The Currency Exchange Cafe

The Currency Exchange Cafe

A lot has happened at the Currency Exchange Café since we first started working with them through our Sustainability Assistance Program this spring, including Ina Pinkney’s coverage in the Tribune where she raved about the café.  We may have struggled to coordinate schedules for our final meeting to go over Next Bites’ official report – but that time delay meant I was greeted with a Currency Exchange Café that had already embraced many of our suggestions!  This wasn’t surprising, as our interns working with us on the audit and report often expressed that they were impressed with the sustainability efforts the Café was taking before we got involved: especially composting and local food sourcing.

Mighty Earth Chicago

Mighty Earth Chicago

Might Earth Chicago and Clean Water/Clean Food

By Carly Schulman; Photos by Supreet Muppa (cover photo), Tyler Bogartz-Brown, and Haley Diel

At Next Bites, our mission is to empower members of the foodservice industry and dedicated dines alike to reduce our collective footprint, bolstering the health of our planet and its people. 

When it comes to food sourcing, most of our focus is on helping people find the best alternatives to industrial agriculture (and helping grow the market for these alternative options).  Our focus to date largely does not address industrial agriculture, but that does not mean we don’t care about improving its environmental sustainability!

A few days before Thanksgiving, I say down with Celeste Pepitone-Nahas, a Greencorps organizer working from Might Earth Chicago.  Mighty Earth Chicago is an organization leading a campaign aimed at changing the status quo of industrial farming.  This campaign targets Tyson Foods, asking them to make the following changes:



-          Raise all meat using pollution-free feed

-          Diversify beyond corn and soy to include rotationally raised small   grains

-          Implement more responsible manure management

-          Enact a moratorium on native ecosystem losses

-          Provide transparent reporting on progress towards cleaner meat



What does this campaign mean for the goals of Next Bites?  If this campaign is successful in changing how the farms with which Tyson works, it means that anyone and any restaurant purchasing Tyson products (labelled as such or not!) will now be partaking in a more environmentally sustainable endeavor without needing to reorganize their budget or other resources to allow that to happen.  If Tyson makes this commitment, ecosystems along the Mississippi river all the way to the Gulf of Mexico will be vastly improved, ensuring that those in the restaurant and fishing industries will be able to continue sourcing from our environment.

Photo from Clean Water / Clean Food Forum on November 16th

Photo from Clean Water / Clean Food Forum on November 16th

As it stands, the drinking water of 420,000 people in Illinois contains cancer-causing chemicals from agricultural runoff.  Runoff of fertilizer reaches into many ecosystems during its journey into the Gulf of Mexico where it contributes to a huge dead-zone of marine life. 

Tyson Food’s official response to the campaign can be found here, and their concerns about other industries contributing to these same problems are notable.  However, we hope that they can see this campaign as an opportunity for them to take charge and lead the way in this area of environmental sustainability. 

So far 50 businesses, organizations, and restaurants in Chicago have signed the Might Earth Coalition letter asking Tyson Foods to be a leader in sustainable practices.  If you are interested in taking action on this issue, there will be an activist training workshop on December 5th at Next Door Chicago

For further inquiries, please contact Celeste Pepitone-Nahas at

Bright Beat: Stephanie Katsaros

Bright Beat: Stephanie Katsaros

After volunteering as an Eco Educator at a couple Bright Beat events, I finally got to sit down with Stephanie Katsaros and learn what her company is all about. Steph founded Bright Beat in 2010, a consulting agency offering brands, bands, facilities, and events a variety of services to improve their operations while minimizing their ecological footprint. Bright Beat’s purpose is to raise awareness of the value in sustainability, work with businesses to identify opportunities, develop sustainability goals, and manage the strategic process from idea to action.

Local Foods: The Future of Supermarkets

Ryan Kimura is the CIO/CMO and co-founder of Local Foods, a sustainable supermarket connected to a network of environmentally conscious food servicers in the Midwest. Local Foods, as its name suggests, emphasizes the sourcing of its products from food producers and processors in the area, allowing them to limit the food miles of what they sell.  Many large distributors in the food industry are guilty of letting the issue of food miles (how far the food travels until it is consumed) fall out of their focus.

Goddess and the Baker

Goddess and the Baker

I sat down with the Tami of the Goddess and the Baker amid food, drink, and café bustle at the Lasalle and Wacker location to discuss what the cafe has accomplished and the challenges they still face as they improve their environmental sustainability.  

Sitka Salmon Shares: The New Farm-to-Table is Boat-to-Table

Sitka Salmon Shares: The New Farm-to-Table is Boat-to-Table

Marsh Skeele went from a small-scale fisherman and lover of good food to a key player in America’s sustainable food industry.  While throwing dinner parties in Sitka, Skeele connected with Nicolaas Mink, a college professor working on his doctorate in Alaksa.  Over the celebration of good food the two conceived the idea for Sitka Salmon Shares, a sustainable seafood company that would eventually grow to connect Alaska fishermen and their catch with fish-loving consumers around the Midwest

Metropolitan Farms - Aqua and Hydroponics in the City

Metropolitan Farms - Aqua and Hydroponics in the City

Metropolitan Farms (Metro Farms) can be found at 4250 W Chicago Ave, where it is reclaiming industrial space for a new type of factory: one that puts out tilapia and greens and a distinct lack of environmental pollutants.  While I call it a factory, the farm neither looks nor feels like an assembly line.  Inside the greenhouse there are tanks of tilapia and a hydroponic setup growing a variety of tasty greens – from baby romaine to Thai basil.

An Über Commitment to Sandwiches and Sustainability - Hannah's Bretzel

An Über Commitment to Sandwiches and Sustainability - Hannah's Bretzel

Hannah’s Bretzel is a sandwich shop truly deserving of its epithet, “Über.”  And it’s not just the way the fresh, local ingredients are combined with the sustainably-sourced specialty ingredients to create wonderful sandwiches.  Hannah’s Bretzel’s commitment to sustainability and the environment goes above and beyond food to include renewable energy, biodegradable packaging, and even travelling around the city via bikes.

FireFin Poké spreads Aloha and Sustainability

FireFin Poké spreads Aloha and Sustainability

Opening a little over a year ago, FireFin is taking the craze of the Hawaiian raw fish bowl, known as poke, to new sustainable levels.  Led by Chef Rodelio Aglibot, the growing Chicago chain of restaurants aims to spread Aloha, and in doing so is raising the bar for food sourcing, waste handling, and reducing the use of plastic.

Chicago Embraces Sustainable Eating Habits with True Food Kitchen

Chicago Embraces Sustainable Eating Habits with True Food Kitchen

By Michael Kuperman

New to Chicago, yet quickly making a name for themselves, True Food Kitchen has taken the familiar farm-to-table approach and built upon it with a unique health flair. Opened in late 2016, in Chicago’s River North area, True Food Kitchen offers diners an inventive, almost playful way to experience health conscious cuisine.

Known for their large open kitchens, the W Erie St location keeps the trend going with a truly luxurious space. The large dining space, which can easily seat over 100 guests at a time, draws you in with the large L-shaped layout, which seems to have a new and exciting part of the restaurant at each turn. Towards the back of the restaurant, guests can enjoy their meal while also getting front row seats to see how exactly it was made.

With an effort to not keep any secrets from diners, True Food puts on display the prep work that many restaurants tuck away from the eyes of patrons. The line is behind the prep counters sporting large glass windows, allowing guests to experience the theatre that is a busy lunch service.

While the open kitchen at True Food might be tantamount to the brand, one would be remiss without mentioning the true star of the show—the food. Diners across the country have become accustomed to sustainably focused fair, but True Food Kitchen is building upon that model by focusing on sustainable eating habits.

Shortly after being seated, a food guide is placed at the table, outlining co-founder Dr. Weil’s anti-inflammatory themed menu. True Food Kitchen’s menu differs from that of its competitors in that every dish has been crafted to fight inflammation. Powerful anti-inflammatory ingredients like turmeric, ginger, garlic, whole grains and lean proteins can be found in familiar Mediterranean and Asian influenced dishes. The menu is full of antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids and cholesterol fighting anti-inflammatory agents.

Andrew Weil, M.D., linked up with Fox Restaurant Concepts’ Sam Fox in the late 1990s to create a restaurant that offered delicious food, that could also be guilt free due to its health benefits. When it came time to talk about expanding out of Arizona and further East, Dr. Weil being a Chicago native, knew just the place.

With a yoga studio conveniently located above the restaurant—and Yoga + Brunch a monthly event, True Food Kitchen has pushed guests to not just think about their eating habits, but lifestyle habits as well. True Food Kitchen’s popularity shows that guests don’t just want food that is good for the environment, but is also good for their bodies.

A Rooftop Conversation with Uncommon Ground's Helen Cameron

A Rooftop Conversation with Uncommon Ground's Helen Cameron

article and photos by Michael Kuperman

“When we started, nobody was working at this level in the restaurant world, and still nobody is working at this level in the restaurant world. We have about 800 sq. ft. of organic land and we produce about 1,500 lbs. of food a year.”  One thing you notice immediately after meeting Helen Cameron, co-founder of Uncommon Ground, is that she is extremely passionate about what she does.

uncommon ground beer

“Taste this”, she says, placing a few green coriander seeds in my hand. “This is the cilantro plant; the seed of cilantro is called coriander. I don’t know if you know that so I’m just going to give you a little lesson. This is used as a flavoring in our Witbier, it has a very bright, floral, citrusy, cilantro flavor.”

The rooftop farm—not garden—is truly a labor of love. While Farm Director Allison Glovak and her assistant might do the majority of farming, Helen is fully immersed in the day-to-day happenings on the roof. The rooftop has become quite the local attraction; hosting children’s field trips, social hours, and tours alike.

“Tonight, I’m hosting a group that I’m actually sort of the head of; Chicago Women in Green and it’s very grass roots, there’s no money or membership fees. We just sort of have meetings all over the city, at places that are connected to women and green in some form or fashion,” Helen informs me. Members of the group will be enjoying the Curse Lifter Organic Blond Ale, a beer made by Greenstar brewmaster Martin Coad to celebrate the World Champion Chicago Cubs, and tonight celebrate open discussion between like-minded women.

uncommon ground roof

The farm is truly a sight to behold; a place that anyone would love to host their social gathering at. Raised planter boxes outline the roof, with more creating rows of swiss chard, tomatoes, peppers, collard greens, and various herbs. Trellises allow each plant potential to expand as the season does. Five large solar panels can be seen towards the back of the roof, “The return on investment on that was very quick, it was about 3-3.5 years,” Helen notes.

Being in business for almost 27 years, 10 of which with the farm; Helen has gained a lot of knowledge about sustainable food systems—and that becomes very clear after only a limited time speaking with her. “We’ve learned a lot of lessons in that time span. The first five years we were full on experimenting, trying to grow all different kinds of crops, seeing which ones like being in this kind of ecosystem. It’s a little micro-climate, some do better than others,” Helen joyfully says.

The passion and appreciation for the work involved is not lost upon Helen. “If you look at this it takes a lot of work; how beautiful it is, someone who has an artistic eye, someone who really cares about giving these creatures what they need and giving them that happens through the soil. There are a lot of creatures living in there, making all this nutrition accessible to those plants and that’s a critical thing to understand,” she says.

In 2008, in an effort to make their micro-climate even stronger, Uncommon Ground added beehives to the roof. “For us we always want to make sure we have a hive on premise. When we do a lot of educating, bees [are] such a critical part of any farming system. They pollinate over half our food supply, we really—really have to support that,” Helen says.

After discussing all things urban-farming related, the topic changed to what is an all too common one these days—are you optimistic? With the current administration fully denying climate change, and taking actions that signal a step back in agricultural development, I was curious how the owner of a thriving sustainable food system felt about the future. “I am optimistic,” Helen confidently responds. “We are all a part of the resistance, what has happened in response to all this naughtiness, is it has activated a whole lot of people. It has made them aware of things maybe they weren’t aware of before, and so I do feel like there is hope. We needed that awakening, we needed that grassroots push to balance what’s happening.”

With no signs of slowing down anytime soon, and adding to her portfolio every day, Helen Cameron has become a force for change in the city of Chicago. Making history with the country’s first certified organic rooftop farm, Helen is a true pioneer in Chicago’s inspiring food climate.




Shake Shack: Community Leaders and Burger Giants

Community Leaders and Burger Giants 

By: Michael Kuperman 

Live music, ping pong tournaments, and dog-friendly menu items, all on the surface might seem to be what sets Shake Shack apart from their competitors, but it’s actually what goes on behind the scenes that is so unique. 

Founded in 2004 by Danny Meyer, what started as just a small hotdog cart in Madison Square Park has grown to a publicly traded company with over 130 locations across the globe. Ultimately beholden to their stockholders, Shake Shack however, does not act like your typical fast food chain. Many have drawn comparisons with the likes of McDonald's or In-N-Out Burger, but selling hamburgers is where those similarities end.

Union Square Hospitality Group, "former" parent company of Shake Shack, owns multiple restaurants, most notably being Union Square Café and Gramercy Tavern. Some might think the Michelin-starred Gramercy Tavern and humble hamburger joint Shake Shack bear no resemblance, but that is simply not the case. While the menus might vary vastly, what remains the same is the attitude. When asked how the fine dining world and fast-casual world cross paths, VP of Supply Chain and Menu Innovation Jeff Amoscato simply replied “quality, attention to quality”. Something that is instilled into young line cooks across the world, and something Jeff knows first-hand having started his career as a line cook at the renowned Jean Georges.

With tabletops made from reclaimed bowling alley lanes, produce and meat sourced from local humane farmers and ranchers, use of clean energy, and a commitment to their local communities, the comparisons to McDonald's almost seem unfair. It’s hard to imagine that a restaurant that has locations in South Korea, Russia, and Turkey could uphold such high standards, but it all comes back to that commitment to quality. “It’s been important to us since day one. Going back to our roots, we came from Union Square Hospitality, a fine dining group of restaurants and we always wanted to give the most accurate answer, experience and information to our guests. Whether it’s where fish is coming from on the menu at Gramercy Tavern or beef at Shake Shack”, Jeff said.

Numerous famous fine-dining chefs have made their ways into the fast-casual world in recent years; whether it’s David Chang with Fuku, Rick Bayless with Xoco, or Jose Andres with Beefsteak. Danny Meyer and Shake Shack are arguably doing it the best however. No other restaurant chain has been able to execute on such a large global level while maintaining esteemed ethical standards.

“Working with companies like Niman Ranch, who then work with 700 farmers, helps us in the ability to grow and partner with a company that’s passionate to bring the best standards to farmers” said Jeff. Shake Shack is known for adapting to local environments; using local designers to create a space unique to that of other Shacks, while connecting with local restaurateurs and farmers in the area.

“When I was in Ireland, the thing that stuck out to me is how the grass really is greener than anywhere else I’ve seen. That’s why they grass feed up there and get a different quality than you’d get in US grass-fed; their grass is just different. In Uruguay, another great example, the topography and the environment is just very different, they don’t feed cattle the way we do here because they don’t grow crops the way that we do here” said Jeff.

What makes Shake Shack so unique is that through their global expansion, they have managed to keep intact the same quality of food, as well as ethical standards so dear to them. They don’t want to just be the place you go to for a great hamburger, rather a pillar of the community, a place that supports local businesses and partners with local charities. The desire for quality, in not just their food, but their actions, is why Shake Shack is leading the hamburger renaissance both nationally and abroad. 

Green City: More Than Just A Farmers Market

By: Michael Kuperman 

Approaching their 20th Anniversary, Green City Market has grown to become one of Chicago’s most influential food systems.  While sporting the city’s most robust farmers market might be their claim to fame, Green City Market provides much more for the local Chicago community than just fresh produce.

Started in 1998, by late founder Abby Mandel, Green City Market’s main priority has always been to serve the community. What began as a start up with just nine farmers, on the crosswalk next to the Chicago Theatre, has grown to become a year-round farmers market that can serve up to 10,000 shoppers on any given Saturday morning.

While most are familiar with the Lincoln Park and West Loop locations, 2017 has seen the introduction of Green City Market’s newest location in Wrigleyville. Not quite as large as Lincoln Park’s 53 vendor market, the new Wrigleyville location offers Cubs fans and community members alike a modest taste of local produce and prepared foods.

Never ones to shy away from showcasing local farmers, Green City Market is known for hosting a variety of events. July 20th marks the 17th annual Chef BBQ; located at the Lincoln Park Market location, the event features a who’s who of Chicago’s top restaurants and beverage purveyors. Guests will be treated to tastings created by restaurants such as: Frontera Grill, Girl & The Goat/ Duck Duck Goat, Publican, Honey Butter Fried Chicken and many more, not to mention beverages from the likes of Revolution Brewing, Goose Island and Lagunitas. Guests will be able to interact with chefs and beverage purveyors all while enjoying food and drinks crafted with locally sourced produce as well as heritage meats.

Events like Chef BBQ or Mint Creek Farm Dinner do more than just showcase local Chefs and farmers, but showcase local communities. Events like these, as well as Night Out in the Parks bring Chicago communities together. Whether it be chefs, artists, activists or just neighbors; events like these showcase Green City Market’s most important commitment, to that of their community.

Fundraising from these events allows Green City Market to maintain its non-profit status while also expanding its community outreach programs. One such program is Link Matching, which offers to match LINK or SNAP card users up to $15 per card, with another program being Produce Box which brings fresh produce to the Bronzeville community, a community that hasn’t had fresh produce in over two family generations.

Programs aimed to educate are also a part of this commitment. Local chefs can be seen giving free Chef Demonstrations weekly at the markets, inspiring guests on how to utilize the fresh produce or meat they may have just purchased. Educating the next generation is also something Green City Market is committed to. This can be seen in programs like Club Sprouts, a program that allows children the opportunity to taste a different in-season market item each week, and also programs like Field Trips, which offers children of all ages hands-on gardening activities at the Lincoln Park Zoo’s Edible Garden, as well as interactive guided Green City Market Tours.

What started from a desire to bring fresh, local produce to Chicago communities has since grown into something much larger. Green City Market not only connects Chicagoans to family farms across the Midwest, but to each other. Whether it’s the Chef BBQ or Link Matching Program, Green City Market provides a much needed service to the city of Chicago, that of community ambassador. Approaching almost 20 years of business, Green City Market has not forgotten that great food is nothing if you don’t have a great community to share it with.

Photos provided by Green City Market. 

Marcellos Father and Son's Solar Powered Food Truck

Billy and Zack in front of their solar powered  truck  photo by Olivia Foster

Billy and Zack in front of their solar powered  truck

photo by Olivia Foster

Interview with Billy and Zack Bauer, creators of Chicago's first Solar Powered Food Truck

By Austin Downey and Olivia Foster


Marcello’s, a Chicago pizza business that opened it’s doors in 1947 and was the first to offer delivery service in Chicago, is once again at the frontier of innovation. The father and son duo, Billy and Zack Bauer, are the third and fourth generations to be involved in the family business. Marcello’s has multiple restaurant locations throughout Chicago and the North suburbs as well as a pizza wholesale sector. Today, the family is going above and beyond, pushing the bounds of food truck sustainability with a solar powered truck designed by Zack.


The pair’s interest in protecting the environment came from their time spent in the Colorado mountains. Billy studied at Fort Lewis College in Durango and his son is now a rising senior at the school, where he studies sustainable environmental and agricultural practices. Zack has brought his passion for environmental conservation to his family’s business, working with his father to implement more green practices in their restaurants. The food truck was one of the first eco-friendly projects that the business has taken on. In the words of Billy, these new initiatives are a balance of economics, customer satisfaction, and sustainability.

solar inverter

The inverter, converting the energy to be ready-to-use by the lights, conveyor belts, fans, and other electrical appliances in the truck

photo by Olivia Foster

When Marcello’s purchased their first food truck three years ago, making sure the truck was environmentally friendly was a priority. The process of ordering solar panels, an inverter, and batteries was surprisingly simple. Four batteries power the lights, conveyor belts, fans, and the other electrical appliances. With only two hours needed for charging time, the truck can run up to five hours on the four batteries charged completely from solar power. All of the materials needed for the solar power system were purchased in a kit and installed by Billy, Zack, and restaurant employees.


While the pair invested about $3,000 in implementing the solar power system, Zack believes the investment will pay off. So far, they have been able to run the food truck appliances for five hours using their six solar-powered batteries. However, when the truck was entirely powered by the generator, every two hours cost them about $40. A short calculation shows that the upfront cost of the solar power system would match 150 hours of generator use. After this time, the system will be paid off and should prove to be cost effective.

Food truck in-use.  photo from Marcellos Father and Son facebook page

Food truck in-use.

photo from Marcellos Father and Son facebook page

The two are also looking towards the future, looking to invest in other eco-friendly projects. They are planning to purchase other food trucks, this time with electric ovens that could also be powered by the solar panels. They are also interested in composting leftover food in their restaurants and moving towards more recyclable/compostable packaging in their delivery and wholesale businesses. Further into the future, Zack is hoping to start an organic farm from which the restaurants could source their produce. However, today the pair are happy to continue learning from their endeavors and driving their family business into the future.

The Loyalist

Interview with The Loyalist 

By: Michael Kuperman

The Loyalist, a casual New-American spot located at 177 N Ada St in the West Loop, along with its fine dining counterpart Smyth, have decided to do what no other restaurant in Chicago has done by sourcing almost the entirety of their produce from one single farm, appropriately named The Farm. Located outside of Bourbonnais, IL, The Farm is run by husband and wife duo Rebecca and Alan Papineau, with the help of their son Elliot.

With the exception of certain climate restrictive items like lemons or limes, an estimated 70% of all raw ingredients both Smyth and The Loyalist use on their menus comes from The Farm. As we get later into the summer that number will grow to about 90%.

Though it is a feat not every restaurant has the means to emulate, it is one many can draw inspiration from. When asked if it was restrictive or inspiring having a set list of ingredients to work with, Chef de Cuisine of The Loyalist, Mark Bolton simply responded “100% inspiring”. Chef Bolton regarded the experience of going to The Farm as “eye opening”, being able to pull something out of the ground, and have it on a guest’s plate later that evening.

Starting with produce that is already delicious, and doesn’t need much manipulation is of utmost importance to Chef Bolton when it comes to making great food. One dish currently on the menu at The Loyalist that embodies this philosophy is the dish composed of: Baby Red Beets roasted daily, Hearth-Grilled Strawberries, Sunflower Seeds, and Fresh Ricotta made with local Amish goats’ milk.

When trying something brand new there is an expected learning curve to be had. Every season starts the same however; the chefs sit down with the Papineaus and decide on a seed list, the list that will determine what gets planted and eventually end up on diner’s plates in the months to come. With an attention to herbs, flowers, and not all too common produce such as Aronia berries and Pineapple Sage, the bounty The Farm provides has grown in tandem with the popularity of both restaurants.

Approaching their one year anniversary, Smyth & The Loyalist, and their relationship with Rebecca and Alan is still in its infancy. A relationship that formed out of pure coincidence and a love of black walnuts, has now become the benchmark for produce procurement in the restaurant industry.

The success that has come from this relationship leads many to reflect on their own habits. As a restaurant, what are you doing to incorporate more sustainable practices into your business? Diners have shown they want locally sourced food that is not only good for them, but their communities. With food being easier to acquire, now more than ever, Smyth & The Loyalist are doing something that is so simple, yet forgotten all too often; reacquainting themselves, and guests alike to the process that is “farm-to-table”. While not every restaurant is capable of sowing seeds they will then harvest, Smyth & The Loyalist demonstrate maybe it truly is the thought that counts. 

An Interview With Erin Drain

An Interview With Erin Drain 

By: Sofia Veraldi 

This week I got the opportunity to sit down with  board member, Erin Drain. She has been with Next Bites for three years and since January of this year is Chair of the Board. She is committed to food sustainability and it was an honor to have the opportunity to sit down with her. I ask Erin questions on the food system at large, sustainable restaurants here in Chicago, and personal questions about her sustainable journey. Her responses were not only thought provoking, but inspiring. 

What inspired Erin to get involved with Next Bites:

    Three years ago, Erin was invited to get involved by a former Board Member. She had been working in the hospitality industry, specifically in wine sales, and Next Bites (then Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition) was looking for fresh, young blood with sales experience. Erin fit perfectly. Next Bites is the first nonprofit board she has ever sat on and the first official sustainability focused organization she has been a part of.  Erin continues to be excited about the mission of Next Bites and how much the organization has grown in her three years, saying it’s nice to actually be making a difference.


Where Erin hopes to see Next Bites in the next 10 years:

    “Global!” Erin says with a giggle. She would love to see Next Bites with some very long-standing, long-term strategic partnerships that are forward thinking. She hopes that Next Bites will rework how the food system currently functions by spearheading the effort to bring organizations together, that typically wouldn't be.


Why Erin is passionate about sustainability:

    Erin had a very simple, yet powerful response to this: “Because everyone has to be; it’s not an option at this point.” She stresses that sustainability is something that everyone has to do. She personally is passionate about what she is putting in her body and her home, wanting to know it is good for the environment and good for her. Erin believes that we have been mistreating our home, the earth, and it is everyone’s responsibility to make up for that misuse. When it comes to sustainability and food, her passion stems from her enjoyment of food as well as the universality of food. Everyone has to eat, and it is a universal language Erin feels protective of.


The environmental work Erin does outside of Next Bites:

    Erin, along with four other women, is involved in an unofficial political action group that tackles a variety of social justice issues. Erin is personally researching is the Syrian refugee housing in Chicago.  One of the reasons refugees need rehousing is an agro crisis in Syria caused by a drought. She says this situation ties together social and environmental issue, claiming that climate change will become the number one social issue. The personal issues that she is looking at are small local ways of environmental impact.   In her personal life, Erin is embarking on a “beef free June,” she is also careful about what chemicals she is using, and she uses and gives out low flow sink aerators to friends.


What Erin sees in the Sustainable food future:

    Erin hopes to see  Big Organic changed.  She wants to shift the consumer desire to see organic on the label to a consumer desire to care about the level of resources used to create the product.  Erin also wants to see small farmers getting subsidized, more local eating, and bigger companies and chains taking sustainable actions. She gave a shout out to Sweetgreen, saying that they serve as a model for where she sees the future of fast dining.


What are the biggest challenges Erin see in the restaurant industry to become more sustainable:  

    Erin feels that the biggest challenges to restaurants in taking steps to become more sustainable are financial. She explains that the way restaurants currently operate is barely profitable and therefore making any sustainable changes adds expenses they can't afford. Erin says the solution to this problem is consumer education. If consumers are educated then they will understand why certain restaurants practicing sustainability are a bit more expensive. She says it is hard to ask people to pay the extra money but they will see long-term benefits.


What Erin believes are the easiest ways for restaurants to make a difference:

  1. “Never Styrofoam!!! NEVER EVER AGAIN”

  2. “Low flow aerators”

  3. “Less meat”


Erin’s biggest restaurant pet peeve:

    STYROFOAM!!! She doesn't see the reason it is being used anymore, especially because it never goes away.


Erin’s favorite local restaurant:

    Lula Café is Erin’s favorite. She says it is the original farm to table restaurant in Chicago. Erin has a lot of love for the restaurant, not only because she used to work for the owner, Jason Hammel, but because it has amazing food and is very trustworthy.


Erin’s favorite green product:

    Vinegar- she uses it for everything from cleaning, to her hair, to take stains out of a tea pot, to killing weeds in her garden.


Erin’s advice for people on reducing their footprint on a budget:

  • Eat less meat

  • Use vinegar for everything

  • Learn how to grocery shop



The Chicago Pescetarian- Food Blog Interview

Interview With "The Chicago Pescetarian" Food Blogger


By: Sofia Veraldi 

This week I sat down with Pooja Naik, who writes the food blog, “The Chicago Pescetarian”. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a Pescetarian is a person who does not eat beef, poultry, pork, or any other meat, but does eat fish and seafood. The Chicago Pescetarian is Chicago’s number one seafood blog and I highly suggest subscribing. After finding Pooja’s blog, I interviewed her on a series of questions about pescetariansim, Her thoughts about sustainability and its future, and other questions pertaining to her work with food. Her responses were thought provoking, insightful, and something I suggest everyone reads.

What was Pooja’s main motivation for becoming a pescetarian?

For Pooja it all started with a couple of documentaries, such as Food Inc. She has been a meat-eater, but once she saw these films portraying the meat industries reality, she made the switch. While Pooja never ate a lot of meat, she knew it was time to stop completely after learningabout environmental damage and animal cruelty in the meat industry. Originally she tried to transition to completely vegetarian, but found it difficult because of her background. Growing up loving seafood and eating it a lot, made it difficult to give up, so she found the solution: Pescetarianism.


What are the main benefits to going pescetarian?:

Pooja talked about many benefits ranging from health to the environment. Environmentally, going pescetarian is better because of the large impact the meat industry has on climate and the ecosystem at large. The meat industry emits large amounts of greenhouses gases and uses and pollutes water resources. Pooja says that if you are buying sustainably sourced fish, you are helping the environment by reducing these greenhouse gas emission and save water. The health benefits of pescetarianism are astounding. Pooja listed many benefits such as lowering cholesterol, good source of folic acid, less carcinogenic than meats, low in saturated fats, and full of key nutrients.  


What health benefits has Pooja personally felt after venturing away form meats:

Pooja says she feels all around healthier. She mentions the benefits for her skin, saying she has a new glow. Also she feels lighter and doesn't feel like she needs to eat as much to be full. Pooja says that its different for everyone, as with any diet, but pescetarianism has worked for her. She stresses that she never pushes for a pescetarian diet if it is not quality or healthy fish, stating that if it’s not good fish then just go vegetarian.


What Pooja has to say about the Sustainability of her diet:

Pooja says the key is to ask! When you are buying fish at the grocery or a restaurant make sure to ask about the fish. You should know where the fish is coming from, how often shipments come in, how long did it take to get there, was it flash frozen, and so on before you consume it. Pooja stresses the importance of only eating good quality, sustainably sourced seafood. She personally always asks when ordering these questions to make sure she is getting the best quality seafood. Pooja uses her blog as a platform to talk about seafood and spread information and awareness about how to approach the diet and fish in general properly. She tries to be the messenger for sustainable seafood eating. She has even worked with the Shedd aquarium on sustainable seafood, like what and where to buy. Ultimately Pooja is committed to the Ocean to Table philosophy. Hoping people will be consuming seafood that comes straight form the ocean.


What Pooja hopes to see the future of sustainable foods be:

Pooja hopes to see restaurants that are doing the right thing by serving high quality, organic, sustainably sourced foods being promoted. She hopes to see more community dinners that inspire talks about how to make our food system more sustainable and healthy for consumers. Pooja talked of a future that can foster sustainable food and the ideology of food that is beneficial for our bodies and communities.


What are Pooja’s favorite local restaurants:

 -       Cold Storage at Fulton Market

-       Kinmont Restaurant

-       Luke’s Lobster in The Loop

-       Fish Bar

-       New England Seafood Company Restaurant & Fish Market


What are Pooja’s favorite green products:

Any Vega Green products!


What is Pooja’s advise for people on transitioning to pescetarianism?:

Pooja suggests starting with baby steps. She says to start small, maybe not going straight to raw fish, but try white flaky fishes that absorb flavors easily. She also stresses being dedicated to quality, saying “yes it is harder and more expensive, but you owe it to yourself to make sure you are eating healthy and sustainable seafood.” She suggests trying out restaurants she lists on her blog and see what they are serving. 


If you have any questions you can email Pooja at

Make sure you check out Pooja’s food blog: The Chicago Pescetarian at to keep updated on her journey!

Also follow her on Instagram @chipescetarian 


Meet Our Summer Interns

Meet Our Summer Interns 

This summer we have four amazing interns working with us! This group of unique individuals shares our passion for sustainability and are working along side us to empower businesses and consumers to reduce our collective footprint, bolstering the health of our planet and its people. We feel incredibly lucky to have our interns this summer and want you to meet them too! 


Jessie Caines

My name is Jessie Caines, I am going to be a senior at Tulane University in New Orleans this fall and I am really excited to be working with Next Bites this summer! I have always had a fascination with the environment, and combined with my passion for food this is a field I am really interested in. Last year I had the opportunity to live on a boat for four months and travel the world learning about the global environmental food system. This gave me the chance too see where food comes from all over the world, and try some amazing cuisines too! I am looking forward to being a part of a group that is working to make a real difference in my home, Chicago. 

Sofia Veraldi 

My name is Sofia Veraldi! I attend Indiana University Bloomington and am studying Environmental Sustainability Studies and Business with a focus in food systems. I am so excited to be interning at Next Bites this summer and be working to make our food system more sustainable one Chicago business at a time! My interest in food started from simply being an eating enthusiast, I enjoyed the experience of sitting down for a meal with quality, clean foods with friends and family. This transferred to working in the restaurant industry for several years, to seeking an education in food, to wanting a career in the world of sustainable and green eats! Can't wait to see where my food journey takes me next!






Food Sustainability has always been at the forefront of my mind. Graduating from Johnson & Wales University with a BA in Foodservice Management, and haven worked in numerous fine dining restaurants and bakeries alike, here in Chicago, I have been able to get a firsthand experience of sustainability in the kitchen. Working with Next Bites, I am looking to lend my perspective of the cook and offer that inside knowledge gained over the years. I am most excited about helping with restaurant audits, and being able to share my knowledge with others. 

Valeria Martinez

My name is Valeria Martinez, an undergrad in the Environmental Studies and Geography department at Northeastern Illinois University and now interning at Next Bites to work towards a more sustainable business ethic in Chicago. I have been a treehugger since childhood thanks to family trips to various natural areas around the Midwest and West Coast and now realizing the importance of conserving these natural resources through my college and community service experiences. I have volunteered multiple times for Chicagoland beach, park, and forest preserve cleanups and conservation work days, as giving back to the community through physical involvement is key to learning about living harmoniously with the natural environment while being a city dweller. Translating this to the foodservice industry is vital, as most aspects of climate change stem off of industrial agriculture and energy. I can’t wait to see where my experiences with Nextbites will lead me!