Old emailNovember 30, 2011
I found this in an old email I wrote a local food writer a while back. I think it expresses the philosophy James and I have towards business. [Note: For a while we had planned to open a deli, but scrapped those plans when we decided that we did not want to go in that direction. And yes, we did serve homemade chai tea for a short time - what does this have to do with mustard? Good question...]
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When we started, we had grandiose plans to do everything ideally, but reality is that we cannot be perfect. So we decided not to strive for perfection. Our goal instead has been to always do better and continually improve the way we do things, always looking for innovative solutions. We quickly realized that if we tried to do everything the exact way we wanted to from the start, our business would never have gotten off the ground. And in conversations with other like-minded restaurant owners in town we were reassured that this was the way to go, as long as our guiding principles were set and we fervently stuck to them. (ie. Rome wasn’t built in a day.)
Do you remember the scene in Food Inc when they were interviewing Joel Salatin while they were having a barbecue on their farm? Did you notice that he was eating off a paper plate and drinking from a styrofoam cup? My initial reaction when I saw this was surprise, that someone like him would use disposable plates/etc (including styrofoam!). But I realized one, that’s not the point of the film, and two, that he’s not perfect either. So sometimes, in fact often, James and I are left doing things in a way that is less than ideal. But as long as we do not violate our principles and keep in mind the ultimate goal, we can always improve.
An example of this is our goal to minimize our waste stream. Observing the other prepared food vendors at the market, we were astounded at the amount of waste created each day. So we set out a goal to hand out zero trash at the market. Everything we give out is edible, compostable, or recyclable. We take back and recycle the foil in which we wrap our sandwiches, as well as compost the napkins. WE are responsible for this waste that we created, not our customers, though not many people think this way as it is much easier to pass the buck when it comes to trash. When we were making chai during the colder months at the market, we brought ceramic mugs and charged people a $1 deposit on the mug, and returned the dollar upon the return of our mug. This was much more work than just handing out paper cups (as we had to take the racks of used mugs back and wash them each day, including the shot glasses in which we sampled the chai). But to us, this just made more sense than handing out a never ending stream of paper waste. And even if the cups were compostable, I don’t believe that many people actually compost them (and it’s still a one-way stream of waste, even if it is getting composted – ie. “single use”). Again, this waste is our responsibility, not someone else’s.
But the reality is that we still do create waste. Our cheese comes wrapped in plastic. We were continually buying ice until we bought refreezable ice packs that fit our coolers. The pretzels we use to sample the mustards come in plastic bags (though we use those bags to hold the compost and recycling). Our truck runs on gasoline. We are far from perfect. But we do our best. When we open our deli, we plan to charge people extra to use a paper cup. This extra charge will go to paying for the cup in addition to contributing to environmental organizations. Unfortunately, the end use cost of producing disposable items is rarely included in the economics, so we must factor this in ourselves. Is this the most efficient way to do this? Of course not, but is is the best way we can figure to do it at this time. It’s not about limiting options; it’s about being responsible for both the options we provide and for the decisions we make.
The larger conversation we are trying to have is not just about responsibility of resource use and waste stream, but of shifting paradigms. We don’t want to give someone a discount for bringing his or her own mug- this should be standard practice. Instead we will charge you extra for not doing this. We understand this is different, and may possibly turn some people off. So be it. If we were to buy our meat, dairy, and produce from Costco, Sysco, or Restaurant Depot, then we would probably be making a lot more money (and definitely have a much inferior product). But since our business is a reflection of our own ideals, we choose to do things differently. Not in order to be different, but because it makes more sense to us to get our meat from the people who raise it, to get the cheese from another vendor at the farmer’s market (or directly from the creamery), to get our produce from the the farms/farmers we know and see each and every week. This takes more time, energy, and especially a lot more money. But we don’t know another way to do it.