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What is sustainability? 

We hear the word ‘sustainability’ being used a lot; barely a day goes by without seeing it or hearing it in the media. We talk about sustainability in the context of the environmental impact on our planet and its resources, or should we say lack of resources.

The production and distribution of food has a massive impact on the health of our planet: it has been reported by WWF UK that in the UK, the food we eat – growing, producing and importing it – has a massive impact around the world and is responsible for 30% of our CO2 emissions (including emissions resulting from deforestation/land-use change).

The current food and agriculture systems are unsustainable and are being made worse by inequalities of access. To provide sufficient and nutritious food for all, while limiting the negative environmental impact on our planet, we need to focus on four key areas:

  1. improve environmental efficiency of food production
  2. ensure equitable and affordable food distribution
  3. reduce food waste
  4. provide sustainable diets.

What can caterers do to help?

Well, they can help with points 3 and 4 as mentioned above, as all food operators play a crucial part in reducing food waste and in making the shift towards sustainable diets.

Although there is no formal definition for a sustainable diet yet, the term generally refers to a diet that aims to align nutrition, health and the environment.

In the UK, we have unofficial guidelines drafted by the Green Food Project, which was set up by the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs.  Based on the Eatwell Guide, these guidelines bring together a set of principles to enable more sustainable healthy eating patterns.

What do sustainable diets consist of?

To create sustainable meals, food operators need to consider the proportion of each of the food groups when planning their menus and purchasing their food.

Essentially, variety is the key. There should be a wider range of different foods that make up the diet, rather than reliance on a particular type or group of foods.

Secondly, caterers should include more plant-based foods, not only because fruit and vegetables are good for us, but also because there are other health and environmental benefits to eating a wider range of plant-based foods.

These recommendations go hand in hand with the advice from Public Health England to moderate our meat consumption and substitute this with more peas, beans, pulses, tofu, nuts and other plant-based sources of protein.

Research led by Oxford Martin School finds that widespread adoption of a vegetarian diet would cut food-related emissions by 63% and make people healthier too.

Together, reducing our meat consumption and increasing our intake of plant-based foods can have the greatest environmental impact on our planet!

What about fish?

When it comes to fish, food operators should buy fish and seafood only from sustainable sources, such as those marked with the MSC logo (Marine Stewardship Council) for example, to ensure that everything has been responsibly caught by a certified sustainable fishery.

Another consideration when planning menus with regards to fish, as well as fruit and vegetables, is seasonality.  ‘What’s in’ seasonal guides, like the one produced by Scottish Seafood, are useful to refer to during menu planning.

Where do milk and dairy products fit in?

Well, these should be included as part of a healthy, balanced diet, alongside plant-based alternatives, such as oat and nut milks, which have been fortified with calcium and vitamins. Supporting British milk farmers is important, but so is making sure we have an adequate intake of essential nutrients from our daily diets.

More tap water and less processed food, please

Other recommendations are to drink tap water to reduce reliance on bottled water and to eat fewer foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt. Most dining rooms and restaurants are now in the habit of making fresh, cool water freely available, and the public health advice on eating less processed food is loud and clear.

It makes business sense!

As people are continuing to become better educated about the food they eat, and benefit from a greater understanding of the issues surrounding food production and its impact on our planet, they often gravitate towards an organic, sustainable and vegetarian diet.  Mintel’s report on Global Food and Drinks Trends 2016 predicts a “profoundly changing” marketplace, in which foods previously seen as alternative, such as non-dairy milks and veggie burgers, are becoming now mainstream. It has also been reported by the Vegan Society that at least 542,000 people in Britain are now following a vegan diet. This is a whopping increase since the last estimate of 150,000 ten years ago.

Sustainable diets are not only good for our health and the future of the environment, but also a positive way to promote your business and increase customer loyalty. Providing sustainable diets is not just the right thing to do ethically – it also makes good business sense! Go on… get a Meat-free Monday on your menu!

For more ideas, go to the Eating Better Alliance website, which brings together organisations that support eating in a greener, healthier and fairer way.

Help & Support

If you have any questions, or would like more information on this topic, please contact me:

Bio about Anna:

Anna-Maria Holt BSc Hons. RD is Company Dietitian at Pelican Procurement Services. She is a registered dietitian with experience of working with clients across schools, care homes and the hospitality industry for nearly 10 years.

environmental impactfood wasteHealthy foodsustainabilitysustainable diets

Anna-Maria Holt

Company Dietitian and Health & Wellbeing Lead at Pelican Procurement Services

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