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Would You Pick Up a Portobello Burger on the Go?

Otarian, a new chain, hopes to bring low-carbon, vegetarian eating to you in a hurry.

otarian restaurant

While on a road-trip with her husband, Radhika Oswal was dismayed by her eating options. As a vegetarian she could eat pizza or french fries -- hardly exciting, healthy or planet-friendly. Thus the idea for Otarian was born.

Oswal started Otarian so that vegetarians had quick, easy and delicious choices. As a bonus, Otarian labels each menu choice with the carbon footprint of creating the dish. So, while you could be eating meat lasagna at Sbarros, instead you're biting into Otarian's vegetarian version -- a meal that took less carbon to make. Otarian's menu estimates that a beef lasagna takes 5.21kg of carbon to create, while their roasted vegetable version takes 2.63kg.

The goal of a healthy fast-food chain is a lofty one. Others have failed, notably O'Naturals -- which started in 2001 as a healthy fast-food chain, but currently only has four locations. Otarian is off to an ambitious start: two restaurants in New York City (one right across from TDG's office!!) and one in London.

At the opening party in their Bleeker Street location, which opened to the public on April 19th, TDG staffers sampled some cocktail-sized versions of their dishes. We were very impressed. The spinach tart and the vegetable biryani were my favorites. We did have a few concerns, first how were customers going to relate to the carbon footprint of their meal? Would they understand the concept? Another issue was the cost --ranging from $7-$10 for mains might price some fast-food eaters out of lunch -- and finally there was the soda dispenser. Marion Nestle, nutritionist, author and TDG blogger, who was also at the party, had the same reaction as us to the calorie-filled syrupy drinks. In a state that's trying to tax these drinks, it seemed like an odd choice. I guess we'll bring our own water (in a reusable bottle, of course) when we visit for lunch.

otarian restaurant

Need more convincing about the merits of Otarian cuisine? Here are some sustainable facts from Otarian's press release:

Dishes that yield lower carbon footprints than comparable meat-based dishes – "Carbon Saving Combos" provide at least 3kgs of carbon savings compared to equivalent meat-based dishes. If every American ate an Otarian Carbon Saving Combo meal instead of the meat equivalent, the nation would save 26.5% of its Copenhagen Accord commitment for that day.
No air freight policy – Ingredients that would typically be air freighted, such as Otarian’s fresh herbs from Israel or select produce from California, are instead transported by road. Dishes are reformulated to exclude these ingredients if a reliable supply is unavailable without using air transport.
98% of restaurant waste composted or recycled – Otarian will have waste collected by private companies to ensure it is recycled or composted and is paying double the price to achieve this rate, which is unprecedented in the fast food sector.
All packaging compostable, recyclable or reusable – Otarian will use innovative materials like bagasse to help minimize the environmental impact of the packaging. Bagasse is a fully bio-degradable by-product of the sugar cane industry that has historically been treated as waste.
Sustainable design and architecture – Otarian leads the way in the fast-casual restaurant design, incorporating sustainable materials throughout the establishment, including floor tiles made from recycled glass, table tops made using recycled plastic, ceiling décor made from recycled aluminium, and chairs made from sustainably sourced bamboo.

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Gloria Dawson

Gloria Dawson

Gloria Dawson is The Daily Green's photo editor.
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