I have been involved in the restaurant and catering industry for a long time, as both a chef, and owning my own restaurants.
Contrary to what a lot of people think, owning a restaurant is not a guaranteed way to make a stack of money and retire early. It is long hours, very competitive, low margins, and often can be quite short-term oriented. “We need the sun to shine this month” etc etc.
So often the focus is on selling as much food and drink as possible, there is not always much space for thinking about your responsibilities to the outside world. At least that is what I used to think.
Our diets impacting the environment
Over time I started reading more about the environmental impact of our diets, and how this in fact contributes around 30% of all man-made greenhouse gases, uses 70% of fresh water, and leads to major biodiversity loss through land-use change, deforestation, and over-fishing. And this is going to get worse – a bigger global population, eating more meat per person; this spells trouble.
Reframing how we value food
This bad news was confirmed during my masters degree thesis, designing a system to measure the environmental impact of food used in a restaurant or canteen. But with the bad news came some good news. Whilst the problems of the food system are very complex, from a consumer’s perspective it is really quite simple: we are eating too much meat, we are throwing away too much edible food, and we are not eating enough food that has been sustainably produced. As a chef, this seemed a problem we could solve by reframing how we value food, by using flavours rather than old caveman values like “I want a big juicy steak”, by creating meals that taste great, but are low impact.
So this is where I started.
If you want to bring about change, first you need to measure the impact. So we measured the environmental impact of food used in food businesses. This showed us the good bits and the bad bits. The good bits you do more of, the bad bits you change into good bits. We tested this out in a number of restaurants, caterers, and canteens, and it worked. So far so good. But something was missing. You (and me).
You (and me). A new way to eat
Consumers need to buy into these ideas. So we have set about creating a consumer-driven food movement that is about value, about flavour, and about taste. When we build a bridge between this and the solutions we are helping caterers to develop, things are start to fall into place. I have been lucky in some ways, I have had some funding, I have had the trust of different businesses who were willing to go on this journey too. This is what it is about – taking steps towards sustainability, based on measurements that make sense and lead to real change. No nonsense, no ideologies, just research-based change. If we can do this at large scale, we can give consumers a new way to eat, one that is good for the planet, one that contributes to environmental solutions, not problems.
These might be long roads, but you have to start with the first step.