Eco fast food is an oxymoron of sorts. On the one hand, Slow Food advocates and anti-waste crusaders urge us all to enjoy leisurely trips to the farmers market, spend time cooking up traditional recipes, and dining with friends around a table with nice plates and reusable napkins. That’s the ideal. In reality, however, many Americans are already stuck with their suburban homes, lengthy commutes, and extra-long workweeks — and seek somewhat greener, somewhat healthier meals on the go.

Last week, Newsweek took eco fast food restaurants to task, pointing the finger at a small New York and London chain called Otarian. This greener fast food joint serves local, low-carbon meals in compostable and recyclable packaging. Newsweek’s beef with Otarian? The greener fast food joint’s food still produces more carbon and waste than cooking at home. Also, the Otarian owners own an eco-mansion, another green oxymoron.

Brian Merchant at Treehugger has already written a rebuttal to the Newsweek piece, basically pointing out that eco fast food restaurants allow an incremental change towards a greener future:

Are there inherent contradictions in Otarian’s restaurant? Many. Is it the greenest way to eat? Far from it. Is it annoyingly self righteous? Maybe. But it does advance a number of worthy ideas in the public sphere, and potentially turns a new audience on to green eating ideas. And it serves as an alternative to other wasteful, meat-heavy fast food offenders — and maybe even as a catalyst for further change. I’m glad it exists — and wish the chain success.
I tend to agree with the writer. The waste in many eco fast food restaurants still gets to me, which means I rarely patronize companies like the Green Truck — a food truck service in which disposable ware is the only option. Still, I’m glad restaurants like these exist. After all, McDonald’s patrons aren’t going to turn into diehard Slow Food members overnight.

And if we’re going to single out a fast food chain for critique at this time, I still think that should be the McDonald’s and KFCs in the world, not Otarian. Today, a Big Mac costs less than a salad, despite the obvious fact that a burger has a much bigger carbon footprint than a salad — or the portobello mushroom sandwich at Otarian, for that matter.

But if the Newsweek piece has convinced you to skip green fast food and find easier ways to create home-cooked meals, try joining a co-op. Laurie Woolever of The New York Times recently joined one, and raves about her experience so far:

It works like this: Once a week, you cook a dish (chicken enchiladas, for instance), making enough to provide at least one serving for each adult member of the co-op. (Children can be assigned half or full portions, depending on ages and appetites.) Around the same time, your fellow co-op members are cooking large batches of their chosen dishes.

After setting aside a pan of enchiladas for your household, you divide and package the rest, usually in reusable containers, and label them with reheating or assembly instructions. Members then gather and swap dishes, each walking away with a variety of meals for the coming week’s dinners and, often, leftovers for extra meals and lunches.

Your big batch of enchiladas has bought you three smaller batches of, say, Greek watermelon-barley salad, lentil soup and Vietnamese pork salad.

The co-op can save members money — by giving them a home-cooked alternative to on-the-go fast food purchases, green or not. What are your thoughts on eco fast food? Does one-use biodegradable flatware make you cringe? Or are you a daily customer at your to-go organic burger joint?

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