By Stephen Zagor, Dean of Culinary Management

 

Oh, here we go again. Our beloved Mayor Mike is trying to make us all better, and the world a nicer place. We’ve snuffed smoking in restaurants and most public places; melted trans fats; listed calories: letter graded food businesses; drained giant sweet drinks; and now, the food police are back. It’s time to start voluntary (to become mandatory) composting programs. In case anyone is unsure exactly what composting is, it’s essentially turning goop into gold. In effect, we take the massive amounts of food waste we all create—by one measure 30% of all of our garbage—and, through the magic of nature and a chorus of bacteria, recycle it into fertilizer.

Fruit skins? They can go straight in the compost bin.

Fruit skins? They can go straight in the compost bin.

In principle this is a wonderful thing. It reduces waste to landfills and makes unproductive productive. The world will definitely be a better place. But come on! This is New York, buddy! Hey! What plays well in San Francisco ain’t necessarily going make it to Broadway – got it? Well, let’s see.

 

As it is, we aren’t particularly good at recycling. NYC ranks pretty low on the list in green cities. (Think: have you ever seen a green recycle bin on a street corner next to a public trash can?)

Fish heads and vegetable trimmings can be used for stocks, but after their strained out? Compost 'em.

Fish heads and vegetable trimmings can be used for stocks, but after they’re strained out? Compost ‘em.

In reality, it’s a well known fact that most consumers, including restaurants, struggle with the daily task of recycling bottles and cans. In the case of food businesses, “We have no room for all the containers and racks,” is a standard claim. One manager added, “They draw flies, roaches and rats.” In short, New York has some of the best laws on the books but following them is tough. So when it comes to composting, we shouldn’t be surprised that a recent poll revealed 64% of restaurateurs have no interest or ability to compost.

 

That said, there were mighty protests against the smoking ban, but today it works—and well. We railed against the calorie counts, but turned out to not be so bad. Those darn letter grades make our hair stand up, but seem to ultimately work. Will composting too become the norm?

That pepper core? Perfect for composting.

That pepper core? Perfect for composting.

Probably. Over a hundred restaurants have already signed on to participate. They know it won’t be easy, but in the end it’s the right thing to do. And do the guests care? Surprisingly no. A recent poll asked diners how important it is to them that a restaurant is committed to green sustainability initiatives. Only 26% said it mattered. No real PR here.

 

But sometimes doing the right thing is what really counts. “Aunt Michael” is doing what we won’t always do for ourselves—trying to make us and our environment healthier and safer. But, hey, it’s New York, and we love to disagree. Let’s hope that Big Apple spirit never goes stale. If it did, at least now I guess we can compost it.

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