A Look at Sustainability and Organic Food in Hotel Restaurants
By Fred DeMicco, Dr. Food Tech and Joseph Bruno (the University of Delaware)
In the 21st century, U.S. consumers desire and want organic and/or sustainable food. Organic food sales have come a long way; in 1990, sales were $1 billion nationally as opposed to in 2010 with national sales reaching $26.7 billion. That’s a significant change over a span of 20 years. Consumers desire this different, once small segment of the market due to drivers such as health and wellness, societal impact, and environmental impact. Overall, going sustainable is better than going organic per se.
The official EPA definition of organic food: “‘Organically grown food is food grown and processed using no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Pesticides derived from natural sources (such as biological pesticides) may be used in producing organically grown food.” There is no accepted, specific definition for being sustainable just as there is no accepted definition of natural food. Without actual facts and visible impacts, these are just key words utilized for marketing purposes.
An easy way to define sustainability would be that it involves managing the societal and environmental impact of your business operations. Having your business committed to sustainability is an implication that your establishment is doing its best locally to make difference on issues such as climate change, animal welfare, and food waste. By being a leader in the community, your fellow community members are further educated about their respective choices and can have a better choice of dining at businesses that share the same values.
Organic food is an important aspect of the industry. The EPA definition clearly states that use of synthetic pesticides is prohibited. Numerous studies have shown organic food’s health benefits. But just going organic doesn’t help to nearly the same degree societally and environmentally that committing sustainability does.
The Sustainable Restaurant Association, a non-profit in the UK, brilliantly exemplifies three criteria of how restaurants can be sustainable: sourcing, environmental impact, and level of community involvement. The first criterion is sourcing. Where food comes from is huge. Organic food is fantastic, but if your business is sourcing its lettuce from an organic farm in California, and it is located in Delaware, reconsideration may be in order. Supporting local farmers not only allows for money to stay closer to the respective community and can boost the local economy, but it also greatly reduces the carbon footprint of your business. Other practices include ethical sourcing, with regard to fishing, meat, and fair trade. Many fish are endangered due to over fishing, and only sourcing fish that do not have threatened populations can be a responsible choice for your business to make.
Hormone and anti-biotic meat can be a way your business voices its support not only for the health of the food you are serving to customers, but on animal welfare rights as well. Lastly, sourcing food from suppliers that are fair trade can voice your business’s support for the ethical treatment of workers globally (examples include fair trade coffee, bananas, chocolate, etc.). A company that has been a leader with sustainable sourcing has been Chipotle.
The second criterion would be environmental impact. There are many other areas where restaurants can minimize their carbon footprint. Four areas that restaurants can clearly do this are through watching water consumption, using “green” non-toxic business resources, monitoring waste management, and being energy efficient. The UK-based Pret a Manger has been a leader in environmental impact within the restaurant industry.
Exhibiting less water consumption is not only more profitable as a business, but has a positive environmental impact, especially in places with water crises like California.
Business resources: everything from paper products and cleaning materials to the materials the building is made of all have an environmental impact. Waste management should involve reducing, reusing, and recycling what we can and avoiding the lure of easy landfilling
Energy efficiency has incentives for business who want to save money. Similar to water consumption, it also has a positive environmental impact.
The third criterion would be community involvement. It is important to have a significant community presence for your business. It is a win-win for the restaurant and the people around it. Being involved in your respective community, supporting local charities, and hiring locally are beneficial to your business. Transparency for a business is pivotal. People will eventually see through false marketing and advertising. Make sure your business isn’t all talk and truly does what it preaches.
Overall, organic food and sustainability in restaurants go hand in hand. However, it is important to distinguish the differences between the two and for the facts to made clear. Organic food may have the slight advantage with regard to food health and safety, but sustainable practices generally have greater societal and environmental impacts as a whole. Finding a good balance between the two can make your business both profitable and socially responsible.