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Mind your menus: What to expect from the world of food and drink in 2017

Brock Shepherd, founder of Toronto’s Kensington Brewing Company and the forthcoming Trashed & Wasted food festival.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

With nearly everyone happy to see the backside of 2016, most of us are especially grateful to have a shot at that symbolic clean slate that January always promises. And this year, clean living doesn't seem to be quite as important as social responsibility judging by many in the food and drink industries who are renewing their commitments to making the world a better place. As such, 2017 is already shaping up to be the Year of Mindful Eating and Drinking.

Of the many initiatives, the buzziest is certainly the Zero-Waste movement, which has inspired the entirely waste-free Listel Hotel in Vancouver, the Okanagan Valley micro-brewery Crannóg Ales, and at least two waste-free markets – Montreal's Mega Vrac and the Zero-Waste Market, slated to open in Vancouver later this year. Even grocery chains, such as Loblaws, are starting to proudly display "ugly fruit."

Brianne Miller, founder and CEO of Zero-Waste Market, says the store will also conduct workshops to teach consumers how to reduce waste through tricks for preserving food and getting every last nutrient out of your groceries. "We're doing lots of things to tackle waste – not just in our store, but along the whole supply chain. Once people learn about all the food waste, it's really hard to just forget it," she says.

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On the restaurant side of things, Eigensinn Farm's Michael Stadtlander and Jamie Kennedy, who now runs J.K. Farm's dinner series, have been pioneers in Ontario. They are about to be joined by a host of progressive, urban, food-industry thought leaders, who, this February, will launch Trashed & Wasted, a Toronto festival that includes contributions from Sanagan's, Hooked, Arepa Café, Montgomery's, Blackbird and Porchetta. Specific details are still being worked out, but the plan is to offer haute cuisine dishes made exclusively from food that would normally be tossed in the bin.

Spearheaded by Brock Shepherd, Kensington Brewing Co.'s founder, the festival is designed to raise awareness, inspire consumers and raise money for charity. "There's a big disconnect between people who have too much and people who don't have enough," he says. "Maybe this event can help get people talking, so that we can add to the dialogue."

Shepherd, who is known for running eco-friendly and efficient businesses, says he was inspired by New York chef Dan Barber, who turned his restaurant, Blue Hill, into a zero-waste pop-up for several weeks in 2015. Barber, along with Massimo Bottura and other eco-conscious chefs, will be featured in Anthony Bourdain's forthcoming documentary about food waste, scheduled to make the rounds on the 2017 film festival circuit.

Zero waste is far from the only sustainability-minded initiative, however, with high-end, plant-based and plant-centric restaurants on the cusp of being ubiquitous. The Acorn is a smash hit in Vancouver and, in Toronto, Planta and Dandylion are both doing well, alongside an increased understanding that the meat industry is hard on the climate. Montreal's veggie-centric Candide has received critical acclaim and even the Joe Beef guys have a light alternative to their meaty excess with Le Vin Papillon.

Booze isn't far behind, either. Bacardi, for example, is trying to eliminate plastic straws in cocktails (for the ocean's sake), and Corby's, which already picks up the tab for Toronto transit riders on New Year's Eve, is removing the polar bear logo from its bottle to raise both money for and awareness of the effects of climate change on the habitat of polar bears. Proceeds from sales will go to Polar Bears International.

These are only a few of the many initiatives like this in the food and drink industry, and it's clear that – big and small – there are a lot of players committed to making the most of this fresh start.

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