This article is part of a new series by Wicked Leeks, Sustainable Cities, exploring what sustainable food means to those living in the city.
Eating out is a big part of city life. It’s part of being social and entertained, yet increasingly as ethical consumers, we also want it to fit with our beliefs and opinions. And the eating out industry is having to respond.
Take McDonald’s, for example, which has recently released its highly popular vegan McPlant burger in collaboration with Beyond Meat, illustrating how even the most cheap and cheerful of the fast-food giants is transforming to meet consumer demand. But though vegetarian and vegan options have become commonplace in cafés and restaurants, in general eating out sustainably feels harder compared to our own food shopping.
Information is far vaguer, with sources of ingredients on menus either non-existent or pretty unclear, and restaurant websites giving little information. More to the point, we are treating ourselves so should we also need to care about where the chicken or lettuce in our burger is sourced for one meal on a Friday night?
Living and studying in Sheffield, there is a strong, vibrant and growing collection of independent restaurants and cafes. Many of these are veggie or vegan and, more interestingly, a number of them are tying this in with an ethos of locally and sustainably sourcing their produce. Some classics would be Blue Moon Café, a long-standing veggie and locally-sourcing café in the city centre, as well V or V – another veggie number with seasonal menus.
Another personal favourite is Fusion Café, whose pork and chorizo chilli for £6.00 is to die for, collaborating with all local and organic suppliers but offering meals at affordable prices. Sheffield Food Hall Café, meanwhile, is a community kitchen and dining space that uses ingredients rescued as food surplus, by intercepting food waste streams from local traders.
It also works on a ‘contribute what you can’ basis, with the aim of welcoming anyone through the door. Cafés and food hubs like this are trying to reduce barriers to high quality and sustainable food, which is often aligned with your typical middle-class, green-leaning consumer.
Sheffield, and of course other cities, have many brilliant examples like this. Nonetheless, it’s still pretty unique to find places that specifically advertise on this basis of being both sustainable and accessible.
Often, it can still be challenging to find out where ingredients are sourced, even in independent, indie cafés and restaurants in a ‘green’ city, even when you are specifically trying to look it up. Eco labels are currently in the pipeline, and it is imperative that these would not only be implemented in supermarkets, but in restaurants also.
On another note, young people and university students like myself are regular visitors of the 11pm Deliveroo and the 4am kebab, and it’s likely that these impulsive buys, where convenience is king, may not be going sustainable for some time.
However, what is therefore brilliant is the proliferation of sustainable fast food restaurants like Leon, which have aimed to make their menus affordable, but also carbon neutral and UK sourced (though they are still pretty southern-based, there’s yet to be one in Sheffield). Or an alternative initiative like the app Too Good To Go, which sells food that’s about to get thrown away for cheap at the end of the day.
There’s a lot of good going on, and cities like Sheffield are certainly leading the way in many areas. We are still a long way from transparency being an innate part of the eating out experience, however this evolution of sustainability onto our restaurant dinner plates is inevitable and in demand.