The menu at The Canteen in the South West of England doesn’t just tell diners how much a dish costs. They can also monitor the carbon footprint.
Carrot and beetroot pakoras with yogurt sauce are only responsible for 16 grams of CO2 emissions. Eggplant with miso sauce and harissa with tabbouleh and Zaatar toast provide 675 grams of carbon dioxide.
As customers weigh their options, Bristol’s veggie restaurant menu features a comparison to a dish that isn’t served: the emission of British-made burgers.
“Three pounds for a burger, wow! I can’t believe it,” exclaimed Enyioma Anomelechi, a 37-year-old eater sipping beer outside in the sun.
The menu states that the emissions of the original beef burger are “10 times the amount of the vegan alternative”.
Business and consumer carbon footprints are becoming increasingly critical as countries seek to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
In July, The Canteen became the first restaurant to agree to include a carbon footprint on its menu as part of a campaign led by British vegan campaign organization Viva!
Restaurant manager Liam Stock called the move a way to “see what we’re doing; to understand and improve ourselves.”
According to figures from the UK government, the average Briton has an annual carbon footprint of more than 10 tonnes.
The UK has set itself an ambitious goal of reducing harmful emissions by 78 percent by 2035, compared with 1990 figures, to meet its international commitments on climate change.
Switching to a plant-based diet is one of the most effective ways for a person to reduce their carbon footprint, experts at the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in April.
The livestock industry is replacing CO2-absorbing forests with land for grazing and cultivating soybeans for animal feed. The animals also emit large amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
Whether diners will allow the carbon footprint of their ordering choices to impact remains to be seen, but Stock says menu innovations have sparked interest and support.
“If you’re a big restaurant chain in the UK, it’s the law that you have to have calories on the menu,” he says.
“But a lot of people say… they are more interested in carbon.”
While Anomelechi noted a “huge” difference in emissions between hamburgers and other dishes, he said he didn’t want to be burdened with knowing the calorie count or carbon footprint of his order.
“When I eat out, I just want to enjoy myself,” she added, noting that she would be more likely to change the way she shopped for groceries.
Laura Hellwig, campaign manager at Viva!, says carbon footprint figures should become mandatory.
“We are in a climate emergency and consumers should be able to make informed choices,” the activist said.
According to him, “most people would literally choose this planet” when faced with comparisons between the carbon footprint of meat and vegan dishes.
‘Bed to store’
Stock says he knows his restaurant dishes will have a low carbon footprint, as most of the ingredients are sourced regionally.
“We don’t need to change anything,” he said, acknowledging some surprises, such as learning that imported spices increase emissions.
To calculate the plate footprint, The Canteen sends the recipe and the origin of the ingredients to a specialist company called MyEmissions.
It is able to calculate the CO2 impact from “cradle to store”, taking into account agriculture, processing, transportation and packaging.
“If I had to choose between two dishes, maybe depending on how hungry I was, I might choose the smaller one,” said Nathan Johnson, a 43-year-old diner.
That day he chose a chef’s salad, good for 162 grams of carbon.
Another restaurant, 29-year-old Emma Harvey, also supports the idea of raising awareness of the carbon footprint “and the ethical effects of the food we eat”.
“We need to incorporate those (like) things into our daily lives,” he said.
Restaurant menu design can impact the environmental footprint of dining
© 2022 AFP
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