Author Elisa Cohen
Photographer Green Media
In the face of the greater environmental impact of climate change, how to maintain economic activities in a more sustainable way is a major issue for all industries around the world today. In terms of food culture, consumers' pursuit of organic and local ingredients also reflects this trend.
But how else can we consume more consciously if we can't choose our own ingredients when dining out in Taipei? The Taipei Cultural Exploration Association (台北市文化探索協會), which created the "Green Dining Guide (綠色餐飲指南)" and promotes the "Green Food Manifesto (綠食宣言)," believes that choosing "Green Restaurants (綠色餐廳)" is one such solution.
TAIPEI invited the co-founder of the Green Dining Guide, Chia-Ying Ho (何佳穎), to share the spirit and goals of green food and how green restaurants have become the first choice for many residents and expatriates when dining out in Taipei.
Creating a Sustainable Benchmark
"Our goal is simple: we want restaurants to provide consumers with good food. Through the Green Dining Guide, these restaurants that are striving for a friendly relationship with the land and environment can be linked together and gather more momentum to convey our ideas to consumers," says Ho.
The Taipei Cultural Exploration Association, which operates the Water Garden Organic Farmers' Market (水花園有機農夫市集) in Taipei, originally began visiting restaurants to promote the organic ingredients of its partner farmers and to find a more stable source of procurement, later finding that there were always restaurants around Taiwan that were committed to realizing the ideals of green food. In order to save these restaurants from fighting alone, the Taipei Cultural Exploration Association leveraged its experience of working with organic farmers and allied with restaurants that were struggling on their own to create the Green Dining Guide based on the concept of the Michelin Guide.
Since the concept of green food is relatively new to Taiwanese consumers, Ho points out that the Green Dining Guide adopts the advocacy model of a promotional campaign, which does not require strict standards from the willing operators, but instead encourages a gradual progress, so that both consumers and restaurants can raise their own awareness of this concept at their own pace. That is the reason why the Taipei Cultural Exploration Association chose to call on like-minded partners through the concept of the Green Food Manifesto.
The six criteria of the Green Food Manifesto include: prioritizing local, seasonal ingredients, prioritizing organic ingredients, following sustainable ecological and oceanic principles, reducing the use of additives, providing vegetarian meal options, and reducing resource depletion and waste.
Ho emphasizes that the Green Food Manifesto is not a compulsory standard or stringent set of regulations, but rather a voluntary commitment. "In writing the content, we have been thinking about how to use diverse wordings and expressions, hoping to make people feel that these are things we can do together!" she says.
Taipei's Green Restaurant Scene: Opportunities and Challenges
Taipei is the starting point of the Green Dining Guide in Taiwan, as the city has a large population of people who prefer to dine out on a daily basis, as well as diverse restaurant options. Ho shares that when they first started to promote the Green Food Manifesto, they would look for suitable restaurants to visit and communicate with them to find out how they could provide support and assistance.
"In addition to our own discoveries, the restaurants themselves also referred and shared our information with each other, and even volunteered to join. There are currently about 40 green restaurants in Taipei, but we believe there must be many more that fit the concept," Ho adds.
Taipei has a wide variety of green restaurants, from Chinese and Western cuisine, to cafés, bakeries, and beverage stores. The restaurant Plants, which sells plant-based food and gluten-free vegetarian meals, is one of them.
Plants, along with Ooh Cha Cha (自然食), are known as foreigner-friendly establishments, owing to their English-language menus. Both Plants and Ooh Cha Cha are also noted for their flavorful vegan dishes using organic ingredients produced locally around Taiwan.
Another green food destination worthy of mention in the same breath is Xiao Xiao Place (小小蔬房), which is also a unique restaurant that incorporates Taiwanese ingredients like pickled pineapple into international cuisine. Moreover, all the fresh seasonal vegetables served are purchased from eco-friendly farms.
Ho observes that consumers in Taipei receive a wide variety of information and resources, and are more receptive to the concept of sustainable, organic and local ingredients. As such, they can quickly understand the concept of green food and are more willing to choose green restaurants as their dining destinations, contributing their efforts toward environmental protection and sustainability.
Through the Green Dining Guide link, restaurants and organizations in the city continue to explore ways to maintain operational momentum without abandoning sustainable environmental concepts, including the use of recycled lunch boxes and joint efforts with manufacturers of environmentally friendly materials.
"The most exciting thing is that the restaurants will be able to collaborate with each other on their own!" says Ho, who is pleased to see that many green restaurant partners are quick to adapt and innovate in the face of crisis, as many of them are small-scale operations and are suffering even more during the COVID-19 pandemic. By cooperating with one another, they might be able to discover more mutually-beneficial opportunities.
Gathering Strength to Promote a Healthier Ecosphere
"We play a role as a bridge between organic farmers, quality suppliers, restaurants and consumers," Ho points out. In addition to integrating restaurants through the Green Dining Guide, they also operate a "Green Media (綠媒體)" initiative that shares articles, information, and online activities such as ingredient research and recipe sharing to engage in a dialogue between farmers, restaurant operators and consumers, and to let more people become aware of their efforts in green initiatives and environmental sustainability.
Green Media is also a platform for the general public to quickly find green restaurants. In cooperation with the Agriculture and Food Agency of the Council of Agriculture (農業委員會農糧署), they have created a "Green Life Guide Map (綠色生活地圖)" covering the whole of Taiwan, marking green restaurants, organic farms and farmers' markets in various places.
By clicking on pages of these green restaurants, all sources of food ingredients are displayed, helping consumers to better understand what they eat, such as where and how the foods are produced. In this way, consumers can also get to know individual farmers and manufacturers.
"Honesty to consumers is essential to becoming a green restaurant," Ho notes. Although the Green Food Manifesto does not have a strict selection criteria, in order to build trust with consumers, green restaurants that wish to join the Green Dining Guide are required to disclose the brands and suppliers of the ingredients they use.
Unlike previous business models that sought to maximize profits, green restaurants are usually small- scale operations that focus on the core concept of "sharing good food" and striving to maintain their livelihoods. Through the organization and mobilization of the Green Dining Guide, Ho looks forward to establishing a mutually beneficial green industry ecosystem, joining hands with partners throughout the restaurant industry to create a cycle of ethical choices, and to continue its expansion.
GREEN LIFE GUIDE MAP