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Food and sustainability

Can a restaurant be both healthy and sustainable?

Eating out doesn’t have to mean wasted food and poor quality ingredients. The key is ensuring that both restaurant owners and customers are well informed. Interview with Juliane Caillouette Noble who represents the British Sustainable Restaurant Association.

Carefully select the ingredients which go into your meals, based not only on their health properties but also on their environmental sustainability and reduce waste: this is the message which came out of the 7th BCFN Forum, held in Milan last December, with the slogan “Eat better, eat less, food for all”. Going to restaurants might seem incompatible with the concept of sustainability, but not according to Juliane Caillouette Noble, who is the partnerships and campaigns manager at the Sustainable Restaurant Association.

Restaurants and sustainable food: isn’t that a contradiction in terms?
It can be unless you urge restaurants to embrace best practices for environmental sustainability. This is why our association was created in the UK back in 2010, with the aim of promoting sustainable food in restaurants. This is an important task because in many countries, it is very common to eat out and a restaurant which is careful about what it serves and how it produces its meals is also a way of demonstrating and educating people about healthy eating and environmental protection.

How can a restaurant become “sustainable”?
The principles behind a sustainable restaurant are the same as those followed by an individual who wants to look after their health and protect the environment: carefully choosing ingredients, paying attention to the way in which they are produced and processed; respecting the agricultural production chain, opting for producers which are more careful about limiting their environmental impact; and finally, reducing the amount of food wasted.

When you watch cookery programmes on TV or see the food produced by leading chefs, you get the impression that restaurants waste large quantities of food. Is that the case?
In 2011, our Association launched the campaign “Too good to waste”. We gave those restaurants which signed up to the campaign cardboard packages for food so that customers who couldn’t finish their meals could take the leftovers home with them. It is a relatively common practice in the USA, but much less so in Europe, where it needs to be encouraged. However, when it comes to food preparation, we need to target chefs’ training: this is why we promoted a number of training courses to teach chefs how to produce extremely high-quality meals while throwing away very little waste.

You also launched an award for sustainable restaurants where the judges are the customers. How does it work?
The Food Made Good Award is an award for restaurants, cafés, pubs, bars, canteens and hotels which, according to the customers, have striven to reduce their environmental impact. For the moment, only establishments in the UK and Ireland can be nominated.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to eat out in a sustainable way?
First of all, even though when you eat out you can afford to make some exceptions to the rule, it is important to stick to the same guidelines of healthy eating that you would have at home. This means opting for plenty of fruit and vegetables and taking care not to overdo it when it comes to sugar and fat. From an environmental point of view, it’s important to check the seasonality of ingredients and avoid restaurants which offer the same menu all year round, without taking account of what fresh food is available on the market. It is handy to learn the seasonality of different fish so that you can choose a fish which is fresh and local. Some products, such as coffee and tea, can have a significant economic and social impact on the populations which grow them. A restaurant which offers coffee with a certification of sustainability deserves special recognition.
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