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Fighting climate change and supporting local restaurants: As easy as dining out

Uptown's Fig + Farro just went all plant-based, and this month, they'll kick off a new series about how doing so—even sometimes—can help the planet.

Uptown's Fig + Farro just went all plant-based, and this month, they'll kick off a new series about how doing so—even sometimes—can help the planet. Fig + Farro

You reduce, reuse, and recycle. Your primary mode of transportation is on two wheels.

These are all laudable eco-friendly habits, but you can do even more to help our planet and its perils by changing your diet—and it doesn’t have to be hard.

“Climate change is real, it is urgent, and the food supply chain is a major contributor. What we choose to eat and where we choose to get it carries a big impact on the world around us,” says Aaron Spading, general manager at Wise Acre Eatery. Wise Acre is one of four restaurants participating in this year's Dine for Climate series, which kicks off on January 21 at Fig + Farro.

The series highlights the connection between climate change and the food system. The latest installment features two fully plant-based restaurants (Fig + Farro and J. Selby’s) and two restaurants that are not fully vegetarian but are focused on sourcing local and organic meats (Birchwood Café and Wise Acre Eatery).

Each will share insight into how they're lowering their “foodprint.” A restaurant’s foodprint can include factors like how animal feed is grown, how animals are raised, farming methods, water usage, soil treatments, and how far food travels to get to your plate.

One of the most common ways you'll hear you can lower your foodprint is by going vegetarian or vegan. An oft-quoted statistic is that if every American ate one less meat-based meal per week, it would be the greenhouse gas equivalent of taking 500,000 cars off the road for a year.

“A vegetarian diet is one of the most important things that an individual can do to lower their carbon footprint. But we also realize that it doesn’t have to be a completely vegetarian diet,” says Janet Brown, associate director of environmental nonprofit Climate Generation.

As Spading points out, serving meat doesn’t automatically result in a catastrophic foodprint. “It is well-known that the meat industry, world-wide, is devastating to the environment,” he says. But “by humanely raising grass-fed animals in an interactive balance with their natural ecology, our flocks and herds are contributing not to a minimized foodprint, but a positive one.”

Wise Acre grows much of its own vegetables year-round and raises almost all of its own beef, pork, and poultry. Their method of farming actually sequesters, rather than produces, carbon.

As for Birchwood Café’s approach, owner Tracy Singleton says, “We try to meet people where they are at on the food consciousness continuum, with a menu that aims to offer something for everyone, vegans, vegetarians and meat eaters alike.” That includes grass-fed beef, “tree-range” poultry, and local and organic produce.

A portion of the proceeds from the series supports Climate Generation, a nonprofit founded by polar explorer and former science teacher Will Steger that provides a free science-based climate change curriculum for educators, a green jobs initiative, and an environmental activist network for youth, among other programs. Each of the four locations will have a different setup on their Dine for Climate night, but all will feature Climate Generation representatives as well as educational and interactive components. That’s because “even though 70 percent of Americans understand that climate change is real and the science is real, less than one in three people talk about climate change,” Brown says.

“You have this opportunity to engage with the community on an issue that is of epic proportions,” Courtright says. “Climate change is an existential issue. I think we all have eco-anxiety about what’s happening with it and the fear that our leaders aren’t taking care of us at the federal level.”

And, of course, you’ll get to eat great food in the process. Because the participating restaurants use seasonal ingredients, most don’t have their menus set yet. (“What we will serve probably has yet to be planted,” Spading says.) Fig + Farro will likely serve house-made pasta, yellow pea falafel, fried cauliflower, salad, kale quinoa, and jackfruit barbacoa, one of their popular menu items.

In addition to supporting Climate Generation’s programs, diners will be supporting the venues themselves—crucial, as there's an increased cost associated with serving local, organic food. Some of that cost is passed on to the consumer. “You’re paying more for the food because it is grown sustainably and with a conscience and you’re paying a living wage for the workers,” Brown says. “It’s not only reducing your carbon but it’s being much more socially responsible.”

Besides, as Spading says, “Those committed to making real change in our food economy know what the actual bottom line is: There is no Planet B.”

Courtright concurs: “We have to come up with our own solution because our politicians are not going to save us.”

And who can put a price tag on that?

Dine for Climate
Mon. Jan. 21: Fig + Farro, Minneapolis
Tues. Feb. 12: J. Selby's, St. Paul
Tues. March 12: Birchwood Café, Minneapolis
Tues. April 16: Wise Acre Eatery, Minneapolis
5 – 9 p.m.
No reservations required