Blog post

Sustainable gastronomy in the contemporary hospitality industry

Surely it is everyone’s goal to mainly consume food that is going to be healthy for our bodies while having very little impact on our environment? Perhaps it is the wrong metaphor to use in this case, but it makes sense to kill two birds with one stone by eating right to sustain our health while limiting any negative impact on humanity, argues Phil Hardy, Senior Lecturer in Hospitality, Culinary Arts and Food Development at the University of Derby.

By Phil Hardy - 18 June 2021

Feeding the need for change

Our current society is crying out for locally sourced ingredients with provenance and heritage. They want the freshest produce, harvested and reared using organic and natural practice. But what does this term ‘sustainable’ really mean when we apply it to gastronomy?

We have already seen some major shifts in society demonstrating the recognition of need for change. By 2018, UK household food waste had reduced by around 18% (1.4 million tonnes) a year compared with 2007. To put this into perspective, the amount of food ‘saved’ annually by 2018 (i.e. not wasted in 2018) compared with 2007) would fill three Wembley Stadiums, or 30 Royal Albert Halls, or 13 million large wheelie bins (240 litres), or 1,300 Olympic swimming pools, or 170,000 bin lorries/dustcarts (WRAP, 2020). Although this sounds amazing, we can all do so much more.

In celebration of Sustainable Gastronomy Day (18 June), I aim to explore concepts and initiatives that are at the core of the hospitality and culinary industry. Hopefully, you will see that we do not need to have food that costs the Earth.

‘Gastronomy’ is a discipline under food and beverage management and involves developing modern and classical cooking techniques to preserve the nutritional value of food and work on better culinary culture, which combines painting, sculpture, music, philosophy, and etiquette (Santich, 2004).

Perisé and Serrano Ríos (2018) claim that the knowledge and practice of gastronomy are also employed in the field of health, especially as a tool for health professionals to develop dietary recommendations for the right food choices or food patterns for chronic patients. This highlights the importance of this for health and to sustain the body as well as the environment.

In hospitality, we are always aiming to please and meet the needs of every guest. But to remain competitive is difficult and comes at a cost. Sometimes the difficulty lies in trying to be successful where the needs and demands of the consumer can change so readily. We can see guests want everything at their fingertips, but now with a conscience towards how those products and services come to pass.

Support local and understand provenance

To begin this journey, provenance of commodities - knowing where your food has come from - plays a large role in the industry for both the business and their clientele. Unfortunately, many businesses may forgo provenance due to price points enabling their healthy profit margin. But we are seeing a response from those looking to channel a positive reputation and consumer awareness, demonstrating their corporate social responsibility.

When we explore provenance in more detail, we see strategies employed by caring business owners and passionate chefs who look to support local producers by sourcing their commodities, ranging from fruits and vegetables, meat products and artisan produce, to operational resources such as crockery, sundries, and staff. ‘Food miles’ and ‘carbon footprint’ have become household names in recent times as we aim to reduce the travel time of our foodstuffs and get them to our front doors with as low emissions as possible.

Smith (2020: 7) states that ‘food waste accounts for 8% of the world’s greenhouse gases’, while a report from Ritchie (2020) claims “Food production is responsible for 26%, just over a quarter, of the globe’s CO2 emissions and, of that quarter, 6% of all the food produced gets thrown away”. Figures from WRAP (The Waste and Resources Action Programme) show the breakdown of food waste arising in the UK after leaving the farm (post-farm gate) and the extent to which we at home waste food, and that it is time for more positive action.

They report that, by weight, household food waste makes up 70% (6.6 million tonnes) of the UK post-farm-gate total, manufacturing 16% (1.5 million tonnes), hospitality and food service 12% (1.1 million tonnes) and retail 3% (0.3 million tonnes).

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Perfecting the art of storytelling

In such a demanding industry that thrives on experience, many businesses capitalise on the essence of storytelling, developing something unique and memorable. Now the focus on sustainable practice is helping to improve their corporate image.

Consider menu design. Adopting sustainable types of resources provides a tangible element of consumer engagement with the menu.

Coupled with the poetic licence of the chef looking to promote their local produce and farming methods, these all give context to their commitment to sustainable practice.

Let’s admit that ‘Bradley-Farmed Cornfed Chicken Supreme, Steamed Jersey Royals and Allotment Vegetables’ definitely sounds better than ‘Chicken, New Potatoes with a Selection of Veg’.    

Taking responsibility

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a commitment companies make to interact with their workforce, community and environment (South Derbyshire District Council, 2021). After sourcing, consumers are looking for the best possible practices that not only highlight traceability, but which support and engage the local community too.

CSR demonstrates specific values that potential customers will respect and reciprocate by supporting the business. This may come at a cost, but, at the end of the day, forging a positive reputation and demonstrating accountability for your impact on society adds a perfect chapter to the story behind the business.

Sustainability at the University of Derby

Here at the University of Derby, sustainability is embedded as our philosophy throughout our contemporary hospitality curriculum. We also have a sustainability strategy and audit our programmes to monitor our output. This approach ensures we offer the best, future-focused teaching and learning for our students.

It has been a focus of our academic research and many colleagues have addressed educational conferences on the subject. We also have students who have chosen to study topics such as the benefits of organic produce and the impact of food waste on society.

Our professional kitchen environments are installed with technology to ensure food can be produced efficiently and to the highest standard, and, where possible, we utilise and support local suppliers. 

Making a difference

Everyone can play their part in the world to make it a better place. Thinking about our eating habits, where we purchase our food, and how we cook and manage our waste are very good places to start. Businesses embed this in their ethos as part of their corporate social responsibility, just as the University views this as a key element of its teaching. At the end of the day, demonstrating this practice will not only help to save the planet but will also help our students to put into practice their commitment to an ever-changing society.

So what will you be doing to celebrate Sustainable Gastronomy day? Every little helps!

For further information, check out the United Nations Sustainable Gastronomy Day page. Or search social media for the following hashtags: #sustainablegastronomyday #sustainablefood #chefsagainstplastic #shoplocal #zerowaste #sustainabledevelopmentgoals.

About the author

Phil Hardy leading a Chocolate Enrobing workshop at the Buxton Dome

Phil Hardy
Assistant Head of Discipline for CCHT and Senior Lecturer in Hospitality and Events

Phil has worked at the University for 11 years teaching within the hospitality, events and culinary team. Phil works as a Senior Lecturer for Hospitality and Events and is the Assistant Head of Discipline for CCHT 

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