By Yabroff, Jennie
Newsweek , Vol. 156, No. 01
Byline: Jennie Yabroff
The server at Otarian, the new vegetarian fast-food chain that bills itself as "the planet's low-carbon restaurant," was trying to persuade a customer to try the "Choc O Treat." "It's sooo good, it's chocolatey, and it comes in this pretty lavender paper!" he enthused. The Choc O Treat is not "sooo good"--it's sooo dense, without being terribly chocolatey. But the point of Otarian isn't really the food. It's the wrapping.
Otarian cloaks itself in the smug assumption that you can save the planet by eating lunch. Words like "mission" and "menufesto" adorn the packaging, of which there is plenty. Your order comes on a tray lined with paper advertising low-carbon combo meals. Each item--the Portobello Mushroom Burger, the Tex Mex Burger, the Vego Burger, etc.--is wrapped in more paper and secured with a cardboard sleeve, which is held together by a sticker assuring you it is "100 percent compostable." On the restaurant walls TVs proselytize, and the Web site waxes about (but provides few details on) the chain's sustainable building design, water conservation, and energy efficiency--all that wrapping, for example, is made of recycled materials. No word on how they power those TVs.
The most delicious thing about Otarian, which has two New York locations and will soon open two more in London, is the irony behind its inception. The company's founder, Radhika Oswal, is the wife of an Australian fertilizer magnate, who owns one of the world's largest liquid ammonia plants. The Oswals are building a $70amillion mansion that will include a 17-car garage. When pressed about these seemingly contradictory lifestyle choices, Oswal has claimed that the house will use 100 percent green energy. She also banned the construction workers building the house from eating meat. …