Merry, sustainable, Christmas

Many people who think of themselves as ethical consumers forget all about it when they eat out
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The Independent Online

Should we feel guilty at this time of feast, wassail and excess? A little, perhaps, but not too much. This newspaper once proposed an environmentally friendly solution to commercialised over-consumption at Christmas, which involved manufacturing presents in an alternate (renewable) dimension and delivering them in an airborne low-carbon animal-powered transport overseen by a jolly bearded hipster.

One of the joys of Christmas, however, is the chance for those of us who feel fortunate, and who live in one of the luckiest nations on Earth, to reflect on our good fortune and to make some contribution to the lives of those less favoured. That is why we ask you to donate to our Homeless Veterans campaign. There are many unusual lots in our charity auction, the next phase of which closes tomorrow, including the chance to cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern in Shoreditch.

This is also a time to think about the effects of our good life on those around us and on the environment. So it is a good moment to remind you of the Sustainable Restaurant Awards, supported by The Independent on Sunday, which aim to reward restaurants that care where their food comes from, that treat their staff well and that respect the environment.

The Independent on Sunday has long campaigned for better standards of animal welfare in food production. Some progress has been made in the 24 years we have been in existence, although there is much further to go. European Union standards on battery chickens, for example, are inching in the right direction, but at such a slow pace that they risk being overtaken by the voluntary adoption of free-range eggs by brands from McDonald's to Hellman's.

The Sustainable Restaurant Association aims to add to that pressure for higher universal standards. There are many people who think of themselves as ethical consumers when buying food to eat at home but who forget all about it when they eat out. Partly, that is because restaurants tend not to provide much information about the origin of their food. One of the goals of the SRA is to change that.

The Association also aims to promote the good business practice of paying staff well and treating them as valued partners in the enterprise. Wisely, perhaps, the SRA has not become involved in the thorny question of tipping, but the implication of its campaign is that, at the very least, there should be more rigorous enforcement of the law to make sure that restaurant staff are not relying on tips to top up their pay to the minimum wage.

The third aspect of sustainability is the environment – again, one of the founding principles of The Independent on Sunday. We have campaigned on everything from the specifics of food waste to the global problem of climate change. Recently we have written about the micro of the revival of "gleaning", scavenging crops that would otherwise be ploughed back into the ground, and the macro of the climate change talks in Lima, in which China and America are moving, still too slowly, towards a plan to avert catastrophic global warming.

The geopolitics of climate change may be beyond the scope of the SRA. The Sustainable Restaurant awards focus instead on the more manageable questions of energy and water use.

The Awards were launched three years ago. This year's winners will be announced in February. If you would like to nominate for the People's Favourite category, the details are on page X. You can do your bit to change the world, one meal out at a time.

Raymond Blanc, the association president, says he is an optimist, and this newspaper is too. We wish you a happy, and sustainable, Christmas.

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