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Food Detective: Food festivals, markets get a little greener

Bins thcategorize waste are more prominent food festivals. | Courtesy David Hammond

Bins that categorize waste are more prominent at food festivals. | Courtesy David Hammond

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Updated: May 9, 2012 9:58AM

At a festival last year in Lake Tahoe, I admired the well-used waste receptacles with bins labeled Recycle, Compost and Trash. As far as I knew then, such simple-yet-effective bins had not yet made it to Chicago.

"Pretty cool way to separate waste," I murmured to a California dude, lounging nearby, munching a vegan burrito.

"Uh, yuh," he nodded, "those have been around for like 10 years." Ouch.

Promoters of the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival in September boasted their event was "100 percent carbon neutral." How's that possible? Well, they calculated fuel consumption and bought offsets that went toward tree-planting and clean energy programs.

These initiatives make the Midwest seem a little behind. Still, there's progress being made.

Green City Market prides itself on its eco-orientation (farmers' booths display "food miles" traveled), and it has made moves to green up the annual Chef's BBQ benefit. At this summer's event in Lincoln Park, we saw biodegradable garbage bags and the same multi-part trash dispensers I'd noticed in Tahoe. Young attendants stood by to clarify for befuddled consumers where to put recyclable, compostable and trashable waste (such guidance was very helpful).

In August, the already-green music fest Lollapalooza banned bottled water and awarded T-shirts and other swag to eventgoers who turned in recyclables.

And at Chicago Gourmet in Millennium Park in September, there was a lot of greenness.

Sheila O'Grady, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association, assured me "all paper and plastic" at the event was recyclable. This year also saw the introduction of an iPhone app "to eliminate the program book, which was not very green."

Mary Barranco of Southern Wine and Spirits America, a Chicago Gourmet sponsor, told me they'd implemented a cork recycling program, a little thing that could have big-time impact. There are thousands of wine bottles opened during this three-day finale of Chicago's food festival season.

But we really can't wait for organizers to do the greening for us. Standing in line at Chicago Gourmet with Louisa Chu, the food blogger for WBEZ (91.5 FM), I noticed she brought her own reusable water bottle, cloth napkins and chopsticks.

That's what it takes: many people taking small steps that can have large consequences.

David Hammond is an Oak Park writer and contributor to WBEZ (91.5 FM) and E-mail

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