Catering and food sustainability

Surely at some point, you have heard that we need to reduce plastics because they pollute a lot! Or that we must use all the food we buy. Or that it is vital to buy local and seasonal food, and if you don’t eat all there is on your plate, it is better to ask for it to take away.

These are very welcome practices that are gaining momentum in our society. What about restaurants? The catering industry plays a major role in the current food system in our country, and they are also increasingly adapting to this reality, aware of the food and climate crisis. According to the National Institute of Statistics (INE), Spain is the country with the highest number of bars and restaurants per person in the world: one for every 175 inhabitants, totalling 277,539 gastronomic establishments. In addition, the catering industry employs 1.7 million people and accounts for 4.7% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The culinary collective is therefore shouting out to this revolution for sustainable food. We are all on the same team because taking care of food means taking care of the planet. To achieve such a milestone, the catering collective carries out the sustainable practices mentioned below. But first, it is essential to remember the definition of sustainable development. It is the ability to meet the needs of today’s society without compromising the resources of future generations.

In addition, the environmental consultancy Te lo Sirvo Verde puts forth the term more sustainable restaurant. This implies that a restaurant knows its environmental footprint, that it has integrated a philosophy of reducing environmental impact into its daily management, and is annually considering new goals to pursue. The non-profit organisation Ecovidrio, adds that all this goes beyond serving healthy and ecological food. It is about having a social, environmental, and value responsibility: from waste management, through the origin and seasonality of food, to offering few fixed dishes to menus, for example as part of a community.

The following is a compilation of ten sustainable practices in the field of catering proposed by Te lo Sirvo Verde and Dr Francesca Allievi of the JAMK University of Applied Sciences

  • Prepare dishes with seasonal and local food.
  • Use food of animal origin that applies sustainable production systems and high animal welfare.
  • Prioritise sustainable production for all foodstuffs because it promotes animal welfare and reduces the risk of zoonosis, the use of medicines and the consumption of natural resources.
  • Design and prepare menus with fresh (non-ultra-processed) foods. The idea is to offer fibre-rich food with moderate amounts of sugar, salt and saturated fats. It is vital to give more prominence to vegetables and prioritise baking with ovens and cooking with griddles to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Zero waste: focus on reuse and try to reduce and eliminate as much as possible all waste (packaging, leftover food, cleaning utensils, etc.). In addition, we must increase the use of products with no ecological footprint. Therefore, we should dispense with non-reusable textiles, detergents, chemicals, disposable products, and cellulose as far as possible.
  • In this line, it is also relevant to promote food recovery: prevention at source, selling or giving away surpluses and composting the organic fraction.
  • Adopt technological tools to help measure and reduce the impact of different restaurant activities on the environment; for example, software to monitor wasted food or applications to measure the water used for dishes.
  • Contribute to initiatives that aim to create positive change in the food system. Cooperation between communities, customers, producers and school authorities is essential to achieve significant change.
  • All restaurant staff need to be aware of good practices and the reasons for such practices promotion. It is also essential to explain to customers this commitment to a more sustainable food system.
  • Bioclimatic architecture, eco-design and energy efficiency as fundamental pillars in the operation of the premises.