Going Green and Out to Eat

Organic and sustainable foods aren’t just trending, they’re changing the way we eat and changing the way restaurants make menus.

Earth Day is coming up this month and it has us thinking about how to incorporate sustainable practices into all aspects of our lives, whether it’s recycling or going out to eat. We spoke with two St. Louis Park restaurants known for their sustainable practices to see what they’ve noticed about the national shift toward organic and sustainable eating.

At Mill Valley Kitchen, the trend is partly why the restaurant opened five and a half years ago. “The owner, Craig Bentdahl, visited northern California and loved the whole style of food,” chef Jourdan Morris says—“that lighter-eating, cleaner-eating, farm-to-table” style. He wanted to be able to get that fare here in the Twin Cities but couldn’t find it, so he opened a restaurant to make it.

While finding organic suppliers is important to the restaurant, Morris says, “what is more important is sustainability. It’s the big picture.” Morris visits suppliers’ farms to see how products are made and to make sure what farmers say they’re doing is what they’re really doing. “They’re showing me they’re not using chemicals, they’re not clear-cutting a lot of land. They’re using what they have.”

By the time food makes it to the table, Mill Valley staff know just about everything about where it came from. “If we’re claiming something is one thing, we pride ourselves on knowing why we’re able to call it organic. We make sure our staff is armed with information.”

One of the dishes that shouts “local and organic” is their baby kale salad, Morris says. It’s been on the menu for about five years, and while the salad hasn’t changed, where the kale comes from has. “We had to special order that from California,” in the beginning, he says. But with the change in the superfood’s popularity, “we now go to seed farms and get local baby kale.” They’re proud of being able to actually have Minnesota baby kale.

Patti Soskin, owner of Yum! Kitchen and Bakery, has also noticed trends of “clean eating.”

When Yum! opened 11 years ago, “nobody even asked about gluten-free,” she says. Being in the business for over a decade, she’s seen that “sometimes it’s a lifestyle thing and sometimes it’s a trend or a phase.” But one thing is for sure, she says. “People are paying more attention and asking questions” about where their food comes from. For her and her staff, that change meant “you had to become more educated, and [we had] to educate our servers.”

In April, look for asparagus in soups or salads, and this summer, corn is sure to be on the menu. And rest assured, that produce comes from a local farmer. “I shop local farmers markets and that’s where I start the relationships with the farmers,” Soskin says.
With a new city ordinance, all take-out packaging must be either recyclable or compostable. “It took us a long time to find the packaging,” Soskin says, “but it was a good reminder. It was a good opportunity to look at everything we were doing” to be green. 

Green Grocer

Buying your own groceries can be a moral dilemma: Where does a product comes from? Is it organic or sustainably. raised? At Lunds & Byerlys they try to make things clear with labels, and an entire department (now called Nourish) devoted to focusing on organic foods.

“Shopper habits for organic foods didn’t really turn on a dime,” Nourish director Bea James says. “It started back in 1990 when Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) to develop a national standard for organic food production.” It was then that people started looking at what was in their food, and whether it should matter.

Lunds & Byerlys knew they needed to get in front of the trend, so “first they hired somebody to focus specifically on organic and natural foods, and that was me.” James has been there for 17 years, and has seen the stores go from no organic sections to all 26 produce departments having organic certification. It matters because produce is so vulnerable, she says.
 
“Say you’ve got conventional broccoli on the top row and organic below,” she says, and then the water sprayer comes on. The pesticides and chemicals on that conventional broccoli drip down to the organic. Due to that, there will be no commingling of organic and conventional foods, she says.

These trends aren’t slowing down anytime soon, she says. “The FDA is mandating that foods cannot contain partially hydrogenated oils by 2018.” Manufacturers are starting to see that this is likely to continue, and are cleaning up products now to get ahead of the curve. “It’s not new anymore, it’s expected.”

Making organic and sustainable options available is an important part of the process, but so is informing people of what these things mean. “The more people who can get educated, the healthier choices they can make,” she says.