Sustainable Food in the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

Cascade Canyon off of Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park.

Cascade Canyon off of Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park.

Last week, I vacationed in the beautiful states of Wyoming and Montana. I spent 6 days biking, hiking, kayaking, and rafting through Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. Such gorgeous areas!

The mountains rose up majestically in the distance and the water in Jenny Lake, Jackson Lake, and Lake Yellowstone sparkled. The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone was achingly beautiful.

Did you know Yellowstone was created by a massive super-volcano and now has one of the world’s most active hydrothermal areas? There are geysers, mud pots, and steam vents that gurgle and spurt hot water and air out of the ground. Nature is amazing!

Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park.

Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park.

Staying in the National parks was a bit of a rustic experience. The hotels are old (the Lake Yellowstone Hotel was first built in 1891) and full of charm. In this case, “charm” means no air conditioning and no wireless internet---a chance to disconnect!

The view of the Grand Tetons from the road.

The view of the Grand Tetons from the road.

Yet it was clear that Xanterra, the company that manages Yellowstone’s hotels, was trying to up its food game. The menus at both the Lake Yellowstone Hotel and the Old Faithful Inn offered a variety of meats, vegetarian options, and gluten-free options – gluten-free, here?! In Grand Tetons National Park, the Jackson Lake Lodge had a fine dining menu that read like a trendy menu here in LA.

In order for guests to eat this food, it’s trucked in from outside the park and all over the country.

There were two things local to the region that stood out: bison and huckleberries. I occasionally see bison on menus here in LA, but never huckleberries. On this trip we ate huckleberry cobbler, huckleberry ice cream, huckleberry licorice, and drank huckleberry margaritas. Berry-good, indeed!

The park hotels boasted of their sustainability. As a guest, I learned about their recycling, their techniques for reducing water consumption, their composting, etc. But did the food offered in their restaurants align with this? I’m not sure.

Or maybe the draw of better quality trendy food was more important than a high level of sustainability. Maybe offering those food options entices potential customers to visit, which keeps the hotels and parks thriving.

Upon reflection, this logic seems thin to me; who visits a national park for the food?!

I wish the hotels made more of an effort to source sustainable food. What do you think? Do the parks have a responsibility here?  

UPDATE 8/30/15: One week after I wrote this post, Eater covered the same topic here. I guess this is a subject on everyone's mind!