Little flecks of white scatter the wooden floors and granite countertops in my apartment. I remove the lid from the blender and the scent of lavender and cellulose waft lightly towards my nostrils. It looks like boxed mashed potatoes. Gingerly reaching, I scoop up a handful…it feels like really wet boxed mashed potatoes. Draining as much liquid as I can, I let the rolling pin do the rest of the work. I delicately remove the dishtowel. There it is, paper…well sort of.
Why am I spending the majority of my day off on an arts and craft project?
In the name of sustainability. As I look across the freeform shapes adorning my counter, two things are apparent. One, what the hell am I now going to do with all this handmade paper? Two, I am going to have to come up with another solution to the day old menus.
When we opened Emmer & Rye our overarching goal was to work with farmers and to bend the restaurant to their needs not to ours. This meant delving deep into the world of fermentation to bottle any last remnants of a season. Discovering uses for each cycle of a plant’s life from the lettuce root to the radish pod. Carting in whole pigs every two weeks and finding every possible use of the meat, skin and bones. Working with so many producers, farmers and ranchers, that the multitude of $25 or $100 checks I’m cutting weekly makes my hand cramp.
This daily changing menu has more ripple effects then the ones listed above. We are also reprinting a minimum of 60 menus every afternoon.
“Nasturitum is no longer on the snapper, we wont get more till tomorrow.”
“Rachel brought us snails let’s serve them tonight.”
“Is that how you spell Koshu?”
Small tweaks, constantly resulting in 60+ pages littering our wastebaskets. How can we preach respecting our surroundings and caste so much paper to a life in the recycling plant? There has to be another use.
Homemade paper was my first thought. Make some cool notecards or tags to complement our repurposed fryer oil soap (yep, we do that too). The volume of labor required for this first thought made nightly arts and crafts a terrible option. Now we are looking into composting the cardstock into our mushroom bed or repurposing it into server books.
But the paper sparks the question, what level of responsibility do we have as business owners? We can craft a menu supporting small families with progressive farming techniques that nourish the lands around them; but what about those dishwasher chemicals that enter the water directly below our restaurant? We can seek out amazing craftsman for tables, plates and décor; but our operating budget also means we need to utilize places like Amazon and http://www.grandstand.com. Beyond those questions there are the numerous human and environmental issues surrounding our food system such as: the volume of consumer waste, employee healthcare and benefits, excessive water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, the ramifications on transportation for imported products, access to commercial composting, fair wages for workers, sustainable scalability, the list is endless. So what is the line you draw between profitability and responsibility?
Kevin found me that day on the couch with a look of bewilderment. As I word vomited my dilemma to him, his eyes grew wide and in a reassuring tone, he said, “I have no idea. But we have to start somewhere.”
I am sure as the restaurant grows we will continue to find ways to better support our team, our community and the nature entwining it all. We will find the causes that drive us and find peace in neglecting the ones we cannot get to. In the meantime, I must learn to have patience and faith in the process (two traits that seem to be in high demand in the restaurant business). For now, it’s back to the internet…I think I need to buy another recycling bin.