There is clearly something very wrong with the way food is produced, distributed and eaten today. The industrial farming which underpins this system sees animals caged for a lifetime, mistreated and malnourished, while farmers are increasingly squeezed out of their jobs by large corporations seeking to reduce the agricultural landscape to a series of vulnerable monocultures. Desperate to produce more food at a lower cost, livestock and crops alike are stuffed with hormones, pesticides and herbicides, and due to the illogical reasoning of free trade, produce that can be produced in your own country is instead flown in from the other side of the world. This system is increasingly relying on the precious resources which are fast running out, such as oil, and what precious reserves it is not exhausting- it is polluting. What’s more, diets increasingly consist of foods high in sugars, salts and fats and lacking significantly in nutritious, fresh fruits and vegetables.
A key culprit of this has been the catering industry, contributing to a significant proportion of the overall negative impacts of this food system. In the UK, restaurants are throwing away 600,000 tonnes of food waste a year (the SRA), most of which ends up in landfill, and the industry is generally procuring its food from unethical and unsustainable sources on the assumption that it is the cheap and harmless option. But while it can be seen as a cause of the problems involved in the food system, it also may be key to solving them. This industry has huge potential, with the ability to bring together both the demand and supply side of the system. The regularity and high level of procurement in the catering industry earns it a strong position to significantly influence the supply side of the food chain, while its extensive presence allows it to simultaneously act as a leading example for individuals, influencing more sustainable patterns of household food consumption and demand.
It is from this understanding that the Field to Fork Foundation has emerged, a Bristol-based CIC aiming to provide information and advice to the local community on how the catering industry can operate more sustainably. This will be achieved by helping the industry design and implement ‘sustainable menus’- menus based on environmentally friendly modes of food production- encouraging local, seasonal and ethical sourcing. Bristol, a notorious food-loving city, is already leading the way in this, and the Foundation has the vision that the city will become the UK’s Capital of Sustainable Catering.
Ofcourse, this ‘green’ message doesn’t resonate with everyone, and may not produce the warm fuzzy feeling inside you as it does with some. And that’s okay. But it is important to understand the economic and social implications of sustainability. For a menu to be truly sustainable, it obviously has to be economically viable, and as demand for ethically produced, local food is shooting up, sustainability is fast becoming a matter of business survival rather than just a ‘niche’ optional extra. Besides this, the carbon intensive nature of current food production methods means that they are likely to soon become much more expensive and subject to strict regulation. By prioritising local goods and services, the industry can also contribute to a thriving local economy, thus having endless positive spin-offs for business. From this perspective, whatever your view, it makes good sense to switch to a more sustainable menu.
The Foundation is hosting a Sustainable Food Summit in May to kick start this initiative, where they aim to get individuals from across Bristol talking about sustainability. This will discuss a variety of issues ranging from ethical meat sourcing, to waste reduction and supporting local producers, and will explore some of the innovative examples from across Bristol and the wider national scale. Drawing on these it will provide useful information for those who are seeking to build a sustainable menu with a valuable opportunity for guests to provide feedback on the challenges involved in this. Speakers include Amy Robinson of Low Carbon Southwest, Alice Holden of Growing Communities, Barny Haughton of Square Food Foundation, Griff Holland of Friska, Matthew Pennington of the Ethicurean and The Community Farm, Luke Hasell of The Story Organic, and Chef Josh Eggleton of the Pony and Trap.
The change is already happening around us as restaurants are recognising the need for more sustainable ways of operating and opting for local, seasonal produce, or ethical sources of meat. The potential of this to cause a real shift in the way food is produced and consumed is huge. The question now is whether these efforts can be scaled up to create a real self-supporting system across the catering industry, fulfilling the Field to Fork Foundation’s vision of Bristol as the UK’s capital for sustainable catering.
Notes to editors:
The Sustainable Food Summit takes place on Wednesday May 6th 2pm-6pm in Tipi Village, Queen’s Square, Bristol, BS1 4LH.
Tickets for the summit £20.00 (£7.50 student)
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