Eco On-the-Go

Organic and sustainable fast food restaurants are cropping up in North America and the UK.

By Giovanna Dunmall

You might be out running errands, on your way to a show, or getting out of an appointment when they hit you: hunger pains. If you’re like many greenies and prefer to eat healthy and organic foods, you probably would be hard pressed to find a fast food joint with a menu that meets your needs. Until recently, that is. Now, city dwellers can choose from a small but growing assortment of quick-service restaurants offering organic, local, and all-natural meals.

Organic food has often been accused of elitism because of its high prices and lack of availability on the mainstream market. But as farms expand their organic capacities and the supply chain gets more reliable, the high prices once associated with organic fare are falling. The market is growing beyond niche and becoming more and more mainstream. From Europe to North America, small eco pizza and burger joints are popping up, while an increasing number of conventional fast-food chains are going organic. Here are some of the best eco bites you can find, both in North America and across the pond.

McDonald’s, UK: The fast food giant now uses organic milk from British cows in the teas and coffees it sells in 1,200 outlets. This adds up to 2.3 million gallons a year and makes the company one of the biggest buyers of organic milk in the country. Earlier in 2007, McDonald’s UK switched all its coffee to an environmentally-friendly Rainforest Alliance-certified brew. The restaurant’s ethical cappuccino is $2 cheaper than the equivalent size at Starbucks. It seems to be a popular move—coffee sales have increased by 10 per cent since making the change.

Leon, UK: A smaller, yet bustling venue in London, the restaurant serves sweet potato wraps, chicken nuggets with dill pickle and aioli, salads, and desserts like orange chocolate brownies to some 14,000 people each week. All the food comes from farms in England, including meat from free-range animals.

Org-e, UK: Short for “organic excellence,” the joint is new to the scene, having opened near London’s Covent Garden in April 2007. Owner Sanjay Sridher set up the restaurant because “there were no real options available to me when I wanted to buy eco friendly and healthy lunch time meals.” Plus he wanted to make organic food “fun and trendy.” The small but cheerful venue is decorated with low-VOC paints and reclaimed timber floorboards. Customers choose from an enticing array of organic salads, sandwiches, and burgers using seasonal ingredients and prepared on site—minimizing the need for unnecessary food miles.

Ozone Organics, Canada: At this Ontario eatery, folks can get a burger for five bucks; all of the potatoes and vegetables are pesticide-free; and the beef, chicken, and dairy products do not contain antibiotics or hormones. Everything on the menu is organic (the sweet potato fries are a must-try!) and takeout containers and utensils are made out of biodegradable materials.

Better Burger NYC, US: This New York City spot has been serving burgers and hot dogs since 1998 from meat and poultry that is sometimes organic and always antibiotic-, hormone-, and nitrate-free. Patrons chow down on organic, air-baked fries (meaning 2/3 less fat than traditional fast food fries, according to Better Burger’s website) and organic, sweetener-free drinks. The restaurant now has three locations in Manhattan.

Hot Lips, US: Located in Portland, Oregon, the eatery uses organic and regional ingredients to create imaginative pizzas. Seasonal variations are also a big feature and include squash, wild mushrooms, and local spuds or greens. The restaurant also serves soups, salads, and sandwiches. Hot Lips’ eco principles include using electric or pedal-powered vehicles for deliveries, and at one location, waste heat from pizza ovens is re-captured and used to boil water for washing dishes.

Bon appetit!