People’s Cafe: Environmentally Friendly

Walk into People’s Cafe on any given day, and you’ll see a mix of students studying, friends catching up, and people enjoying fresh, healthy food. Nestled between Yoga to the People and D.R.A.W. Billiards on Shattuck Avenue, People’s Cafe recently merged with local kombucha brand House Kombucha to create a zero-waste cafe and kombucha taproom. 

One complaint often overheard about the choices for students going out to lunch around Berkeley High School (BHS) is that there are few options for healthy food. It’s also hard to find places to go for lunch which don’t use lots of plastic and take-out containers. People’s Cafe has opted to reduce their environmental impact by going completely zero-waste.

People’s Cafe was founded in 2006 and is run by Anson Abudulla, while House Kombucha is a family run business founded by Rana Lehmer-Chang in 2009. According to her website bio, Lehmer-Chang started the kombucha brand right after she finished law school because she couldn’t find a job in the slow economy. Her view of kombucha as a social beverage made her originally reluctant to brand and bottle her kombucha, but she eventually realized that a to-go drink would be most convenient for her customers. Now, House Kombucha is a recognizable brand and is sold all over the Bay Area, including in Whole Foods and Peet’s Coffee. 

House Kombucha and People’s Cafe began talks about going zero waste in the spring of 2019. Going zero waste hasn’t been easy because, according to Lehmer-Chang, it is “not possible to go completely zero waste.” Instead, the Cafe-Taproom tries to reduce as much plastic and single use to-go packaging as possible. Lehmer-Chang says, “we ideally want to discourage all plastic including bioplastic.” Bioplastics are usually made from sugars extracted from plants such as corn, which raises the environmental concern of excessive fertilizer use in producing the raw materials for bioplastic. In order for bioplastics to break down, they need to be heated to high temperatures in an industrial compost facility. If a bioplastic cup ends up in landfills or recycling, any environmental benefits are lost. Lehmer-Chang acknowledges the difficulty of making sure that waste from People’s Cafe ends up in the right places after it leaves the door. 

Although the prices can be high for high schoolers, the benefits do outweigh the price. Not only is this a great alternative to coffee shops that use a lot of plastic, but it is healthier than most places students go to at lunch. Isabela Da Silva, a junior in Communications Arts and Sciences (CAS) explains the benefits of going to People’s Cafe: “I go to People’s Cafe because you can get great-tasting, healthy food. I see how often students in my class bring coffee from Starbucks that has a plastic cup and top. I don’t think it is good for the environment and if you’re going to spend five dollars on a coffee, get a biodegradable one.”

People’s Cafe offers an abundance of healthy food options with mid-level prices. It would be amazing to see People’s Cafe offer student specials, like many other Shattuck restaurants do, to take the financial burden off of Berkeley students who want to be able to eat healthy while eating out.

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