A few weeks ago, I wrote about the struggle that many diet-conscious diners face when trying to find a restaurant. Sure, plenty of places get positive customer reviews on Yelp and similar websites, but these reviewers seldom answer health-related questions, like sustainability and nutrition information of the food. But just because conventional restaurant review sites don’t cater to healthy eaters and concerned citizens doesn’t mean no one is–and restaurants are taking note.
Sustainability and health go hand-in-hand, as produce, meat, and dairy that’s produced in a conscientious manner tend to be more easily digested, more nutritious, and lacking in potentially harmful additives, like the human growth hormone. And restaurant review websites that focus on health and sustainability, like Clean Plates, the Eat Well Guide, and the Green Restaurant Association (which is a non-profit), are making it easier for diners to make informed decisions about the places they patronize, while rewarding restaurants who participate in smart, healthy practices with the kind of great publicity that PR reps salivate over. And it’s a mutually-beneficial relationship, according to Clean Plates founder Jared Koch.
Koch, a nutritionist by trade, found that giving his clients real suggestions about where to go was one of the best ways to introduce them to healthy, delicious food that was good for their bodies, and the environment.
“My clients were always asking my where to go, and there was never an easy way, other than personal experience, to find that information. But what I found worked best [for the clients] was offering practical resources, like recommendations for places that were close and good, which sort of sparked the idea.”
Koch’s idea was Clean Plates, which began as his own personal list of restaurants that were both eco- and foodie-friendly, later became a book, and quickly moved to the internet in the form of an online database of the same name. Clean Plates currently only serves the New York area, but Koch says, that’s going to change–they’ve got plans to expand to the West Coast soon, because consumers are asking for it.
“There’s more and more of a consumer demand for this kind of information, and restaurants are starting to realize it. Two years ago, when I started with the book, it wasn’t that popular of an idea, but it’s become mainstream.”
The “mainstreaming” of healthier methods of food preparation, like limiting trans fats, using more whole grains, opting for leaner cuts of meat; and sustainable production, like raising and butchering animals humanely (no fattening with antibiotics, thanks), and growing produce that’s in season and free of pesticides is definitely a recent development. But it’s a long-awaited and positive one for diners, who have been waiting for these practices to become more acceptable and desirable–and thus, more widespread.
Review sites like the ones mentioned above have had a hand in that–and continue to hold restaurants accountable, and praise those who make healthy living more plausible.
“We see more and more restaurants reaching out to us, asking us how they can get on the site.” Koch admits, but says he’s selective–they have to play by the rules (organic produce, gluten-free offerings, locally-sources meats) to make the cut.
Yelp and Urban Spoon may not have jumped on the green-eating bandwagon yet, but with the popularity that sustainability and health-based review sites are seeing, it’s probably just a matter of time until these factors become as important as ambiance and customer service.
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