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When thinking about sustainable purchasing for food, I would urge hoteliers to consider these three questions:
We source our food from the four corners of the world. In many cases we do not know the production cost implications or indeed the security implications of our purchasing decisions. How willing are you to pay for ethical cocoa? Fairtrade costs more therefore it is less competitive, but can we afford not to factor moral and sustainable considerations into our supply chain?
There’s a need for a new approach to food production and an urgent need for people to reconnect with their food. Catering and the wider hospitality industry is affected by the complex global food supply system. For consumers this has had a massive negative impact on their ability to understand and indeed care where our food comes from.
Many countries battle a growing dependency on imported food. In the UK our agriculture and food industries are being sacrificed to keep food prices low, provide consumer choice and maintain political stability. Our agriculture industry does not always compete on a level playing field.
Compare a map of the bread baskets of the world; the places where we currently source much of our food with a map of global slavery. Sadly the concurrence of these areas with food leads to the inescapable conclusion that there is major potential for organised crime in food and our supply chains. As responsible businesses, hotels need to consider this.
Having strict regulations is important to protect many attributes of a high integrity food system such as workers’ rights, animal welfare and to ensure our food is safe. But in the highly complex global food supply system, to be able to say these standards are met by all exporting countries, is not really possible. Putting it simply, working to lower standards means a lower cost base, and results in products which are much more competitively priced. Those in charge are not considering the UK’s – or many other countries’ - long-term food security needs.
We are importing large amounts of food ingredients and commodities. These are often from complex supply chains. This leaves us highly vulnerable to the growing menace of food fraud, which is being orchestrated more and more frequently by organised criminal networks.
Using modern computing technologies will allow us to build libraries of ‘food fingerprints’ enabling testing for fraud to be conducted within a few seconds, to help defend the integrity of the world’s food supply system, but there are simpler, shorter-term solutions.
Meanwhile there is a growing ‘disconnect’ between people and their knowledge of where their food comes from. The causes are complex and government, the food industry and educators have responsibilities to address this major societal problem. Hoteliers can also play a part by examining their supply chains and making purchasing decisions with sustainability in mind. Promoting local produce and locally sourced products becomes a selling point for the responsible hotelier.
We should seek to get back to basics, to grow more of our own food – supporting local producers and even growing within the hotel grounds - and to remove the multiple steps from food production to consumption. But at the same time aiming to keep food available and affordable.
These seemingly simple and obvious statements are hugely difficult to achieve but nonetheless hugely important to work towards. We must inspire the next generation to tackle these challenges, and we can do that by leading by example.
This Talking Point was part of a presentation at The City Food Lecture 2017.