My ecologically correct little heart was light when I set out to build a new, earth-friendly kitchen. At last! Foods like my homegrown organic produce, the local farmstead dairy products and free-range chickens would finally be prepared in a workplace worthy of them. But as the space got eaten up--here a set of pullout recycling bins for bottles, cans and plastics; there a special tub for the compost; over there the storage for the dry goods bought in bulk--as I figured on pegs in the closet for the cloth shopping bags, places on my precious shelves for all those used yogurt tubs that cut down on the need for food wraps, I found myself singing the liberal blues. It's not easy being green.
Sitting in a nearby restaurant, salving my remodeler's sorrows with a salad of baby lettuces, goat cheese and pears, all credited on the menu to local farms, I started thinking: if it's hard for me, how much harder must it be for chefs? Though their interest in environmental and social issues isn't exactly in the culinary mainstream just yet, more and more of them are fully aware of such problems as pollution, resource depletion and the exploitation of agricultural workers, and they're trying their best to be part of the solution.
These chefs recycle, they try to compost, they look for energy-saving appliances. And perhaps most important, they define the quality of the food they buy not just in terms of taste but also in terms of its place in the larger scheme of things. Were the vegetables grown in ways that damaged neither the environment nor the workers who produced, picked and packed them? Was the meat raised humanely? Is serving a wildly popular fish going to push it farther toward the endangered-species list?