What part of the food system do you work on?

The Green Dining Alliance is a certification program that works with restaurants to reduce their environmental impact through reducing their energy and water use, reducing waste, educating their staff and customers, and encouraging them to source more local food. Restaurants in the GDA receive an audit, then a tailored report based on the audit to evaluate where opportunities for environmental improvement exist. The GDA sends restaurants recommended vendors  – local farmers and pasture-raised animal products – so they have options, if they choose to purchase local products. Extra points are given on audits for local food and pasture raised food, and lots of extra points are given for restaurants with their own gardens and urban farms. In other words, we work in the food system by encouraging and rewarding restaurants for choosing local, environmentally responsible products. We also use social media to promote work in the STL food system, including the good work of MCE’s STLFPC, as well as educating the public about issues from food security (and food insecurity) to food waste.

What other organizations in STL does your organization work with on food issues?

The Green Dining Alliance is expressly an apolitical organization – which means we are not allowed to promote policy or legislation- even if the policy or legislation is obviously good for the community. What we can do is promote the excellent work of our friends in the industry: Food Roof, HOSCO, The Sweet Potato Project, EarthDance Farms, Gateway Greening, the STLFPC, and countless urban farms. We are also involved with OneSTL, helping with the food working group to identify and address our greatest obstacles to a vibrant food system.

 Any projects in the works?

The GDA has a brand new rewards program for the public, called the Green Dining Club. We also have a fundraiser coming up this October 26th – the Taste of Green. The GDA has recently done the legwork to make it possible for other cities to adopt our program – we are hopeful that this idea could take off in other areas.

Where do you see the future of STL’s food system?

I am optimistic – I’ve witnessed lots of improvements in the last few years, including more urban farms, more backyard chickens, and more restaurants and diners looking for local, responsibly raised foods. Large distributors for restaurants have started carrying local products because the demand is there. The public is becoming aware of our food insecure neighborhoods and want to help. Understanding that there is a problem is the first step towards finding a solution, and I think we’re on the right track. I am hopeful that more residents, especially lower income residents, will start raising their own food, including chickens, to eat more nutritious, affordable meals. I do not believe that relying on massive farming operations is sustainable, and more people are beginning to realize that. I am hopeful that transit issues will be addressed to improve food availability for those who live in food insecure areas with limited access to public transportation – right now this is a major obstacle to improving food security in STL. I think that the STLFPC and OneSTL’s work addressing these issues will help strengthen our food system and increase access to healthy food for all residents.

What do you do outside of your job that supports the local food system?

I don’t really have a time “outside of my job,” because I care about what I do and there’s no turning it off – all of my friends know way more than they’d like to about food deserts, local food, and the difference between pasture raised and “natural,” (a designation that is meaningless, of course). I try to set a good example in my daily life, eating a mostly plant-based diet and shopping at Local Harvest whenever possible. I get pasture-raised, local eggs, and don’t eat any red meat or birds. If I did eat meat, I’d get it from places like Bolyard’s, where all of their products are local and humanely raised, and I’d use it sparingly.  I have a garden with several raised beds in my yard – lucky for me I have housemates who do most of the hard work maintaining it, and I get piles of kale and tomatoes for remembering to water sometimes. I’m car-free, so I am hyper-aware of the importance of having a grocery store close by; I’ve planned my life to meet my needs by living in the city, along a bus line, with several bikes outfitted for grabbing bags of groceries. I have some vices – good beer (local is best!) and coffee, which is never local, but I’ve switched to all Fair Trade Certified or Direct Trade beans since getting this job, because I think it’s important to practice what you preach.

Check out the Green Dining Alliance’s Website and Facebook page!

Photo courtesy of the greendiningalliance.org