There’s no reason why restaurants should not be subject to the same concerns for animal welfare and the environment as the rest of us. Step forward The Sustainable Restaurant Association. Launched earlier this year by leading restaurateurs including Henry Dimbleby and Mark Sainsbury, the not-for-profit organisation aims to provide a directory of accredited restaurant members who have signed up to their initial three pledges to commit to a more environmentally- and society-friendly movement.
The pledges themselves are reason personified: Sourcing covers ethical animal welfare; sustainable fish stocks; local, seasonal vegetables and so on; Environment includes commitments to recycling, waste management, energy and water efficiency; and Society laudably asks the restaurant to take care of its customers and staff by introducing accessible menus for vegans, vegetarians and those with food allergies, ensuring proper staff training and tips and looking for ways to work closely with the local community such as apprenticeships, etc.
So far, so very palatable. There’s very little to disagree with and most of us would hope that our favourite hang-out would aim for all of the above-mentioned goals, but amongst the aims under the Society section, they’ve slipped in one to advertise the calorific content of dishes on the menu. Now of course it makes no sense that we know more about what goes into fast food than we do high-end restaurant food. Interestingly as an aside, the larger fast food chains have recently quietly dropped Food Standards Agency trials to display calorific content on menus (although most do on their websites) which only goes to show that they’re worried about the power such information would give to customers. So, in light of this particular piece of dietary back-tracking, it might seem feasible for high-end restaurants to take the moral high ground and sign up to it. After all, if we generally view calorific information as a sign of unhealthy food – and the fast food chains clearly think that way – then perhaps it’s up to other restaurants to turn that perception around.
There will be those who mutter – or scream with frustration – about the nanny state and how we should be free to eat what we choose without fear of recrimination from other diners about the fatso who had two courses with double cream, especially when we’re paying for the pleasure. You might think it could just be a case of getting what you pay for (and an assumption that expensive restaurant food is better for you than cheap fast food) and that those who eat fast food do so on such a regular basis that they should be informed about the calories they’re apparently mindlessly consuming, whereas those of us who ‘fine dine’ do so with a clear desire for good, healthy food in a convivial atmosphere, which we’re paying (a lot of) good money for.
But who’s to say this is the case? Who says that restaurants are more transparent than fast food chains when it comes to sourcing? If you’ve dedicated time and effort to losing weight or keeping your figure, why shouldn’t you be able to go out to eat and – at a glance – choose a healthier, but no less delicious, selection of dishes than your devil-may-care companions? It goes without saying that those with restricted diets due to allergies or ethics should be able to eat out without restriction, so why is the same restriction placed upon those who are addressing our growing obesity crisis on an individual basis?
So are you up for making public how many calories you intend to consume on a night out? Would you feel pressured to make the healthier choices from the menu? Or do you think that the more money you pay, the more the onus is upon the restaurant to ensure their food is well-sourced and as healthy as they can make it? Or is this the thin end of the California-shaped wedge of an unhealthy obsession with calories rather than sheer pleasure?