Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz had a question: what’s the carbon footprint difference between restaurants and home cooking?
They had a big stake in the answer. As restaurateurs and parents, they felt torn between an industry they love and a concern for the world they’ll leave behind for their daughter. They hoped the response wouldn’t force them to choose, but they knew avoiding the question wasn’t a solution.
Anthony and Karen at Mission Chinese Food.
They decided to bring the issue to one of their own restaurants. Grown out of a pop-up and now a San Francisco icon with its own cookbook and two more locations, Mission Chinese Food is known for its rule-breaking dishes: kung pao pastrami, matcha noodles, and cod fried rice, among much else. It’s a lively spot, lit in a purple glow and decorated with red Chinese dragons. It seemed likely to Anthony and Karen that dishes emerging from this kitchen would leave a much higher planetary trace than a chicken roasted quietly at home.
They drew up a full life cycle analysis to make the comparison. Everything from energy use to sourcing to laundering to transportation was on the table.
But the verdict, it turned out, was a surprise that changed the course of their lives. The real difference isn’t between residential and commercial cooking. It’s in the ingredients! The bulk of the carbon footprint — or “foodprint” — of a meal depends on variables like quantity and type of meat, where and how the crops were grown, and level of agricultural inputs like chemical fertilizers.
This finding inspired the foodie couple to found Zero Foodprint, an organization committed to making restaurants a little more carbon-negative. Restaurants who join the Zero Foodprint network add a 1% charge to the menu, which helps farmers implement carbon farming projects on their land. Eaters at participating restaurants, in other words, directly contribute their dollars to make future ingredients a lot greener.
Illustration courtesy of Zero Foodprint.
Carbon farming is a magical thing. Also called regenerative agriculture, it’s a practice that pulls excess carbon out of the atmosphere and into the earth, replenishing nutrients in the soil as an added benefit. It can look like a lot of different things: intermixing trees with crops to anchor soil and prevent erosion. Moving cattle around consciously, so the grazing doesn’t happen all in one spot. Cover cropping to add organic matter and increase soil’s ability to store carbon. Spreading manure and compost to jump-start biology systems.
What all these methods have in common is that they take time and resources (at least at first) for farmers to implement. Zero Foodprint gives farmers grants to make these changes. It’s a win all around: less bad carbon in the air and more good carbon in the soil, which creates better ingredients and leads to happier farmers, cooks, and eaters.
Zero Foodprint is now a global program, with restaurants across North and South America, Europe, and Asia signing on. We couldn’t be more excited to announce KitchenTown’s participation in the program. As of today, KitchenTown will contribute 1% of Curbside sales to Zero Foodprint, meaning customers will play a key role in catalyzing climate-friendly farming. And what better way to kick off this delicious partnership than a meal from Mission Chinese? This weekend at Curbside, you’ll find a set menu featuring an array of their dishes.
- Beijing vinegar peanuts
- Cumin lamb rib with caramelized onions, pickles, and chili crisp
- Stir-fried cabbage with pistachio milk
- Fried garlic noodles with preserved lemons
Order this week, pick up this weekend, and serve anytime — it’ll stay fresh in the freezer so it’s ready to eat whenever you are. Garlic noodles that fund a brighter farming future? That’s a combination we’ll have no problem digging into.