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I'm Compostable!

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The new bags for Sun-Chips practically scream out that they are compostable, really.

It's not the large-sized type that says, "World's First 100% Compostable Chip Package" that I refer to, it's the actual sound of the package, whether you are opening it or digging into it for some chips, and that sound is REALLY loud.

On its website, Sun-Chips (made by Frito-Lay) explains that over the past five years they've reduced by more than 5 million pounds the amount of packaging they use. After that, the company changed the material used to make its packaging films. "Our traditional package is constructed of multiple layers of polyolefin materials, which are derived from petroleum by-products. While these materials are extremely efficient (in both cost and performance), we challenged ourselves to find new, emerging packaging film technologies. After 4 years of research and field trials, we have found a packaging film that meets our performance expectations. That material is known as PLA.

PLA stands for polylactic acid, or polylactide, a versatile polymer made from plants. PLA is made with plants that grow annually instead of petroleum (which takes millions of years to form)."

Sun-Chips says these fully-compostable bags will break down (in hot compost piles) in about 14 weeks. OK, so the bags are made from plant material and not petroleum? Great! But about that noise ...

They know. "Truth be told, our new bag sounds a bit different than our previous bags," according to the Sun-Chips website. "That's because plant-based materials have different sound properties than the materials used to create our old bags. So although this version is a little bit louder, we hope you'll appreciate the change and the positive environmental impact it will have."

Sure, that makes me feel so much better about my snack choices. But so much for trying to furtively chow down on a few handfuls of chips at home, when everyone else in my building is asleep; or at work, when half of your office will know you've got the Sun-Chips bag.

I hope this doesn't give Ben and Jerry any ideas.

The greening of Chicago's restaurant scene hasn't happened overnight -- it's been more like a slow-growing (but far friendlier) Audrey II -- but restaurants and diners now have something concrete to look to that makes it official.

The Green Chicago Restaurant Co-Op on Tuesday will announce 15 restaurants that have earned "Guaranteed Green" status and the corresponding label they can, and most certainly will, display in their businesses, Zagat sticker-style. GCRC Guaranteed Green Logo.jpg

The restaurants are: Avec, Big Jones, Blackbird, Bleeding Heart Bakery, Blind Faith Café in Evanston, the Dining Room at Kendall College, Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, Keefer's, Poag Mahone's, Roti Mediterranean Grill, Simone's Bar, Sopraffina Marketcaffe, Trattoria No. 10 and Uncommon Ground.

The Chicago Diner, Hamburger Mary's and Jacky's on Prairie are currently pursuing certification, says Andrew Weithe, the co-op's assistant director of environmental affairs.

The co-op, founded by Trattoria No. 10's Dan Rosenthal and Ina Pinkney of Ina's, launched the Guaranteed Green program last August.

The little label signifies a great deal of effort. It means the restaurants have earned certification (some as recently as last week) from Green Seal or the Green Restaurant Association, two independent, national organizations; thus far, all the certification has gone through the latter group.

This process can take months and cost thousands of dollars, and it doesn't just mean the napkins and plates are recyclable. Nor does it mean restaurants can coast after year one; certification must be renewed annually.

Diners also will soon be able to spot the labels for green-designated eateries in the dining guides of several publications, including Chicago magazine. The city's tourism website will post the list this week; the environment department and Chicago Climate Action Plan link to it as well.

Don't fear the fish

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A few tidbits that didn't make it into today's cover story on choosing sustainable seafood, which writer Lisa Shames so deftly points out is never cut and dry:

The Shedd Aquarium's next Right Bite dinner is from 6 to 9 p.m. May 5 at Uncommon Ground, 1401 W. Devon. If it doesn't snow (ba-dum-bum!), the evening will begin with hors d'oeuvres and wine on the rooftop garden and follow with dinner, dessert and much insight from Shedd horticulturist Christine Nye. Diners will get eco-friendly garden tool kits. The cost of the dinner is $75. Call (312) 692-3206 or e-mail adults@sheddaquarium.org.

And that beaut pictured above? That's a red scorpion fish from northern New Zealand. We went the tamer route with the photos we ended up running in print, but this photo by S-T photographer Jean Lachat, taken at Supreme Lobster in Villa Park, is too fantastic not to share.

Diver-caught scorpion fish is a perfect example of an underutilized species, says Supreme Lobster's Carl Galvan, a font of information about this sort of stuff and the go-to guy for a good number of chefs around town. Ugly? Maybe, but "it's a really sexy fish. It looks scary from a civilian point-of-view, but when you get a chef looking at it, they get all giddy and excited," Galvan says.

His recent scorpion fish customers include Perennial's Ryan Poli and, just this morning, Eve's Troy Graves. "Anytime [Galvan] calls something sexy, you've gotta be intrigued," says Graves, who has planned a scorpion fish tartare with coconut lemongrass creme brulee as an appetizer special for the next few days.

Phillip Foss of Lockwood also has blogged about scorpion fish's integral role in bouillabaisse. Foss, of course, is the same guy who's been having his way with Asian carp lately. But that's another story entirely; listen to him tell some of that story here.

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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