Fashion, food, and sustainability. At first glance, it might not seem like there’s an obvious connection. As we navigate our closets, however, and make conscious consumption and ethical fashion a priority, creating a sustainable lifestyle also includes the food we eat along with being mindful of where it comes from.
Our decision to buy certain foods or eat at specific restaurants is often based on convenience, taste, and price, but understanding how your food gets on your plate is a huge part of creating a well-rounded sustainable lifestyle that aligns with your values.
We caught up with Cory Schisler, Creative Director of Sustainable Restaurant Group to learn more about what sustainable eating really means.
SFF: What is the Sustainable Restaurant Group?
CORY SCHISLER: Sustainable Restaurant Group is a collection of brands dedicated to social and environmental good. Starting with Bamboo Sushi in 2008, we've always believed in doing things differently in the restaurant industry. This includes sourcing our food with rigorous sustainability standards, treating our team members with respect and offering industry-leading benefits, and having a positive impact on the communities where we have restaurants. QuickFish came about in 2016 as a way for us to take the same dedication to sustainability we have at Bamboo Sushi and offer our product at a more affordable price point in a fast-casual environment.
What does it really mean to be a certified sustainable sushi restaurant? What do your restaurants do differently?
Our first certification came in 2008 from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). We were the first sushi restaurant to gain this distinction by holding ourselves to really high standards when it comes to how we source our fish. Over the years we've gained numerous other certifications and awards that go beyond just how we source our fish, into how we operate our restaurants (building sustainable, eliminating single-use plastics) and into how we treat our teams and communities (B Corp certification). Most people understand treating your employees well and contributing to the community, but the idea of sourcing fish sustainably is still pretty foreign to people. It's not a easy to understand as something like organic produce. To break it down, we source fish only from plentiful populations, caught in a way that doesn't have a negative effect on the surrounding environment or other species, and from fishers and distributors that have full traceability in their supply chain (basically making sure that what we say we're serving is 100% what is on the plate). We also have a huge dedication to sourcing as close to home as possible for a lower carbon footprint - not just on our fish, but everything else like our uniforms (made in NYC by Tilit - a group that pays a strong living wage to their workers) and even our plateware (made by Haand in North Carolina who runs their operations on low energy and a strong dedication to recycling.) Our dedication to decreasing our carbon footprint is also a very big part of our mission and the reason we're carbon neutral today through Seagrass offsets. I think it’s a great example not only for other restaurants but to other industries like fashion as well!
What does it mean to eat sustainably?
I think in the world of today, sustainable eating is being conscious and informed about where you food comes from and how it got to your plate. It's not about studying wikipedia all the time or being afraid of eating out - it's taking simple steps to find the places that align with your values. Let the restaurants and grocery stores that are dedicated to sustainable sourcing do the work for you. Having conversations with those servers, butchers, chefs, etc is the best way to learn a little bit each time.
It’s estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the world’s oceans than fish. What does that mean for our food supply?
Trouble, to be honest. We have a huge opportunity right now to use technology and innovation to 1. limit our society's use of plastics in every day life and 2. find ways to clean up our oceans. For Bamboo Sushi and QuickFish we're dedicated to constantly audit our supply chain and product quality to make sure we're serving fish that isn't affected by plastic waste. On the larger scale, those businesses serving fish have a responsibility to give back to ocean clean up efforts - whether that's raising awareness among their customers or dedicating time and resources to the cause.
Many consumers don’t immediately connect the clothes we wear with the food we put in our bodies. How do they relate?
I think it's about aligning with and supporting businesses that make sustainability and social good a priority. The values SRG has are very similar to clothing brands like Everlane when it comes to using plastic waste in fabrics or one of my newer favorites Nisolo, who ethically produces shoes in Mexico, paying a living wage and improving the health of the communities they operate in. At the end of the day, it's all an ecosystem of commerce. The guidelines of sustainable sourcing can apply to all industries.
How can we make sustainability in fashion and food more accessible?
Have consumers DEMAND it. We live in a capitalist society and unfortunately too often, money is the biggest catalyst for change. Once larger fashion companies and restaurant groups see the market value in transparency and sustainability, then they'll lean in - and with larger companies with high volume start to make changes, you see these products becoming more available and affordable. So, as consumers, we have a responsibility to support those groups that are doing things the right way, to communicate the need for these values.
Tackling sustainability in food or in fashion is a huge endeavor that can often feel extremely overwhelming and hopeless, what keeps you going?
Kaizen is one of our core values - it's the Japanese practice of constant improvement - just a little each day. To overcome the overwhelm we take daily, manageable steps to get better - whether that's with a new product to source, or as simple as a conversation with a guest. Breaking up the effort into manageable and productive pieces will have a great effect.
What manageable steps can everyday consumers take to make a difference?
If you find a brand doing something you love, that has a positive impact on this world, talk it up! This isn't about being that naggy friend at the table boasting about how you only eat free range chickens, it's about outwardly supporting companies doing it right. For us, we get so excited to see one of our guests post on social about their experience at one of our restaurants - and when they just mention the sourcing of a specific dish, or take a picture of our menu that has sustainability info on it, it's putting more of that messaging out into the world and raising awareness. While social media has been a mixed bag for our society, there is still such an opportunity for it to be a catalyst for change.
Headed to the Sustainable Fashion Forum this weekend? Our friends at QuickFish will be in the building servin’ up delicious poké bowls!