Internationally renowned environmental journalist Simran Sethi was debating whether to move to Lawrence.
After stints anchoring the news for MTV Asia and MTV India, Sethi was back living in New York, where she was developing a show with the Sundance Channel. Yet her boyfriend was heading to Kansas University to pursue his graduate degree.
Sethi was discussing the potential move with a friend who's an eco fashion expert in New York City.
"I told her I was thinking about moving to Lawrence, Kansas, and she said, 'Oh. You have to go to Local Burger,'" Sethi recalls.
"It might not have played a role in my decision to move to Lawrence, but it certainly made it more enticing to know there was a restaurant committed to local, seasonal and organic produce and procurements."
In the same spirit of organic cooperation that is at the heart of the environmental sustainability movement, Sethi returned the favor to Local Burger owner Hilary Brown.
In January, camera crews invaded the restaurant at 714 Vt. Brown found herself and Local Burger the centerpiece of the Sundance Channel production "Big Ideas for a Small Planet: Eat." The Lawrence native became one of three individuals featured "who are passionate about changing the way we eat," according to the Sundance synopsis.
The show premieres nationally at 8 p.m. Tuesday (available locally on Sunflower Broadband Channel 168).
"Big Ideas" is the flagship of a block of Sundance programming presented by Robert Redford called "The Green," a weekly primetime destination focusing on environmental issues.
"The topic that is covered on 'Big Ideas' tends to be the topic that drives the evening of programming," says Sethi, who is host of "The Green" and a frequent guest expert on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."
"I think it lays a really strong foundation for what people see during the block. It fleshes out ideas and really makes things tangible and practical."
"We wanted to show that these eco innovators aren't just living in New York and California," says Laura Michalchyshyn, executive vice president and general manager of programming and creative affairs for the Sundance Channel.
"Hilary Brown is running a very successful green business in the heartland. She is charismatic, energetic and a real entrepreneur with a fantastic vision."
The Sundance execs were also highly intrigued by one of Brown's proposals.
"I thought it would be so cool to do the opposite of 'Super Size Me,'" Brown explains.
That was in reference to Morgan Spurlock's Oscar-nominated documentary in which the filmmaker decided to subsist on nothing but McDonald's for one month. The resulting un-Happy Meals left Spurlock a physical and emotional wreck.
Brown took the reverse tactic by selecting an overweight fast-food junkie - 29-year-old Lawrence resident Daniel Fisher - and feeding him only Local Burger meals for a month.
"I truly believed the results would be as stunning but in a positive way. And I was right," she says of the experiment dubbed "Localize Me."
Her "Big Ideas" episode documents this change in Fisher, who dropped 20 pounds and dramatically lowered his blood pressure and cholesterol level.
"Daniel absolutely loved the food," Brown says. "He repeatedly said, 'I never felt like I was on a diet.'"
Brown claims Fisher has kept the lifestyle change going - although his meals are no longer freebies - and has dropped a total of 50 pounds since January.
"People say, 'Eating at Local Burger for 30 days would be way too expensive.' But that's why I taught Daniel how to do some of this cooking for himself," she says.
Tonight's gathering at Liberty Hall won't just be to screen "Big Ideas for a Small Planet: Eat." Brown and Sethi are using the occasion to launch the Miles Awards.
"I wanted to recognize the farmers and producers who were committed to sustainable practices, so I came up with the awards," Brown says.
The prizes are individualized for each farmer, with numbers that display how many miles away they are from Local Burger. Thus the name.
Sethi, who will help present the awards, adds, "Hilary is honoring her suppliers who made sure we had the best local elk and the most delicious tomatoes. ... as well as draw attention to the whole concept of food miles. Currently, the average item on a North American plate travels about 1,500 miles from farm to fork. The fact that Hilary is committed to local procurement not only promotes sustainability, but it makes sure the food is fresher and tastier as a result, and that we're keeping the money in the local economy."
Brown admits she is "thoroughly pleased" with how "Big Ideas" turned out. As for what the national exposure means for Local Burger, she is openly optimistic.
"I'd like to open Local Burger in different markets doing the same concept using local meats and as much local produce as possible," she says.
"I don't want to do it too prematurely - I had people wanting to open one up in Kansas City after I was open a month, and things were far from where I wanted them to be."
Surprisingly, she thinks Local Burger would go over even better in Kansas City than it does in Lawrence.
"I think it would work 10 times better in Kansas City. There's been a great deal of publicity. There's a bigger market of people with food allergies who now know I serve that market. There's a bigger market of people interested in grass-fed meats. There's a bigger market of people willing to spend more money for their food," she says.
Ultimately, Brown believes the concept of "green living" is starting to become adopted by the mainstream. It wouldn't shock her to see other competitors open up similar Lawrence-based restaurants in the near future.
She says, "There's a lot of positive change on the horizon in regards to our relationship and connection with food. I think we can really change the planet if we did a little bit - just bought a little more local food, and started thinking about what our dollar buys."