The 10 Commandments of Responsible Dining
"For a diner, being a responsible part of the culinary ecosystem goes well beyond skipping heirloom tomatoes in January and downloading the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch app. We’re not saying you’ve got to follow all ten of these rules all the time, but the more you can fit into your dining habits, the better the world will be.
Drinking local beer, wine, and spirits conserves resources—hauling kegs and bottles from point A to point B uses up a lot of gas—and it also helps prop up small businesses and hometown ingenuity. Plus, a close-to-home brew is likely to be way fresher than a bottle that’s been rattling around a truck for a week followed by a few months sitting around in a dusty distribution warehouse.
Make an effort to eat at restaurants that are locally owned. Neighborhood restaurants are community anchors and employment drivers, and—unlike chains and huge multi-restaurant groups, whose tremendous cover rates require bulk purchasing from massive distributors—their relatively modest buying practices allow them to purchase ingredients directly from small farmers and producers, and to more nimbly revise their menus.
Step away from the tacos, croissants, and pad Thai and give the rest of the world a chance. If a restaurant opens in your neighborhood serving an unfamiliar cuisine—Bolivian, Burmese, Tunisian—drop by for a meal, ask the owners what’s good, and contribute to the worthy cause of global culinary egalitarianism. Food is a great uniter—and it’s also a great historical and geographic storyteller. One bite of a giant, pork-filled Siberian pelmeni and you understand immediately how it’s a gastronomic bridge between Eastern European meat pierogi and Chinese jiao zi.
Drink from the tap
Of course you should get tap water—but you should also order tap beer (and, when it’s available, tap wine). A steel keg holds anywhere from five to fifteen gallons of booze. Plus, unlike glass, it can be reused for decades, keeping uncountable tons of glass out of landfills. Save the bottles for special brews and special occasions.
Look beyond the spotlight
Destination restaurants like like Noma, the French Laundry, or D.O.M. can overshadow nearby businesses with more modest menus. Instead of dropping into town for your fancy dinner and jetting as soon as the check is dropped, spend a day or two having meals at other restaurants in the area. (Bonus: Location-inspired tasting menus are markedly better when you understand them in context. Eat your way through Spain’s Basque region—and not just at the handful of fooderati-approved pintxo bars in San Sebastian, okay?—and your 18-course lunch at Mugaritz will take on thrilling geographic depth.)
Know what time it is
Is it December? Don’t order the stone fruit galette—but keep in mind the seasonality of other ingredients on the menu as well. Chef and writer Dan Barber makes the case for considering meat on a seasonal cycle: If you’re consuming pasture-raised animals whose feed varies with the time of year, it’s likely that the cows were slaughtered in fall, so they’re best eaten in colder months. Chickens, on the other hand, are a spring and summer animal.
Don’t be jaded about sourcing
It can be tiring: Chefs showing off their buddy-buddy relationships with farmers, restaurateurs who constantly Instagram their visits to the local rooftop garden, and menus where a third of the page is dedicated to a humble-bragging laundry list of the farmers, ranchers, growers, and purveyors whose wares make up the contents of the walk-in. But we’d rather see it than not see it—transparency is a great thing, even more so when it shines light on good practices and great products.
Tip like a grown-up
Complain all you want about tipping—just don’t do it where your server can hear you, and don’t be that jerk who puts her money where her mouth is and stiffs the staff to make a point. Good tippers make for good servers, which means our favorite restaurants are staffed by people who want to be there and whose quality of life is good enough that they don’t resent their patrons for dropping $18 on a plate of spaghetti. (For that matter, you can be the agent of karmic reward yourself, by going out of your way to support restaurants who treat their employees well.)
Be willing to pay for it
Good things cost money. The price of your $8 taco isn’t derived from just the street value of an ounce each of corn masa, pineapple salsa, and shredded pork. That may be the food cost, but it’s not the true cost. There’s also the quality and provenance of the ingredients, the location and decoration of the space, the training and wages of the staff, and—if the owner is lucky—enough of a profit that all the work continues to be worth it, and she doesn’t close up shop and take her delicious tacos away.
Complain. Definitely complain. To the manager, on Twitter, in the letters section of the local paper, to the Eater tipline—but don’t be a total hater, or a blindly endorsing cheerleader. Share the good news with the bad news, and everything in between. Remember that restaurants are people too. Or at the very least, they’re run by people—who, if they’re taking their jobs seriously, are always looking to make sure things are as good as they can possibly be. If something goes awry during a meal, say something to the staff. In most cases, they want to fix it. Everyone makes mistakes, and by complaining responsibly, you give them an opportunity to turn that experience around.”
72 Ways Food Can Change the World | Eater