Gourmet magazine has made its food and travel predictions for 2009, and many of their predictions on the food side bode well for the environment. The basis of many of their predictions is the continuing economic downturn. They think home cooking and drinking will be hot this year and believe it’s time for a resurgence of the casserole (note to self: pull out all those old church and PTA cookbooks to see how I can make some of those casseroles more healthy and eco-friendly).

Here are some of their predictions and where I see environmental benefits in them.

People will be eating fewer meals out. I love to eat out, but let’s face it, unless you’re eating at an environmentally conscious restaurant, a lot of damage can be done in one meal. If you’re going to a lower end restaurant, a lot of disposable products like plates and utensils end up in the trash. At better restaurants, portions can be huge and there’s substantial waste. Even if you take your leftovers home, chances are you’re going to end up with a Styrofoam to-go box placed inside a plastic bag. Staying home lets you control the quality and amount of food, creates less waste, and saves the fuel used to go to and from the restaurant.

Ice cream will supplant cupcakes as the cult dessert of the moment. Okay, first off, I didn’t know that cupcakes were the cult dessert of the moment. But forget about the fact that I’m behind the times here, how is ice cream better for the environment than cupcakes? Gourmet thinks we’ll see more “varieties made from goat’s and sheep’s milk, as well as more savory flavors. And with new artisanal brands popping up at breakneck speed, we’re about ready to declare chocolate saturation.” Moving away from cow’s milk being used for every milk product is a good idea. It takes a lot more resources to raise cows than it does a sheep or goat. And those who create artisanal foods usually use better, more earth friendly ingredients than those who crank out mass productions of foods.

The return of simple drinks at home. Many bars and restaurants don’t recycle their bottles. On any given night, a single restaurant can send thousands of empty beer, wine and liquor bottles to the landfill. Most people do recycle their glass containers so the trend of creating simple drinks at home for friends instead of hitting the bars can keep waste out of landfills.

A boom in after-school and weekend programs designed to teach kids how to cook healthful foods. Any course of healthful foods will most likely include some information on how the food is grown (at least it should). Bringing an awareness to kids that their food actually comes from the earth and not the mini-mart is an important step in their environmental education.

More food manufacturers will be using voluntary labels such as “Product of the U.S.A.” Knowing where your food comes from is important if you’re interested in food miles. While the simple label of Product of the U.S.A can’t tell you if a food is local or not, it’s a step in the right direction. 

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