By Joseph L. Garcia, Reporter

How sure are you that your choices when you’re dining out are healthy for the planet?

A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study commissioned by WWF-Philippines (World Wild Fund for Nature) from the Philippine Center for Environmental Protection and Sustainable Development Inc. (PCEPSDI) found five popular dishes that might be contributing to a larger carbon footprint. The dishes come from the partner restaurants of WWF’s Sustainable Diner project, which are scattered through three partner cities: Quezon City, Tagaytay, and Cebu. The data used for the study came from the restaurants themselves.

The dishes were analyzed for their carbon footprint via their inputs in procurement, transportation from source, their operations, food service and operational support, packaging, and waste management. The dishes studied included three unspecified salads, crispy dinuguan (blood stew), noodle soup, caldereta (goat meat stew), an unspecified fish dish, kare-kare (a stew with peanut sauce), bulalo (beef and bone marrow soup), crispy fried chicken, crispy pata (deep fried pig knuckles), sisig (sizzling chopped pig’s face and ears), and sinigang (sour soup).

Of these, measured in carbon equivalent units, crispy pata rated the highest at 5.98 units, followed by bulalo at 3.34 units, then crispy fried chicken at 3.12 units. Pork sisig at 2.95 units, and pork sinigang at 2.89 units round out the top five list.

Overall, the salads rated the lowest at 2.09, 2.06, and 2.04 units each.

“You can prepare a salad which will give you the most optimal CO2 equivalent emissions,” said Dr. Alvin B. Culaba, a university fellow and full professor 10 of Mechanical Engineering at De La Salle University (DLSU), trustee of the PCEPSDI, and a former Executive Vice-President of DLSU, who presented the study. According to Dr. Culaba’s presentation, “Casual restaurants are encouraged to shift to serving vegetable dishes and create awareness campaigns to encourage diners to consume higher portions of vegetables than meat.”

From the same study, he noted that food service operations (storage, preparation, service, and support) proved to have the highest environmental impacts (due perhaps to the high use of energy such as in refrigeration and cooking).

“It is recommended for restaurants to practice energy management. This can be done through effective energy use planning, proper maintenance of devices and equipment, and the use of energy-efficient devices and equipment,” said a summary of the study given to guests during WWF’s Sustainable Diner Summit at Quezon City this week.

Packaging also proved to be an issue as “the production and materials used for the packaging… require use of non-renewable energy and extraction of natural resources.”

Agreeing with Dr. Culaba’s statement, Melody Melo-Rijk, Project Manager for the Sustainable Diner, said, “I think we have to be clear on the advocacy of the project, and that is consuming more plant-based dishes, and reducing meat consumption.” The livestock industry, after all, “contributes 7.1 gigatons of carbon equivalent units per year, representing 14.5% of all anthropogenic greenhouse emissions,” according to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The partner restaurants of The Sustainable Diner project include Kandle Café, Manam, Bells and Whistles, Concha’s Garden Café, Circa 1900, Soru Izakaya, Anzani, Zubuchon, Sugbo Mercado, Earth Kitchen, Gourmet Gypsy, Siglo, Go Salads, Kanin Club, Green Pastures, and Cravings.

“There are varying levels of participation, but they are the ones who signed up for the conditions of partnership,” Ms. Melo-Rijk noted. “We offered to help them transform their business operations to more sustainable ones.”

As a lone consumer, one can feel almost powerless to fight the phenomenon of climate change. But as Ms. Melo-Rijk points out, “It’s really important that we inculcate environmental sensitivity in our choices. It’s not just a fad. It’s becoming a norm to be more selective on the products and services that are more sustainable.”

She adds, “When you support local businesses, you are also supporting them to provide more sustainable services and products. In turn, when it’s demand-driven, that will translate to other businesses going in the same direction.”

Dishes with the biggest carbon footprints

1. Crispy pata with 5.98 carbon equivalent units

2. Bulalo at 3.34 carbon equivalent units

3. Crispy fried chicken at 3.12 carbon equivalent units

4. Pork sisig at 2.95 carbon equivalent units

5. Pork sinigang at 2.89 carbon equivalent units