Guest Column: A new standard…Green Star Restaurants

By Randall Smith
Clock Tower Inn & Resort Executive Chef

Editor’s Note: Chef Smith and I have been thinking about this concept for  a holistic ranking for restaurants for some time. Many of our readers are aware of the Michelin Guide for restaurants, wherein three stars is the highest rating. Please look for Chef Smith’s upcoming column to watch our Green Star Rating system develop. We welcome your suggestions at

It’s 5:30 on a weeknight in August. You find yourself the last in a line of cars at the nearest burger joint. The choice seemed easy. Grab some grub on the way home for the family.

They have 45 minutes to eat before Johnny’s baseball game. You don’t have time to think about the choice and really don’t want to be bothered. You hand over a remarkably small amount of money, and are handed a sack full of food. You check to see if the order is complete.

Four burgers and a fried chicken sandwich in foam containers. Three large orders of fries in greaseproof boxes and four large drinks in 24-ounce plastic cups with plastic lids and straws, a handful of napkins and half-a-dozen packs of ketchup in foil pouches.

The beef and chicken are produced on chemical- and resource-intensive factory farms, the fries and drinks are laden with corn and soybean products that are made cheap by public subsidies and produced with enormous chemical inputs, the whole meal is served up in packaging that will almost entirely end up in a landfill. It was the easy choice, but was it the right choice?

Until recently it has been the only choice. But restaurants and operators do exist that are trying to deliver good food responsibly.  They are taking baby steps as the market allows and responding to a growing number of consumers’ wishes to deliver a more responsible product. Making the right choice is becoming easier, and may be as simple as driving a couple doors farther down the road.

In an earlier column, I bemoaned my industry’s contribution to unsustainable practices, but it is now time to spotlight those who are trying to do the right thing. My goal is to make this choice easier by pointing out local restaurants that have made a commitment to sustainability and green food service. We can call it the Green Star rating.

Green Star establishments strive to commit to some or all of the following criteria:

→ Reducing the use of toxic or potentially toxic chemicals in cleaning supplies.

→ To purchase as much food as possible that has been grown and processed with the minimum chemical impact. Not necessarily organic, but responsibly produced where such options are available.

→ Offer a menu that is less meat-laden.

→ Offer a menu that allows for enough flexibility to take advantage of seasonality and local goods.

→ Limit use of disposables, but when necessary, use recyclable and compostible materials.

→ Purchase products packaged with recycled content.

→ Practice responsible waste reduction and handling.

→ Ongoing self-monitoring of green practices.

→ Educate and persuade operators and patrons about the importance of sustainable food service practices.

These restaurateurs that embrace these practices, in whole or in part, should be applauded, recognized and patronized for making these commitments. I, along with The Rock River Times, would like to help you make those choices. Look for recommendations in future columns.

From the Aug. 25-31, 2010 issue

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