systems, but they are not yet perfected.

Just as with cars, the only energy delivery system that has a chance of being sustainable is electricity. Home users have adapted induction ranges, but chefs have not. It remains to be seen if a commercial version of the Instant Pot can get traction in the industry.

In the meantime, what can consumers do other than order salads? Well, talk to your favorite café about this topic – make them aware that you are aware. Write to your government representatives, local and state. And, of course, engineering entrepreneurs, you should get cracking on this. In our own restaurant in Duluth, we’re talking about it, experimenting with the Instant Pot, talking about beef. But at this point, we can’t get rid of our 12 burner Wolf range or our heat-sucking hood.

We’ve decided to offer the Impossible Burger, even though the New Yorker has called it a “Silicon Valley” engineering invention. It’s not clear about the energy use in its production, although no cows are injured in the process, only soybean plants and yeast. We are going with the more humane pork producer, Yker Acres, even though their product is much more expensive. We’re experimenting with vegan recipes and using more fish. But global warming marches on.

Honestly, there is only so much restaurants can do. This issue is going to require political will from the entire community. Exactly how that might dovetail with American capitalism in 2019 is an open question. Just like any industry, food service is like Odysseus, navigating between multiple versions of Scylla and Charybdis: How much does it cost? What are the rules? What is available? How much can we charge? What are our competitors doing?

This spring, we are going to remodel our kitchen, “to better serve our customers,” that old cliché. Right now, we’re working on this very issue.

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Mark Snyder on 01/10/2019 - 09:57 am.

    I re-read Michelle Courtright’s commentary and nowhere does she suggest restaurants switch from using gas in their kitchens.

    The bulk of the greenhouse gas generation from eating out comes not from cooking in the kitchen but the production of the meat and other products used in restaurants to create the meals served.

    What would make more sense for restaurants to focus on, along with offering more plant-based meal choices like Michelle suggests, are ways to prepare and serve meals that minimize single-use/disposable items, food scraps and other waste and then composting/organics recycling for the wastes that cannot be prevented.

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