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Gather 'Round the Table - When Etiquette Meets Sustainability

By Anthony Todd in Food on Nov 8, 2010 4:20PM

SustainabilityGRTT.jpg During dinner with a close friend this weekend, we started discussing the menu in some depth. "At these prices, this can't be sustainable salmon," she said, and we agreed that it probably wasn't. "Maybe I should ask the waiter," she wondered aloud, before deciding to order something else. And this brings us to our question of the week - what do you do when you are afraid that considering sustainability might be rude or embarrassing?

We've often applauded restaurants and stores for considering the environment and the local economy when buying ingredients. We visit farmers markets, belong to a CSAs and patronize establishments that print the provenance of their food on the menu. But we share the nervousness of our friend - we don't usually ask for that information unless it is volunteered. Should we? Barbara Kingsolver wrote, about being a locavore, that she didn't want to feel like that aging hippie who interrupts people in the checkout line at the grocery store to tell them they really should be eating tofu and bee pollen. How can we be one without the other?

One important point in favor of asking - restaurants often won't be motivated to change something unless people ask for it. Grocery stores tell us again and again that they stock what we want to buy, and if we ask them to move in a more sustainable direction, they will. On the other hand, should we have to pull out our iphones and go through a checklist before we order anything? Is it rude to bother our dining companions with our pickyness? Or is sustainability, like vegetarianism or gluten-free dining, something that should be accommodated as a dining preference?