Restaurants Are Moving to Be More Sustainable, and We Should Care

Sustainability is the issue of our times.

As we move into the 21st century, more people than ever have been able to enjoy a collectively greater average life expectancy, as well as a higher standard of living. We also have access to more options for leisure and discretionary spending than previous generations.

Some might see this as an invitation to live life to the fullest, paying little heed to the consequences of unchecked consumption. Others are more cautious.

We may have many years ahead of us before checking into an assisted living facility and lots of earning potential in our lengthy careers. But we also need to consider steady inflation and the impact our actions have on the environment we’ll ultimately bequeath to future generations.

Many companies have learned to listen to consumer demands for more sustainable business models. However, people seldom apply that pressure to the food industry. That’s changing, and it matters to everyone.

Sustaining growth

Throughout history, human societies have required energy to grow and sustain the ensuing complexity. Food is a critical source of such energy inputs. And unsurprisingly, history abounds with examples of people rioting or civilizations collapsing when the food supply runs out due to drought or pestilence.

We’d like to think that the modern age is smart enough to solve this problem with technological sophistication. But recent studies indicate otherwise.

At current growth rates, producing more food can’t be the solution. It would require us to increase global production by 20% in less than a decade and convert nearly 50 million hectares of natural habitat into cropland. On top of that, we’d generate corresponding increases in emissions, exacerbating the already critical concern of climate change.

However, the research shows that only 3% more food production would be necessary if we take an alternative approach. That entails addressing the issue of food inequality.

restaurant leftovers

Waste and inequality

It’s impossible to ignore the fact that around the world, people don’t eat equally. Citizens of rich countries generally eat better than those who live in the developing world. And within each country, the same inequality can be observed across the spectrum of rich through poor families.

In 2017, over 10% of the global population suffered from hunger and malnutrition. At the same time, 13% of adults were reportedly obese. In this respect, those who don’t get to eat enough are united with those who consume too much relative to their needs: neither outcome is healthy.

Just as sustainability itself is an umbrella covering a wide swath of human activities within the food industry, there are many ways to tackle this issue.

One of the most impactful, however, is dealing with food waste.

Your kitchen scraps could potentially feed someone else. But it’s impractical for the individual citizen to deal with the logistics of sending their food waste to those in need.

Restaurants, on the other hand, operate on a larger scale. They generate far more food waste daily and have the resources to divert it somewhere other than the trash bin. This would go a long way towards tackling food inequality and sustainability without driving up production demand.

Fine dining initiatives

Even among restaurants, however, not all have equal impact. Studies have demonstrated that fine dining restaurants tend to generate the most food waste. This is largely due to a preference for working with whole products and the adherence to higher quality standards.

Many of the chefs at fine dining restaurants are considered leaders in their field. Industry professionals look to them for leadership and accountability.

They aren’t blind to the demand for change, and they are taking their own initiatives to improve in this regard. Shortening the supply chain to draw from only locally-grown produce cuts down on transportation-related emissions. It also gives them a closer look at suppliers’ sustainable practices.

But not all the impetus can come from restaurateurs. After all, they are operating under constraints of time, budget, and labor. They would want to invest in green initiatives that matter most.

The voice of the consumer can play a significant part in swaying the actions of fine dining restaurants. We can voice our thoughts on which attributes are important, such as better mitigation, use, and redistribution of food waste.

Our willingness to spend money and time can speak volumes. Waiting longer in line, or traveling the extra miles, in addition to simply paying more, can help encourage and sustain a green restaurant’s efforts.

Food is a basic need for survival, but it’s also an experience we all love to enjoy. If you’re conscious about where your discretionary spending goes, you can help support those who are able and willing to make a difference in the food industry and the world.

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