Here in Beirut, we like to think that our city is just like every other. Big. Bustling. Organized chaos. To our great and collective disappointment, Beirut is considerably filthier than the rest. Foreigners step into the country, immediately scrunching their noses against the thick, foggy pollution that plagues our breathing air. Walking through the streets is no comfort; debris piled high that serves as a feeding ground for beggars and junk collectors tarnishes the beauty of the city.

Watching them, we realize just how much is wasted every day. Recycling in Lebanon is basically nonexistent, and very few efforts have been made to change that.

That is, until now.

Meet Naji Boustany and Meredith Danber-Ficcarelli—the cofounders of FERN, perhaps the only NGO in Beirut with skill enough to combine food and garbage in a massive effort to make Beirut go green. FERN, which stands for Food Establishments Recycling Nutrients, aspires to bridge the gap between food production and food waste, effectively transforming Beirut’s restaurants into “zero-waste establishments.” To adequately describe what that means, we first need to delve into the faces behind the garbage-savvy duo.

In 2011, Naji worked alongside Tawlet, a local organic restaurant in Mar Mikhael, as their project manager. In a turn of fate, he met Meredith, a then graduate student at the New School in NYC. Meredith, who was in Lebanon as a part of her urban societies program, was interning at Souk El Tayeb, throwing her right on the threshold of Lebanese food.

After numerous conversations between the two food enthusiasts, the idea for FERN began to take hold, and by the end of that year, the pair were dedicated to “closing the loop” between Lebanese restaurants and their domestic suppliers.

The idea of it all is to convince local restaurants to reduce their waste. Food waste in restaurants compiles the majority of the waste--plate leftovers, kitchen scraps, etc. In a ridiculously simple and practical method, FERN places recycling bins in restaurant's kitchens, allowing chefs and staff to easily and efficiently sort recyclable waste from garbage that can be composted.

Surprisingly enough, many establishments jumped on board FERN's vision. "We expected a lot of resistance," said Meredith. "But we already have great people on our side." Indeed, FERN has already managed to attract a number of hopefuls, like Tawlet, Casablanca, the Angry Monkey, the Gathering, and others.

But FERN's green thumbprint on Beirut doesn't end in the kitchen. Every first Thursday of the month, FERN teams up with their partners, Tawlet, 961 Beer, and Ixsir Wines to offer the public a themed buffet with open drinks, with the reasonable $25 ticket going to support FERN.

This month, the First Thursday's event went British. With menu items that catered to the English pallet, guest chefs Badeeh Abla, Rabeeh Abla, and Michel Nabti transformed Lebanese ingredients into British classics. Free 961 beer, Ixsir wine, arak, and tea (of course), was offered freely throughout the night. But oddly enough, the open bar wasn't the main attraction that night.

Amongst the expats, tourists, and anglophiles aplenty, the excitement and cheer was only moderately influenced by the free flowing alcohol and spicy curries. The appearance of the night's special guest, British ambassador Tom Fletcher, made the event seem oddly like one large British reunion.

(Photo via Meredith's Facebook)

But that could have been the 15 other English-accented folk tittering with drunken laughter at my table.

The dessert, cordially donated by Cocoa & Co., was of course British themed, and also insanely delectable. Tawlet contributed with their own version of organic knafeh, which happened to be one of the best I've ever had.

The ambassador himself tweeted, saying "Great to be with Lebanon's best social entrepreneurs tonight. @tawlet humming with ideas. Congrats @FERN, changing Lebanon 1 meal at a time."

March's First Thursday promises to be one to remember, with an Irish themed menu and, even more exciting, the launching of 961's newest Irish brew. Sources indicate that it won't be green (sadly), but even more delicious than the original.

Guest chef's for the March event include Yara Zeitoun, vegetarian extraordinaire, a 961 Beer contributor, and yours truly. So take this biased opinion to heart when I say that next month's bash is not one to miss.

FERN: Garbage Enthusiasts and Good Causes

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Vote for FERN to Win 2013... We the People on Mar 18, 2013

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First Thursdays at Tawlet Gathering (Dinner)


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