The Perennial, San Francisco: A restaurant fighting climate change

Started in January 2016, restaurant and bar, The Perennial in San Francisco, USA was setup with a mission to chart a more sustainable path for the restaurant industry. Over the last two years, it has continued on this path, underlining the message that the key to addressing – or even reversing – climate change lies in food system reform.

As Co-founder, Karen Leibowitz shares, “The best thing about the work we do is the optimism of our message. We get to tell people about positive steps that we can all take to actually pull greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere. That’s a real gift, to be able to tell people that climate change is not (yet) inevitable, that we can do better, and that it’s as easy as eating delicious food.”

The Perennial offset 193 metric tons of CO2e by way of its operations in 2017.

That’s the equivalent of 41 vehicles off the road for the year.

A few of the practices adopted at The Perennial include,

Responsible meat: Sourcing carbon-ranched beef and lamb as large cuts, offering a range of cuts, using meat in moderation and as an optional add-on, with an eye to popularizing a mode of eating that de-emphasizes meat without eliminating it.

Food waste management: The restaurant brings kitchen scraps to their aquaponic greenhouse to reduce food waste and recapture the energy already invested in ingredients.

Turbopots: Lined at the bottom with ridges to create heat sinks, these pots are twice as efficient as regular pots, halving boiling time.

Walk-in refrigerator: Tucked into the L-shaped bar is a walk-in refrigerator with a second wine room, because one large walk in is more efficient than the many small compressors below bar. The bartenders can reach into the refrigerator via windows.

Local and/or sustainable spirits: Distilled alcohol production is inherently wasteful, as only a small percentage of a fermented mixture is captured as distillate and arcane liquor bottling laws prohibit reusing bottles or selling large formats like kegs. The team features producers who re-purpose waste ingredients, water crops with runoff, and find other creative ways to mitigate their carbon footprints.

Straws: Made of straw, not plastic. Drinks tested with metal straws and spoons.

Menus: Printed on 100% recycled paper. They shred worn-out menus and feed them to the worms at the aquaponic greenhouse. So too the napkins!

Bar stools and chairs: Made from industrial waste by the company Emeco.

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The Perennial has developed bread recipes using perennial alternatives to traditional wheat, such as Kernza, a naturally bred intermediate wheatgrass which boasts high yield, root-based carbon sequestration, and pest resistance.

Besides this, the team is working with Carbon Cycle Institute and Stemple Creek Ranch to create a “carbon farming” protocol, in which cattle grazing on compost-treated range land encourage the growth of perennial grasses whose longer roots sequester carbon beneath the soil, keeping carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

As the restaurant continues to evolve in its quest to be a role model for the industry, the team does understand it is a challenging journey. As Karen concludes, “The restaurant business has always been challenging, but building sustainability into our business model does mean that we’re often putting more energy into research than the average small business, but I also see that as a good sort of challenge.”

“In a way, our struggle has been to focus on our core message regarding regenerative agriculture, and not get swept up in every form of sustainable food that we encounter. We often get samples of innovative foods, like flours made from spent coffee beans, for example, and while we think that’s interesting and often admirable, we’re trying to home in on the idea that food can actually restore the environment. In other words, reducing food waste is important, but there’s a limit to the number of ideas we can communicate effectively, so we have to make hard choices sometimes.”

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