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Three organizations making waves for culinary conservation

The food industry is blooming with businesses that are doing good for their communities and for nature. We asked three community partners to describe their work, why this work is important for people and the planet, and what being a culinary conservationist means to them. See what they had to say.

Encora staff holding compostable to-go packages.

Photo by: Courtesy Encora

Encora: Ditching disposables from restaurant carryout

  1. What are you (or your organization) doing for food sustainability?
    We’re helping move Chicago’s food and beverage industry away from disposable packaging and toward a more sustainable reuse system. Encora provides a reusable container service for the food and beverage industry. Our end-to-end, technology- driven platform features an easy-to-use application requiring just a QR code scan at checkout. Our return stations are strategically placed within our partner venues (airports, campuses, stadiums, and more) and throughout neighborhoods so that people do not have to go out of their way to return their used Encora products.

  2. Why is this work important in contributing to conservation in the culinary field?
    Twenty-two million pounds of plastic enter the Great Lakes each year, and this is simply not sustainable. Encora’s reusable containers are certified to last for over 1,000 meals and thus have the potential to offset exponential amounts of single-use plastic. That’s literally 1,000 single-use plastic or “compostable” take-out food and beverage containers being diverted from the landfill in the form of just one of our reusable containers. We can scale our solution across any [venue] where single-use containers are used, including restaurants, stadiums, airports, festivals, catering, campus dining and more!
     
  3. What does being a culinary conservationist mean to you (or your organization)?
    Being a culinary conservationist in the food and beverage industry means that Encora focuses on providing a premium, reusable container experience to customers while simultaneously battling the convenience of single-use products. We want to ensure our consumers have a temperature- retaining and sturdy product to enjoy their meal from, and to have a seamless experience checking in and out our reusable containers. With many restaurants continuing to offer both on- and off-premises dining experiences, we want to ensure the food and beverage operators can present their product in a to-go package that puts the focus on the food with clear containers while offering vendors an opportunity to align their values with the 8 in 10 Americans that support a reduction in single-use plastic.

A group shot of the Urban Canopy Compost Club.

Photo by: © Matthew Bowie

The Urban Canopy Compost Club: Tackling climate change by keeping food waste out of landfills

  1. What are you (or your organization) doing for food sustainability?
    The Urban Canopy’s mission is to create a more sustainable, nutritious and equitable food system. To achieve this, we structure our business into seven branches: Compost Club, Indoor Farm, Outdoor Farm, Local Unified Community Supported Agriculture (LUCSA), Farmers Markets, Distribution and Processing. These branches each work in their own way to ensure our food is grown sustainably and locally, that our actions give back to the local economy and any potentially wasted products are upcycled or composted correctly and the nutrients are returned to our soils.
     
  2. Why is this work important in contributing to conservation in the culinary field?
    For Compost Club specifically, we see ourselves as the last line of defense for environmental sustainability. Organic waste that cannot be fed to people or animals can instead still have its nutrients returned to our soil and furthermore, break down in a way that does not release harmful methane into the atmosphere. We try to keep culinary conservation in mind at every stage of the food system: from sourcing to disposal, we can collectively impact our environment in a positive way.
     
  3. What does being a culinary conservationist mean to you (or your organization)?
    For The Urban Canopy, participation in the circular economy is at the core of culinary conservation. Environmentally sustainable options for sourcing and disposing of food exist but are often out of reach economically or customers simply are not aware of their existence. By providing resources to have local and sustainably produced food available through our LUCSA program, we can connect our farm and other smaller scale producers directly to customers. Ensuring that none of this food or any other food is wasted is Compost Club’s mission. In order to implement a circular economy within the food system, the nutrients from the foods produced need to be returned to our soils while preventing the emissions generated from landfilling that waste. Through these shared efforts we hope to assist everyone in changing the way we, as a society, interact with the food system and positively impact our shared environment.

Hooked on Fish staff members.

Photo by: Courtesy Hooked on Fish

Hooked on Fish: Bringing sustainably sourced seafood to your door

  1. What are you (or your organization) doing for food sustainability?
    Hooked on Fish is a fresh, sustainable seafood delivery service for the home cook. When we choose which seafood to feature, we consider the environmental impact of the fishery, the sustainability of the fish stock (no overfishing or bycatch), the feed used in aquaculture, animal welfare, and so on. We also take it as our mission to introduce our members and customers to lesser-known fishes, such as golden tilefish, cobia, and fjord sea trout. When our members choose those fishes over the more popular fishes, such as salmon, they help ease pressure on compromised fisheries.
     
  2. Why is this work important in contributing to conservation in the culinary field?
    It is our responsibility to give our members well-informed choices. We believe our concern for the factors we emphasize not only gives our members exceptionally fresh and healthy seafood but encourages them to be mindful of their own impact on and responsibility for the environment.
     
  3. What does being a culinary conservationist mean to you (or your organization)?
    To us, being a culinary conservationist means two things: That we provide certifiably sustainable seafood and that we ourselves are as eco-friendly as we can be. We recycle everything we can, from composting our seafood waste, repurposing extra cuts (in soups, seafood burgers, etc.), and donating what we cannot use.