Dining Consciously
Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is!
By Jeremy Joven
Published Jul 2014
Would you, as an immigrant, eat at restaurants that strongly oppose immigration reform? Would you dine at an anti-LGBT establishment? Or would you prefer to spend your money at a business that shares your views? When it comes to dining, whether that means drive-through or gourmet, where you spend your money actually matters. It’s time we consider our dining habits an extension of our social causes. Dining consciously is easy: Simply research the places where you choose to dine. Like a popular skit on the show Portlandia, you can ask where the meat comes from, where the vegetables are grown, and what kind of care the restaurateur gives to his employees. In San Francisco, one restaurant in particular takes dining consciously to another level: Commonwealth. Delighting foodies since 2010 with its mission to donate $10 of every tasting menu to a deserving cause, it has raised over $222,450 and benefitted a variety of local nonprofits. The name itself is derived from an early modern concept of organizing for the common good—a way to indulge conscientiously—and it’s an element of the restaurant’s business model that was put forth by business partners Xelina Leyba, Jason Fox and Anthony Myint; who also founded Mission Street Food and the popular Mission Chinese. Executive chef Jason Fox, together with his fantastic staff, creates a fresh and sumptuous array of tasting plates with seasonal fare sourced locally. Like at Radius in SoMa and Local Mission Eatery on 24th Street, its idea of sourcing locally grown food has become a norm. In the future, urban farming will make it possible for everyone to enjoy fresh food no matter how far you are from farms. Not only will we be able to eat healthfully, but also, we’ll be benefiting our local economies and affecting climate change, however finitely. Considering that dining establishments make up $660 billion in annual sales nationally, a philanthropic effort would create a wonderful resource to help those in need here in our city and abroad. A growing number of restaurants have taken notice; in Los Angeles, Forage sources vegetables from people’s backyards and from elementary school farms—another great example of how to dine consciously. In Berkeley, a different method has been growing since 2007 at Karma Kitchen, whose Taste of the Himalayas restaurant doesn’t ask you to pay for your food; it’s been paid for by the diners before you. With its staff of volunteers and a “gift economy,” diners are encourage to pay it forward literally, giving as little or as much as they want for future diners. This idea has grown in the past few years, with Karma Kitchen–style restaurants now open in D.C., Tokyo, and even India. You may be surprised to know that even big corporate chains partake in dining consciously; take, for example, the Darden family of restaurants, which includes Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and Yard House, to name a few; the chains work with the Darden Foundation’s focus on community grants, having raised $71 million to date. With a handful of new restaurants popping up all over the city monthly, we as consumers would love to see more philanthropic efforts becoming mainstays in their menus and business models, inspiring a loving and giving community in an increasingly problematic world. Hopefully the next time you decide to have a nice meal, you’ll consider places that do more than just satiate your hunger; think about those who are still going to bed hungry. Commonwealth 2224 Mission St., San Francisco commonwealthsf.com Forage 3823 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles foragela.com Taste of Himalayas 1700 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley karmakitchen.org Food photos shot at Commonwealth