Looking for a hot dog that doesn’t use beef from a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO)? What about ice cream with hormone- and antibiotic-free milk or a grass-fed burger with free-range bacon on a bun made from local wheat? There’s an app for that. GRACE Communications Foundation’s newly revised Eat Well Guide helps customers find restaurants and businesses that specialize in sustainable fare.
First introduced about ten years ago, the guide has been completely revamped using new technology. The app now joins the ranks of Greenhopping (an app dedicated to finding plant-based eateries) and other GPS-enabled sites that help users find healthy, environmentally friendly restaurants and businesses in neighborhoods across the country. Currently, there are 25,000 listings in cities ranging from New York to Nashville and Boulder to Boston. “People want locally grown, sustainably produced food, so we’re making it easier for them to find it,” explains Dawn Brighid, project director of the Eat Well Guide. “Most American shoppers take into account where their food came from when they’re grocery shopping. They want to support food producers who are doing their best by their customers, their workers, and the planet.”
In NYC, you can use the app to find Bark Hot Dogs, which tops the list for frankfurters because of its commitment to local purveyors and for its conscious comfort food. For burgers, Grazin’ comes up first; the Tribeca outpost of the Hudson Valley diner has cut out the middleman by using products sourced from its own ranch and neighboring farms (these guys are so committed to the local ethos, there are no tomatoes served in the winter months). In the ice cream category, which has seen a lot of sustainable growth over the past decade, Van Leeuwen is the winner, in large part because all of their disposable goods are 100 percent renewable and recyclable and they use local hormone-free milk and cream, with no preservatives, unnatural emulsifiers, or stabilizers.
To be included in the Eat Well Guide, vendors must demonstrate a commitment to supporting sustainable agriculture. For the folks at GRACE that’s considered to be a vital step toward protecting the environment, public health, animal welfare, and local economies. It’s not a perfect science as the organization is not a certifying agency, but they seek out seals of approval from others in the vetting process, including Slow Food, SPE, Animal Welfare Approved, and listings from Edible magazines.
When these credentials aren’t advertised by a restaurant or purveyor, the Eat Well team conducts research to fill in the information gap. They look for new farm-to-table restaurants and then comb the internet, reading articles and checking out restaurant websites for clues. If a place looks promising, GRACE asks them to send in information about themselves for review. And if consumers see something about a restaurant or entity that doesn’t look right, they can utilize a button on the entry page called “Help Improve This Listing.” Users can even submit their favorite restaurants to be reviewed. The aim is to make it easier on customers, but another objective is to start a sustainability snowball that combats the big advertising budgets of large food corporations attempting to greenwash products. “The ultimate goal is to support these businesses so they can continue to grow more and more with other sustainable businesses,” Brighid says. “We’re looking to hook customers up with them.”
While new technology is a culprit in the shift in food production toward GMOs, CAFOs, pesticides, fertilizers, hormones, and antibiotics — all despised by certain chefs and food activists — organizations and entrepreneurs are now using the same force to find food that’s being cultivated with age-old techniques.
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera. Follow @forkintheroadVV.