Sustainability has become both a watchword and a cliche repeated to exhaustion - especially regarding the food world. Since the concern with the planet (and the quick changes we are making to it) has become a constant agenda of governments around the world, eating has ceased to be just a hedonistic act to become a political one. After all, like so many of our everyday actions, what we choose to put on our plate has a massive impact on our collective.
That's why talking about sustainability has become the central theme in the gastronomy world today: zero waste, locally sourced, organic, grass-fed and other terms have begun to appear more and more on restaurant menus - although in many cases that means more green-washing than practical change actions.
But it is undeniable that the food market has changed drastically, and that the impact of the ingredients on the planet has become more critical within the kitchens around the world. "There can be no conflict between a better meal and a better world," wrote trailblazer chef René Redzepi in 2011 in an article to The Guardian.
Since then, this issue has only deepened: chefs and restaurant owners, as well as researchers and scholars, have sought ways to serve good food without damaging the environment — many of them with inspiring and transformative projects. There has been a significant advance in food awareness, and this has led to the movement in which restaurants with good plans have had a greater recognition in the market.
But it is not always easy to adopt good practices within restaurants that corroborate with a more powerful concept of sustainability: and it means not only buying organic ingredients from small farmers but developing an entire food chain, thinking about how each ingredient impacts its environment since it is harvested until the moment it is discarded. It is very demanding for chefs and restaurant owners, but it has become more crucial. And there are professionals making the difference in this area.
The challenges are many: serving more vegetables and better meat (which requires more exceptional care with animals not only at slaughter but throughout their life), source fish responsibly, support the local community, value natural resources, and reduce and reduce the use of raw materials (not only ingredients) - only to name a few.
The subject has become so urgent that even prizes and guides have come to reward the best practices in this regard. In 2014, the famous 50 Best Restaurants awards created a category to recognize the restaurant with the highest environmental and social responsibility rating, as ranked by audit partner Food Made Good Global. The Sustainable Restaurant Award is given to the best initiatives in this area. (Today, for many restaurants, being recognized by these points is more important than offering better experiences or "the best" food).
"Sustainable foodservice comes in a multitude of shapes and sizes, and our framework has been developed to reflect this," says the presentation of the Sustainable Restaurants Association(SRA), created in 2010, when two restaurateurs and a pair of sustainability experts launched the not-for-profit organization with 50 founder members. Today, they work across 8,000 member sites worldwide.
Based on three pillars (Sourcing, Society and Environment) the Association takes a broad and holistic view of food businesses to help their leaders to improve welfare, to invite community groups to use their space or to develop their team to use less energy and water. For restaurants in general, adopting practices more in line with environmental concerns has become a distinction in the food scene.
Also the guide Truth, Love and Clean Cutlery, which has chef Alice Waters as one of the founders (and claims to be “the first guide to the world’s truly exemplary, organic, sustainable, and ethical restaurants”) features over 1,300 businesses from around the world – although it is difficult to gather so many really disruptive concepts in this area.
But what makes a "sustainable restaurant" really sustainable?
To find the answer to that question, Fine Dining Lovers will start a series to travel around the world throughout the most unique and exciting experiences in this area to gather the best examples and talk about the most inspirational cases that can influence the whole restaurant industry. We know that chefs and restaurants have a major leadership role to these changes, so we will highlight some of the best practices that can be examples for all the food system.