Will Going Carbon-Neutral Be the Next Big Trend in the Food World?

Two famed restaurants, Noma and Mission Chinese, cut emissions with help from the nonprofit Zero Foodprint.
The Taiwanese clams at San Francisco’s Mission Chinese Food. (Photo: Wally Gobetz/Flickr)
Mar 18, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

One of the best choices you can make at a restaurant, from a climate change perspective, is to pick the chicken over the beef. That notion might clash with many ideas about sustainability that conscious diners have developed in recent years in which vegetables are king. But Anthony Myint of Zero Foodprint, a San Francisco–based nonprofit focused on reducing carbon emissions in the restaurant industry, presents some pretty compelling numbers: Beef production generates three to four times the carbon emissions chicken does.

“It’s a major environmental improvement if people choose that fried chicken sandwich,” Myint told Eater SF, “and I don’t think anybody thinks about it as like, ‘Oh man, that burger is four times worse for the environment.’ ”

Myint and his partner, Chris Ying, the editor in chief of food journal Lucky Peach, hope that diners will eventually think that way, and after nearly two years of work on Zero Foodprint, they’re finally, officially “launching” the nonprofit and expanding its services.

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“We’re expanding our mission a little bit and making it a little easier for restaurants who aren’t necessarily going to be carbon-neutral to make improvements,” Ying told Eater SF. “We want to close the gap between this abstract idea of climate change to what simple things restaurants and people can do in their day-to-day lives.”

The kung pao pastrami at San Francisco’s Mission Chinese Food (which Myint cofounded) may have a cult following, and Copenhagen’s Noma may regularly be called one of the best restaurants in the world, but the dedication both have to the environment remains less well-known. Starting in 2014, Zero Foodprint worked with Noma and Mission Chinese to reduce their emissions. Following changes in kitchen equipment, pricing, and some carbon offsets, both are now carbon-neutral. The organization is working with two new U.S. restaurants in pursuit of carbon-neutral status, but Myint and Ying aren’t announcing the names just yet.

In January, Myint, along with his wife, Karen Leibowitz, opened The Perennial, a San Francisco restaurant nearly as dedicated to fighting climate change as to serving good food.

“Farm-to-table opened the door for restaurants to talk with customers about where food comes from,” Leibowitz told TakePart last summer, ahead of the opening. “But for us, it’s not just about getting the freshest, tastiest, or healthiest food but about communicating the ways that diners can have a real impact on the environment through their relationship to food.”

The March 24 launch party and fund-raiser for Zero Foodprint, which The Perennial is hosting, offers a first step toward that change. General admission tickets are $60, but for $300 a head, guests will not only enjoy VIP access and an open bar but can offset their own “foodprint” for the year. “We will walk you through a simple survey to determine the annual carbon emissions of your dining practices, then offset it for a year,” the ticket description reads. If only saving the environment was always as simple as going to an expensive cocktail party.