Are we ready to support authentic sustainability?

In the quest for sustainability, the hospitality industry reconsiders its culinary heritage, emphasising waste reduction, local sourcing and cultural preservation for a greener future

Change occurs when stakes are high. And right now, stakes are high, for any and every measure towards a sustainable ecosystem. If there’s one topic I cannot extol enough, it is our brilliant culinary heritage. And by that I am not referring to recipes alone, but the holistic cooking practices. Be it rotation of crops, be it the use of ingredients from root to tip, cooking what’s in season or the cooking process, working in parallel with nature is inherent to our culture.

Hospitality industry is one of the highest consumers of resources. The way I see it; that gives us an enviable and crucial advantage to re-inject sustainability into our system.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, in his famous 1987 Oslo report for the World Commission on Environment and Development, – ‘Our Common Future’ defines Sustainable Development as – “..development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs..’

I cannot think of a better way to encapsulate the need of the hour to ensure a safe environment for our future generations. This is becoming increasingly important owing to environmental concerns and the objective to minimise the industry’s carbon footprint.

Yes, it can seem daunting. Yes, it can seem challenging and long-drawn. But, our industry has, from time to time, demonstrated its adaptability and ability to conform and reform.

On that note and I am sure you would agree, I view the pandemic as a critical eye-opener, that made us stop, reassess and evolve from thereon. 

The lockdown helped us realise and recognise our culinary DNA, to appreciate what we grew up eating, to value the lessons passed on from our grandmothers and mothers and most importantly, review wastage at every level.

Take for instance the gradual change occurring in our home and commercial kitchens. I have witnessed the latter especially, adopting commendable measures towards sustainable practices.

Following are few measures that I see and foresee being implemented:

1. Waste management – This one is always on the top of my list. Contrary to layman perception, waste is not limited to discarding cooked food alone. In hotel kitchens, it begins right at the procurement stage. Stocking up on more than what’s needed, leads to higher demands on preservation measures. And yet, some ingredients with fragile shelf life do tend to die out before making it to the counter. It’s as important therefore, to not just pre-assess demand and usage and maintain a judicious stock, but also try and use ingredients beyond their original usability. For instance, milk gone sour can be a wonderful addition to soda breads.

2. A subset of the above is coming up with innovative techniques to use an ingredient from root to fruit, so to speak. The best and easy part, one doesn’t need to look far for ideas, for this was an ingrained practice in our home kitchens. Nothing would go waste. It’s always interesting to see what ideas our kitchen connoisseurs come up with to continue that tradition, which is, comfortingly inspiring.

3. Coming to the other concept en vogue, Farm to Table, it has more often come to mean adding more variety to the menu with ingredients sourced from a select set of Urban farmers. While urban farming is great, we need to be more mindful and supportive of the actual farmers who grow the same crop several times over. What we truly need, is a Farm to Table model that helps the real farmers and not just the urban farmers.

4. In the same vein, the traditional rotation of crops needs much encouragement. Mono-cropping, a sad consequence of the Green Revolution forces the soil to be used for the same crop again and again with nothing else to replenish it in the interim. This further fuels the need for synthetic supplements, in the forms of pesticides and chemical fertilisers. The net effect is on the food that reaches the table, along with all the chemicals to boot. Promoting seasonal cooking is a wonderful step to reinstate a healthy farming cycle, because after all, it all begins with a healthy soil.

5. Another practice that I find gaining momentum is composting of raw food waste. It’s a perfect step to reduce carbon footprint, via a process that organically sends back what’s taken from the earth. 

6. Conservation and sustainability is needed not just at the agricultural but cultural level as well. With the question of whether cultures and heritage would sustain in the future, the contribution of our industry is imminent. Culture has been a driver of socio-economic development across civilisations. Here’s an opportunity for hotel kitchens to become cultural ambassadors and interweave those values into food.

I’ll leave you with a few questions:

– Are we truly ready to support “sustainability” in its authentic form, ie, eat what’s in season and grown locally, and thereby support the farmer growing seasonal crops instead of pushing him / her to join the commercial race?

– Are we willing to accept that local and seasonal would mean that in some seasons we would be working with limited variety of ingredients and hence, the usual variety that we are used to, would be missing?

– Are we ready to help redefine Farm to Table, where we are consuming local and seasonal produce from farmers, who do what they do best?

It’s not a one-time practice. It’s not just for one entity to practice. It’s an industry-level commitment…to the ecosystem, to our future generations. Think about it. 

This article was published in BW hotelier issue dated '' with cover story titled 'BW HOTELIER INVESTMENT & DEVELOPMENT SPECIAL'


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