The last time Michelle Courtright served vegetarian dishes to the public, she did it from her home kitchen near Cedar Lake. In the month of Veguary (February), she invited people in for daily dinners and discussions about plant-based eating.
Now she’s using her new Uptown kitchen at Fig + Farro to further highlight meat’s impact on greenhouse gas emissions.
“Food production is the culprit,” Courtright said.
She points to a study by Oxford researchers that says the food system is responsible for more than a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, of which 80 percent are associated with livestock production.
Another Oxford study found that greenhouse gas emissions for meat eaters are about twice as high as vegans. To illustrate the impact, the study says the annual carbon savings of two high meat-eating adults (100 grams or more per day) moving to a vegetarian diet is roughly equivalent to running a 10-year-old small car for 6,000 miles.
At Fig + Farro, keg-based wine is served on tap to slash the carbon footprint required to ship heavy glass wine bottles.
“All of the water and energy used to make one glass bottle is monstrous,” Courtright said.
The restaurant uses a hodge podge of plates, chairs and tables gleaned from estate sales. Staff reused plywood from old booths as the backing for picture frames.
When the two-tops are full, couples are packed in next to each other at a communal table. One platform holds a low-rise table (staff sawed off the feet and made them into candle holders) where people sit on pillows as they eat.
Courtright’s parents made the popular tree fort in a corner of the restaurant, which is outfitted with a few toys, books and chalk.
“A lot of kids will grab a book over here and sit up in the treehouse,” she said.
She said patrons are praising the latkes served with sour cream and chives; the Magic Avocado Burrito with hardboiled egg, tomato and feta; and the dense Swedish Kladdkaka served warm with a chocolatey, gooey middle and coconut whipped cream. She also recommends the “ridiculously good” House Bloody, where the vodka is infused with serrano peppers and sage.
Nearly all staff works full-time, earning $15 per hour with pooled tips, two weeks of paid vacation, a 401(k), and medical and dental coverage. After a year of employment, staff can access a $2,500 travel stipend.
“We’re applying a corporate model to the restaurant model and hoping that it increases morale and increases retention,” Courtright said. “We want a quality team, and that’s what we’ve got.”