Online dining was born green....

i recently got a call from a reporter at newsweek who asked if i knew of any online social dining projects with a green angle.

While there's been plenty said about the greenwashing of our current media, it led me to think of just how inherent "green" ideas are to "underground restaurants."

one of the true pioneers in "extra-restaurant" dining is jim denevan's outstanding in the field, co-led by katie oursler. Outstanding is one of the originators of contemporary "farm-to-table" dining, and their ambition in staging amazingly creative dinnerparties has been a constant inspiration.

Outstanding organizes dining events all over the country that take place on the farm where the food was grown, literally "bringing diners to the source." This is one of the themes that runs through the dozens of online dining projects that have emerged over the last few years.

These projects have the ability to partner with local farmers and purveyors to feature local, sustainable and organic foods. And like Outstanding, a lot of the time growers and artisans attend the dinner and speak a bit about how, where and why they are growing what they do. Also, diners can meet the chef, meet the host, meet the organizer and most importantly, meet each other.

Underground dining is not just about the food, it is about the community that makes the food possible: The grower, the chef, the server, the diner and the dishwasher. Online social dining events provide an opportunity where all of these interdependent elements come together in a tiny livingroom.

Whether it's alternative fuels, eco-friendly manufacturing, recycling or buying local, the green movement is about involving the community in the decision-making and problem-solving process. That means pulling the curtain back on existing methods and incorporating our collective solutions.

Ultimately the underground dining movement and the green movement are about the same thing: choice, the opportunity to make an educated and deliberate choice.

And we are facing difficult challenges. It's seemingly cheaper to do things dumb. Or it's downright confusing which is the least evil. In doing my dinner parties i always struggled with one fundamental element: napkins. Do I use napkins made from recycled paper, or do i wash cloth linens? which is better, which is worse, and ultimately, as a coordinator in a pinch, which is easier?

The various industries have to begin to build the best decision into the most convenient one, and they need our help to do that. How can we anticipate and optimize the benefits of our inclinations? Read Cradle to Cradle.

I doubt that the majority of online dining projects got started because they thought it was a green idea. It's usually because they have a passion for food, a desire to work closely with the people who grow it, an inclination to meet and serve other passionate people, and an interest in providing some alternative to the status quo.

These are all green ideas, and an amazing amount of work. These are tiny hobby-operations, that barely breakeven, and yet they have international attention. When the ghetto gourmet hit NYC the first time it was like the rolling stones had come to town. thousands of people wanted one of only 100 tickets. seats were being sold at a premium on craigslist, people were begging to be volunteer servers.

I was completely overwhelmed. And that is another theme that runs through these online dining projects. Most of them are booked, solid. Whether they are in austin or atlanta, denver or minneapolis, people are looking to connect with food, ideas and each other.

By demonstrating an alternative, by connecting and educating people, online dining projects are making a far bigger influence than profit. And i think that's ok with us. and that might be the biggest green idea of them all.

Some examples of our green-ish dining events:

In the SF Bay Area we did a number of dinners that took place on local farms, and we also did a couple of events that sourced all of the ingredients from within 50 miles. that's a great challenge and benchmark for all of us.

In NYC, Chef Rich Pinto did a couple of dinners that sourced all the ingredients from the Union Square Greenmarket, and we did a great event that featured local NY state cheeses from Saxelby's in Essex Market. We also did an event that featured ingredients from the Red Hook Community Farm. Read about it here.

One of our famously short-notice, last minute dinners included a screening and q&a with the director of "who killed the electric car" in the basement of an eco-friendly prefab home with a special guest from LA's first biofuel gas station.

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Tags: community, green, online dining, the movement, underground


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