Ethical Eating: 6 Restaurant Chains With Good Karma

[wp_ad_camp_1] You cast votes with your dollars every single day. When you spend money on a product, whether that product is sustainable and organic, GMO enhanced or injected with antibiotics and hormone-heavy (and whether you actually like the product or not), the producer will make two more. One to replace it and another just like it for the next time you make the same choice.

Fortunately, because more and more people are becoming conscious and speaking up to educate the rest of us, we are beginning to understand the detriment of convenient and fast-food on our bodies; and we are starting to demand better products. We are banding together as global citizens to demand labels on GMO products and because we are speaking up, the legislature who represent us are being forced to fight for it. When we demanded to see healthier choices at McDonalds, even that corporate giant began offering choices like apples and salads to substitute for french fries. We certainly have a long ways to go, but it’s important to recognize our progress and the power we have with our choices as consumers.

This short list of an ever-growing number of national food chains are ones that have been paying attention to modern consumer demands, practice sustainability and provide us with restaurant choices for ethical eating. It is made up of eateries setting a new precedent and the list is growing:

Sweet Green

This chain of was founded in 2007 and, they must be doing something right, because they continue to expand, now with 27 restaurants on the east Coast, including locations in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. They describe their purpose with passion and are serving up local, organic and seasonal produce in each of their convenient, assembly line-style salad bars. And they have created a business model that is not only successful, but one that supports their communities. Sweet Green has introduced programs to educate kids in local schools, teaching them the importance of healthy eating, environmental sustainability and fitness. They’ve also teamed up with local yoga studios and fitness centers as part of their “passport program,” pairing their patrons with free or discount classes in their neighborhoods. With across-the-board attention to sustainability in food, packaging and design, they seem to be meeting their win, win, win goal of being wins for the company, the consumer and the community.

Native Foods

If you live in California, Colorado, Oregon, Chicago or Washington, D.C., you have the opportunity check out one of the originals for “fast-casual” vegan cuisine. Native Foods, founded in Palm Springs in 1994 had a heavy hand in setting the fast-casual trend in convenience for those who don’t have the time for a sit-down lunch or the stomach for drive-through fast-food.

At Native Foods, they’re Serving up “vegan food made fresh daily.” The entire menu is made in-house and 100% plant based. Ten bucks will get you a hearty and healthy bowl of delicious, local and fresh ingredients (which I can personally vouch for). There are also plenty of gluten free items on the menu, including the Sesame Edamame Hummus, Amazonian Jungle Love Salad, Rockin’ Moroccan Earth Bowl and Baja Blackened Tacos. Native Foods also offers a program called “Community Days” where chefs perform free vegan-food cooking demos once per month to educate their communities on the ease of this style of cooking and the importance of living a sustainable lifestyle. They also send out a monthly newsletter that highlights recipes, chef tips and ways members of the community can make small changes to live healthier and more sustainable lifestyles.

Tender Greens

The philosophy at Tender Greens, with 14 locations in California, is that “there should be a conscious connection between the one who eats the food and source of that sustenance.” They support this philosophy by linking their own consumers with food sourced from local purveyors; meat from local ranchers and produce from local California growers, the bulk of which comes from a farm in Oxnard called Scarborough Farms. Speaking from experience, I can tell you that Tender Greens accomplishes their goal of providing what tastes like “slow cooked food quickly.” And, keeping in line with other chains who make sustainability and community a priority, Tender Greens now offers a community program called the, Sustainable Life Project. They are working with foster youth, helping them at a transitional age to become self sufficient adults by offering programs including paid internship opportunities. They believe, and are investing in, the power of food to transform young lives.

Chipotle

Chipotle is a good example of what happens when good ideas go big. With the mission of “serving food with integrity,” Chipotle opened its first location in 1993.  With that first location, they hoped to demonstrate that food served fast didn’t have to be by fast-food standards or come with the “fast-food experience.” Their focus is and, has always been, on serving higher quality ingredients; and they acknowledge that fresh is not enough, that people want to know where their food comes from.

Chipotle has received criticism over the years for their lack of adherence to their marketing claims. But It can’t be denied that they have worked hard for many years to produce at least the majority of their pork, beef and chicken from sources where they are naturally raised and source organic and local produce when possible. And how, might you ask, with over 1,600 locations, does Chipotle define local? They have established a set of guidelines, outlining five categories of local suppliers. Local areas are defined as sourcing from farms within 350 miles from participating restaurants. The choices they’re making are becoming more and more mainstream, but for a restaurant with so many locations, this was never the easy route. It’s a new standard that has taken them time to achieve and maintain, attempting to build each restaurant and provide each menu item in as green and sustainable a way as possible. What’s more, Chipotle labels all of their ingredients, including the GMO products like corn, soybean oil and corn starch on their menu. At least when confronted with these products at Chipotle, you can make a conscious choice and be fully informed about what you’re eating, which is exactly what we’re currently asking legislature to help us enforce. So, criticism aside, they are doing what they can to fight the good fight and taking us, at least a few baby steps, in the right direction.

LYFE Kitchen

Love Your Food Everyday. No, really. This is the message from LYFE Kitchen and what they stand for. They want you to “Eat Good. Feel Good. Do Good” and they believe that good food can only be made from good ingredients. LYFE Kitchen is even sourcing food from their own, in-house gardens; each location has a wall of herbs growing in the dining room. They serve only grass-fed beef and keep all dishes under 600 calories. They place high priority on sustainability and being environmentally sound. LYFE Kitchen has 10 locations spread out through California, Texas, Colorado, Illinois and Nevada with big plans for expansion.

Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes

One chain that has twice received a certification at the top of the list from the Green Restaurant Asscoiation, is Souplantation, also known as Sweet tomatoes under Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp. No, it’s not some trendy offshoot with over the top prices and 3 tables, it’s a place you likely drive past regularly and turn your nose up at as just another national drain chain. But each location has to meet 40 environmental standards for energy, water, waste, chemicals, packaging and food to achieve certification from the association. Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes offer more than 30% vegetarian options and save 12.5 million pounds of garbage by recycling. This chain is committed to doing what they can to protect the environment and offer guests the freshest produce possible, even working with local farmers to facilitate their large demand. With 128 restaurants nationwide in 15 states, it’s actually saying something that they have committed to establishing all of their locations as Certified Green Restaurants.

These are only a small handful of the restaurants nationwide making your health and the health of our global environment a priority. Keep voting with your dollars…and do what you can to make sure your vote counts for the collective desire for healthy, compassionate and sustainable food choices.