Lachlan's avatar@lachlanjc/edu
All Food & Nature in Cities

Paper proposal

Every time I Dig Inn to my sweetgreen or CAVA, it’s getting shoveled into my face. It’s obligatory to watch YouTube on your phone while at one of these restaurants—they are refueling joints for humans, with an aspirational brand. They cater to a specific audience: progressive Americans with income who care about their health and might care about the environment. The companies represent a new type of food company: tech-first (2/3 of sweetgreen revenue comes from digital orders), venture capital-backed (and unprofitable; sweetgreen loses tens of millions per quarter), nutrition-first, sustainability-focused. And it always, always comes in a bowl. (Sometimes PFAS-ridden, often compostable, rarely composted.)

The food at these restaurants is, compared to the options available a few decades ago, a revelation. DIG is vertically integrated not only into software, but owns DIG Acres, a farm in upstate New York to produce the food served across their East Coast urban restaurant locations. The menu of fresh food at these chains is consistent between locations, yet locally sourced, an inherent contradiction. sweetgreen labels its dishes with the carbon footprint of each item, calculated by a software-as-a-service startup.

When I first stepped into DIG after seeing Tisch classmates with their bowls, I immediately knew it was backed by venture capital. The subway tile in their NYU campus location and the pickup area…while both commonplace in NYC restaurants, they were a dead giveaway of the genre. While DIG’s finances are not public, their hundreds of millions of venture capital are.

This paper will explore: what’s the culinary aesthetic of venture capital? I’m looking at sweetgreen, DIG, CAVA, NAYA (all refuse to use standard capitalization), and to a lesser extent, the generation before of Chipotle and Shake Shack, and looking to futuristic entrants like Kernel, charting how somewhere between Automat and modern computer vision and climate crisis we got to fast casual food.


  • Primary sources include: sweetgreen impact report 2022 (’23 report may be released on Earth Day)
  • Histories of chain restaurants
  • Trade press and local news coverage of sweetgreen/comrades
  • Food writing on fast casual chains
  • Boards/executive teams, funding records, business coverage
  • Executive interviews like this one on Kernel


  • Is this food determined by culture, is it creating culture?
  • Are the sustainability claims made exclusively for marketing? What do they say about consumers?
  • How does the tech aspect of these companies influence the food? (In 2019, sweetgreen was all-in on blockchain. The salads have not changed, yet they no longer use blockchains.)
  • Why are these companies unprofitable, when they’re catering to the wealthiest consumers in the fast food marketing? What does that say about our food system?