When I decided to go into the restaurant business three decades ago, the word ‘sustainable’ had yet to emerge as a foodie-culture buzzword. Today, the industry is saturated with restaurants claiming exclusively ‘sustainable,’ ‘organic,’ ‘fresh’ and ‘wild’ menus.
But what does it actually mean to be sustainable?
Our customers often ask us at Duke’s Chowder House to answer this question, and we are more than happy to respond! Educating consumers about their buying power is crucial to supporting and growing sustainable food markets. So I thought I’d share with you what sustainable means to us, and how you can make smart, sustainable food choices.
Benefits and Principles of Sustainable Food
The concept of sustainability, when it comes to food, is actually rooted in the future. We want to ensure that future generations have access to the same nutritious, wholesome, and delicious food that we do. This means growing, harvesting and distributing food in such a way that can be sustained for decades to come, with a strong focus on sourcing food from local suppliers. The closer to home, the better.
Sustainable food is directly tied to the the environment. It is important to make sure that the way food is grown, raised, caught and prepared causes little to no harm to the environment, and perhaps even positively benefiting natural eco-processes. The journey from origin to consumer must have as small of an ecological footprint as possible. Sustainable food is also tied to health. Food grown sustainably must also be free of toxins, pesticides and chemicals. Sustainability is essential for the long-term health of the economy. Depleting resources is a tragic mistake long-term.
Use Your Buying Power
As a consumer, you play a major role in the health of the environment, both now and into the future. It’s important for you to know how your food is grown, raised, harvested and delivered so that you can make informed decisions when buying food. Whether you’re going out to eat or grocery shopping for your family, knowledge is power!
Your choices can support sustainable agriculture, humane livestock practices, and responsible seafood harvests.
At the grocery store, look for fish, meat, and produce that originates close to where you live. Also, remember to eat seasonally! Choosing to buy seasonal fruits and veggies not only supports the local food network, but it’s also a great way for you to try new things in the kitchen. Farmers markets are a valuable source of all kinds of local food products – honey, eggs, seafood, vegetables, herbs – plus you get the added bonus of meeting the farmer who is producing your food!
When eating out, it can be challenging to know what menus feature truly sustainable ingredients. This is why watchdog organizations that monitor and rate restaurants serving sustainable food are very important. For example, at Duke’s Chowder House we are proud to partner with SmartCatch, a program that works with chefs to add sustainable seafood options to their menus. Duke’s is also honored to have the highest restaurant rating in Washington State from Fish2Fork, an agency dedicated to helping keep consumers up-to-date and aware of the seafood going onto their plates.
Consumers have the power to pressure governments, businesses and the food industry into making changes for the better. The choices you make about where and what you eat are integral to bringing about those necessary changes, and it’s important that you have the knowledge to make informed decisions.
Sustainable Seafood: Wild vs. Farmed Fish
More now than ever, responsible aquaculture is crucially important. The debate between wild and farmed salmon continues, dealing with complex issues such as environmental contamination, toxins, sea lice and other diseases.
My motto is that while farmed fish are a part of the world’s diet, they don’t have to be a part of my menu. Duke’s Chowder House is committed to serving only 100% Wild Alaskan Salmon and other fresh, Wild-Caught Seafood. But half of the fish market in the US today is farmed fish, and that margin is growing. This is why best practices and proper farm management is key to preserving fish populations for future generations.
Wild Salmon, when sustainably caught and transported, is highly beneficial to both customers and the environment. Farmed fish can contain PCB’s, a toxic organic compound found in their pellet feed. Wild Salmon, however, contain very low levels of toxins and tend to be higher in nutrients due to their natural diet. Well-managed fisheries, like those in Alaska, cause little environmental damage, while fish farms can pollute their marine environments with stagnant open-net pens filled with trapped fish.
When it comes to salmon, there’s no doubt in my mind that wild is better for the environment and for your own health. Less risk of PCB’s, less unnatural feed and less damage to the marine ecosystem are just a few of the benefits Wild Salmon offer. Bright red flesh is the best way to identify Wild Salmon when shopping for Sunday dinner; farmed salmon can appear dull and rather pink in comparison.
Remember, where you spend your money is the ultimate endorsement of a product. Educating yourself is an extremely important step towards building a more sustainable food economy and helping to reduce further harm to the environment.
Sustainability and Me
Ask anybody, and they’ll tell you straight: I’ve got high standards. If food is headed for one of my kitchens, you can bet that I’ve personally sourced it. I can tell you every detail of how that product got from where it started to your plate, and that is how Duke’s stands apart from the rest. I am committed to serving my customers the finest natural ingredients available.
Most importantly, I am dedicated to ensuring that my grandchildren and their grandchildren’s grandchildren have access to the same wholesome, natural food that we do. For this reason, we are proud to boast the highest standards of sustainability and quality, buying local when we can and working hard to support sustainable food networks elsewhere when we can’t. Honestly, it’s just the right thing to do.
Take care of yourself, take care of each other, and take care of our planet – it’s the only one we have.
Book a reservation at one of our six locations to support sustainable fisheries and your local sustainable food network.