Ethical Eating

Is cuisine with a conscience a possibility when dining out?

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Consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about the ethics of the food that they buy – but while retailers are starting to respond to these concerns, so far the restaurant industry has dragged its heals. 

It is complex enough trying to select ethical food, drink or household products even when we are presented with various organic, fair trade or other such accreditations on packaging, so how can we ensure that restaurant food is what it claims to be?

Ethical Consumer, a publication which reviews companies, products and services rating them on their ethical credentials, recently published an article which looked at how easy it would be to take such principles with us when we dine out. Their research took an in depth look at 26 restaurant chains, seven of which have branches in Ealing, with some interesting results.

According to the report, one third of the money spent on food and drink in the UK is spent dining out, which equates to around £30 billion each year therefore challenging restaurant owners on their environmental and social sustainability is worth the effort.

The restaurant chains were judged on human rights (including workers’ pay), animal rights (factory farming), vegetarian and vegan provisions and company politics (genetic engineering, political activity).

The table below shows how the chains that have branches in Ealing fared. However, it should be noted that Gourmet Burger Kitchen came out top out of all 26 chains and Café Rouge.


Ethiscore (out of 20)

Gourmet Burger Kitchen






All Bar One


Pizza Express


La Tasca


Café Rouge


Of course the greater part of the restaurant industry is not made up of these major chains, but of single ventures or small localised chains, some of which take a pro-active stance towards ethical sourcing.

And there are organisations that can help these smaller businesses. Ethical Eats has brought together an informal network of London restaurants and catering businesses with an interest in sustainability to share experiences, promote best practice and identify practical steps that restaurants can take to make their businesses more sustainable.  The network tackles slippery issues such as sustainable fish, local sourcing, food waste, and the feasibility of creating a mark or standard to identify ‘green’ catering businesses.

Ethical Eats’ Charlotte Jarman believes that there are huge variations in awareness between restaurant owners with the majority having very little awareness of ethical issues at all.

London Food Link’s latest publication, One Planet Dining: London’s growing market for eating out sustainably is the result of a year of research into London’s restaurant, hotel and catering trades, and provides a snapshot of attitudes towards and practices relating to sustainability in these sectors.  It features many examples of good practice, showing how restaurants such as Leon, Acorn House and Konstam have incorporated sustainability into their purchasing. 

And it also shows that many restaurants are missing out on a booming market for local and ethical food, and suggests that those that are already using sustainable ingredients could do more to communicate this effectively to their customers.

February 7, 2008