Monday, November 30, 2015 by Julie Wilson
The nation’s first ever USDA Certified Organic fast food restaurant recently opened its doors in Pleasanton, California, serving ingredients FREE of GMOs (genetically modified organisms), toxic chemicals, pesticides and antibiotic and hormone-treated beef.
The Organic Coup was started by a former buyer for Costco, whose vision was to revolutionize the fast food industry, pushing the motto: fast food can be good food. The best part? They specialize in fried chicken, and yes, organic friend chicken at that – and they somehow manage to do it with an affordable price tag, with sandwiches averaging about $9.(1)
The Organic Coup serves a variety of entrees including an organic, air-chilled chicken sandwich fried in organic coconut oil and served on a toasted, organic artisan bun loaded with organic, spicy shredded veggies; organic popcorn covered in caramel and drizzled in chocolate; and organic fountain drinks.
“The inspiration for The Organic Coup came from the lack of convenient clean food available. We were frustrated with the fact that there just weren’t any quick options at lunch or on busy weekends,” said Erica Welton, the restaurant’s founder.
“When we started down this path, we knew we wanted to serve only organic and were shocked to learn how few restaurants were actually USDA certified. We were even more shocked to learn that there wasn’t a single USDA organic certified in the fast food restaurant category.”
According to their website, The Organic Coup has partnered with Mary’s Organic Chicken, which operates using sustainable farming practices that adhere to the USDA’s strict organic standards.(2)
Mary’s Organic Chicken farm says all of its birds have access to the outdoors, including ample water and shade and are fed a 100 percent organic vegetarian diet that’s completely free of GMOs and synthetic amino acids. Its chickens are given bales of straw for pecking and eucalyptus tree branches for playing and hiding.
The chicken used by The Organic Coup is air-chilled, meaning the meat is cooled with a state-of-the-art “Air Chill” system, which inhibits the spread of bacteria and saves 30,000 gallons of chlorinated water each day. The alternative to air-chilled chicken is washing the meat in chlorinated water, which often contains bleach, at least for non-organic chicken. This process is not only toxic, but incredibly wasteful, and it washes away the chicken’s natural juices.
Another practice that sets The Organic Coup apart from conventional fast food restaurants is its use of coconut oil, which the eatery says it uses due to the fact that it’s loaded with good, healthy fats as opposed to harmful trans-fats.
Opening a USDA Certified Organic restaurant isn’t a cakewalk by any means; in fact, the rules for organic certification are extremely stringent, requiring annual on-site audits to ensure eateries remain in full compliance. And becoming USDA certified is rather honorable due to the fact that restaurants can serve organic items (produce, meat, dairy etc.) without being 100 percent USDA Certified Organic.
“While the United Stated Department of Agriculture oversees other organic certifications, there is no requirement for restaurants to become certified. It’s purely optional,” reports grist. Restaurants choosing to be organic must take their transparency to a whole new level, tracking every product that enters the restaurant with individual lot numbers identifying items that are “organic” and “conventional.”(3)
These items must also be kept separate, and cannot share utensils such as knives and cutting boards. The organic standard isn’t just limited to food either. Oregon Tilth, an organic certifier in Oregon, requires that organic certified restaurants use safe and non-toxic cleaning products and pest control methods. They even monitor the steam coming from their boilers, according to grist.
While The Organic Coup says it’s the only USDA Certified Organic fast food restaurant, there are reportedly only eight certified organic dine-in restaurants in the U.S., with four being located in Seattle, and only one in each of the following cities: Chicago, Washington D.C., Austin and Carmel, California.