Daily Footprint, #23 – Lunch Break!

Or… More on How to Review Small a Business (California by Train, Part 3).

Since I’m charting the impact of our voyage through a typical day it seems like we’re definitely overdue for lunch by now (although we’ve been snacking so much that I’m not sure we deserve any). A previous post dealt with how to review a small business, but it’s such a large part of the Green Stars Project that I think it’s worth taking some more examples. Like that post, I’m going to pick restaurants from places that I visited while traveling around California on an Amtrak rail pass.

Dunsmuir, California

Dunsmuir is a small town (pop. around 1500) that many only glimpse briefly as they speed along Interstate 5. But it made for an interesting day trip on my Amtrak pass – it feels like a cross between the fictional towns of Twin Peaks and Cicely, Alaska (Northern Exposure). It lies on the Sacramento River, in a forested valley within view of the mystical Mount Shasta, and it’s a testament to the fact that tiny remote towns are often not boring at all, but actually full of quirky and eccentric people.

Dunsmuir
Dunsmuir: Arrival at dawn via the Amtrak Coast Starlight; The Sacramento River; Mount Shasta; Burrito at the Wheelhouse.

The Wheelhouse

So, getting back to that lunch break: you may have an opportunity to ask one or maybe two questions when you’re in a restaurant, so make them count. At the Wheelhouse I was tempted by the breakfast burrito but only want to eat eggs if they are pasture-raised. So I asked about the eggs and was prepared to order something else, depending on the response. I think this process is important – you’re making a choice according to your ethics instead of just letting things pass. Also, the business owner learns that customers do actually care about where the eggs (or other ingredients) are sourced and will have more incentive to make an effort in that regard. In the Wheelhouse the lady I talked to was happy to report that the eggs come from a neighbor’s hens.

Here’s my full review of The Wheelhouse (5/5 Green Stars)

Know your Eggs – A Quick Guide to the Terminology.

Cage-free and free-range eggs are better than caged eggs since the hens can move and interact a bit. But pasture-raised eggs are a huge step up in welfare – it’s the only condition in which the hens actually go outside and graze/forage. To get a sense of how their lives are different, check out Free as a Bird Rescue, a New Zealand organization that buys hens from battery cages and rehabilitates them.

Pasture-raised eggs
Data from Certified Humane, left image from the Huff Post, right image from Vital Farms.

Santa Barbara

Having passed through Santa Barbara before, I thought it might be a place best left to wealthy retirees and their convertibles. However, it seems to be a bit more interesting these days – there’s the post-industrial “Funk Zone” near the waterfront, and the Eastside (where I stayed) has a friendly down-to-earth vibe and some of the best Mexican restaurants in the area. There was a big fire burning in the hills and the ash that drifted down onto me was a good reminder of our climate situation and why we need to be conscious of our impact.

Santa Barbara
Sunset in Santa Barbara, accentuated by smoke from a fire in the hills; unnecessary containers from Handlebar Coffee; menu from Green Star Coffee.

Handlebar Coffee Roasters

In general everything at Handlebar Coffee Roasters was good – they appear to have selected pretty sustainable suppliers for their tea, pastries, dairy, etc. There were a couple of issues, however, resulting in a score of 4/5 Green Stars (you can read the review here). The issues illustrate how sometimes the most important things about a business are either staring you in the face or conspicuous by their absence.

Staring you in the face: At Handlebar, my lunch was a bagel with almond butter and strawberry jam (surprisingly delicious!). What irked me was that the almond butter and jam were served in plastic containers. It’s pretty easy to avoid this: spread it on the bagel, use paper or ceramic pots, or place a dollop on the plate. Waste generation is one of the most obvious factors to look at when reviewing a restaurant (my #1 peeve is Styrofoam).

Conspicuous by its absence: Considering the focus of the place is coffee, there’s absolutely no information provided on their coffee sourcing – sustainability or social impact. There’s plenty of information about how the owners developed a love of coffee as professional cyclists in France and Italy, but nothing about their beans.

I think there’s a good chance that they are careful about how they source their coffee but it’s always useful to point out (to the owners and other customers) that more transparency is needed.

Green Star Coffee

This post is about reviewing lunch spots, but I want to give a quick shout out to Green Star Coffee for excellence in sustainability (and for making some of the best coffee in Santa Barbara). I was actually a bit nervous before visiting Green Star because we share a name, but thankfully they didn’t disappoint 🙂 Here’s the review (5/5 Green Stars).

That’s it for now. Next time you go for lunch, try asking one question about your food and then write a Green Stars review. You can also submit your review to enter this contest; there’s still time – it looks like the deadline will be extended and, in any case, the contest will be recurring 😉

Bon appétit!

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