The Tale of Two Eateries & Supporting Small Businesses
Having an unexpected day off, Lee and I decided to run some errands and get a little lunch. There's a sweet French cafe near us, and we were pleasantly surprised when the owner greeted us warmly after a long absence. The cafe is close to Lee's old office in Ardmore, and he used to go often, but the COVID lockdowns changed things.
Despite that, the owner remembered that we try to maintain a plant-based diet. He suggested a delicious leek and celery soup, and he adapted a couple of salads—leafless salad for Lee. (He may be the only plant-eater I know who hates most greens) When the food came out, it was beautiful, but even though we were dining in, the server gave us plastic utensils. This surprised me because in the past, they'd used regular flatware. I know it's been hard for many restaurants to maintain adequate staff, so I suspect that may have been a factor in the switch to plastics.
Often at restaurants I speak to the proprietor or at least a server about our preference for sustainable foods, containers, and utensils. But on this day, I didn't. We'd let so much time go by since our last visit, and the owner was already trying hard to accommodate our diets. I couldn't think of a way to broach the subject without being offensive.
Afterwards this quote recently sent by a writer friend came to mind:
“We have lived our lives by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption, that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and learn what is good for it.” —Wendell Berry
As Lee and I have tried to change our routines, we're learned that often what is good for the world isn't quick or convenient. We do want to make changes that nurture the planet, but am I only willing to speak about it with like-minded individuals? At the French cafe, I just couldn't bring myself to speak up. On the other hand, do we ever win any battles by putting people on the defensive? Could I have found a positive way to have that conversation?
All of this was still on my mind when Mattie, the youngest, came home a few days later with prepared food in refillable glass jars. She'd found a health-food market called REAP; as in you reap what you sow, nearby in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia. Everything was healthy, super tasty, and just plain beautiful. Wanting to know more, I reached out via their website. Adjua, the proprietor, wrote back to share her philosophy.
"One primary goal with REAP is to help people eat well with ease, while truly enjoying their food — and I think experiences are more enjoyable when you know they aren't negatively contributing to the environment. While glass jars are a major investment, we find that many of our clients keep what they need to reorganize their pantry or store leftovers, then bring back what they don't need, which means we can reuse them. Our bottom line would no doubt greatly improve with cheaper packaging, but making strides where we can to be kind to the environment is important to us."
I visited the REAP market the next day with a craving for some "bliss bites." The bites, or balls, as we call them at home, look like doughnut holes, but contain healthy, whole ingredients like fruit and seeds. Paige, who fills in on Saturdays, introduced me to REAP's culinary creator, Zack, and she suggested I try the AB & J bliss bites—beautiful pink delicacies that make an excellent healthy dessert.
I know I will happily make the REAP market part of my routine, but I expect to return to the French cafe as well. I'm determined the next time we visit, I will ask about the cutlery. Ideally, the question will spark a friendly conversation, and we can support a small business without giving up on our environmental concerns.
I'd love to hear about a small-business experience you may have had. Have you been able to share your environmental beliefs? Do you think there’s a different way we can broach the subject of plastic cutlery in small restaurants? Please share!