by Andrew Coppolino | UPDATED April 2022
Across its several brands, Fat Sparrow Group (FSG) – its name a reference to a Mennonite baked good that captures the history of Waterloo County Fare a century ago – takes seriously the modern complications and logistics of doing their part to protect the environment.
Adopting green strategies and maintaining them during a pandemic when sales have been down in the industry, is no easy matter. These strategies cost money, and take time and effort – and businesses try hard to not pass along those costs to consumers. Yet, that doesn’t deter them from working hard to do the right thing when it comes to sustainable food operations across the broadest spectrum.
Like many other businesses, for Fat Sparrow Group owner Nick Benninger, the restaurants and food purveyors have embraced environmental responsibility in three major areas.
“We never miss an opportunity to move towards a greener operation,” Benninger says, adding that FSG can often make a relatively seamless transition to get greener. “With packaging and paper goods, it’s easy to do quickly. Simply change the product used.”
He says that FSG packaging, for the most part, is compostable, biodegradable, “or at worst recyclable.” They also encourage upcycling (creative “re-use”) with their meal kits, for instance. “We send a lot of plastic containers or tin in those kits, and they can all be reused at home several times before recycling,” he says.
With the hard and fixed infrastructure components, it’s a case of the aspirational. “Those elements represent the larger scale,” Benninger says. “Things like lighting, our appliances, vehicles, and the HVAC (heating, ventilation and cooling equipment). We have goals to convert these, and we generally do as we need to replace items or their time has come to upgrade.”
On a food waste-management level, FSG has partnerships with community social services for good, healthy food too good to be composted or otherwise recycled. “We work with a local organization to deliver food that goes unsold to people in need. That serves a very good purpose and reduces what otherwise would be needless waste,” Benninger says.
A leader in ethical, sustainable and green action is Kitchener’s Borealis Grille & Bar and its parent company the Neighbourhood Group: a certified “B Corp” business (a certification setting and maintaining verifiable social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability), Borealis is highly dedicated to local sourcing, sustainability and reducing carbon footprint and food waste.
In Uptown Waterloo, Zero Waste Bulk is a small but robust one-stop grocery venue for reducing the packaging waste that is sent to landfill. You can also collect Earth Points with in-store shopping.
At his location on Hurst Avenue in Kitchener, Thompson Tran’s Wooden Boat Food Company cooks a lot of delicious dishes, but that goal is buttressed by environmental consciousness, ethical sourcing and business practices.
“Our kitchen is plastic wrap-, aluminum foil- and parchment paper-free,” says Tran. “We simply believe that sustainability is an essential building block for long-term success.”
For Wooden Boat, a certified “Ocean Wise” business, decisions and actions taken start with the sustainability issues. Since arriving on the scene from Vancouver a few years ago, Tran has focused on partnerships and collaboration in which community trumps competition, he says. Proteins sourced are local, sustainable and pasture-raised or free-range.
It might happen that the farmer supplying him with chicken will drop in to make a delivery while you are there; the take-away containers holding your glazed lemongrass sugar-cane chicken, for instance, are fully compostable including the utensils. Even then, Tran encourages BYOC – Bring Your Own Container.
A smaller scale, though no less important, are the region’s seasonal food trucks. Their customers, in fact, make up a good portion of a younger demographic who are very serious about climate change and being stewards of the environment.
Food trucks, with their mobile, pop-up nature, might seem to be here-today and gone-tomorrow and rather loose with disposable, throw-away food culture. Not so at all.
In his work as owner-operator of two Fo’Cheezy food trucks, Sandor Dosman serves his sandwich cones wrapped in paper which is labelled to indicate that it is compostable.
“And with our food truck group, we stipulate no Styrofoam at our church rotations,” says Dosman.
As Paul McGough tells it, his S.W.A.T.: Sandwiches With A Twist food truck is a one-stop recycling dynamo.
“Our take-out packaging is made from 100 percent recycled material, and our paper towels are the same,” McGough says. “All our cleaning chemicals are also environmentally friendly, and we recycle all packaging from purchased goods.”
The only plastic item used currently are forks and knives, he adds. “The current supply of the ones made from sugar cane is not consistent, but we continue to search.” Cleaning clothes are cotton and are washed and sanitized to reduce the use of paper towels. S.W.A.T. customers have access to recycling bins for their soiled containers, and fryer oil is recycled into bio fuel, says McGough.
“We purchase goods that are ethically sourced and farmed locally where available. We recycle all oil from the generators and engine, and we bundle and recycle all corrugated cardboard, glass, metal and cans.”
But for these food operations, and many others in Waterloo Region, there’s a desire to help people directly as well as acting to benefit the environment, as McGough says.
“Most importantly, at day’s end if there are prepared items and baked goods left over they are donated to social services like House of Friendship rather than be lost to waste and have to be sent to a landfill.”
Andrew Coppolino is a writer-broadcaster, and is a food columnist with CBC Radio in Waterloo Region. Following a stint as a cook at a restaurant in Kitchener, Andrew chose to work with food from the other side of the kitchen pass. As a food writer, he is dedicated to promoting and nurturing culinary businesses and advocating for local chefs and restaurants. Andrew’s work has been published in newspapers and magazines across Canada, the United States and England. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.