Does Eating Out Influence Climate Change?

There are no doubts that climate change is occurring; and yet, it is something that slips our minds every day. When we think of climate change, a few things come to mind, but the over-emphasized image of penguins drifting away on melting ice caps isn’t necessarily in-line with our daily lives. With the issue of climate change, its difficult to grasp the complexity of the problem, due to its scaling size. But there is one place where climate change is certainly relevant: in the kitchen. 

Eating is the most significant interaction that we have with the environment. Even if we’re sitting in the air-conditioned library eating a cup of fruit, we are putting ourselves in the food system. The food system, as a whole, is responsible for about 30% of worldwide carbon emissions. But that isn’t to say the amount of impact restaurants have in the implication of climate change.

One of the largest recent trends in the food industry is the marketing of “green” and “sustainable” dining. This is a result of the newfound interest in environmental consciousness of consumers. The restaurant industry as a whole consumes 2.5 times more energy per square foot on average – that’s more than any other industry in North America. The average restaurant in America produces 50,000 pounds of trash per year. 

However, that is not to say that all restaurants are created equal. The amount of energy that a restaurant consumes is partially dependent upon the local power grid that the restaurant operates on. And again, that’s only one aspect of a restaurant’s environmental impact. Restaurants that use genetically modified ingredients often have a larger environmental impact than restaurants that use locally grown and organic ingredients.

Much like climate change being an issue too large to fully grasp, the environmental impact that a single restaurant may have is too abstract to grasp as well. It’s not the idea that eating at restaurants is the inherent cause of climate change. Nor is that to say that eating out is worse than eating a meal at home. 

Consumers are increasingly taking into consideration the ethics behind their food when determining what and where to eat. Who is to say that chefs and restaurant owners shouldn’t do the same?