Why sustainable food is the star of the menu

Chefs and restaurant owners alike know that sustainability is an increasingly important part of how we source and choose food. The push for locally-grown, ethically sourced and plant-based foods are all part of a pivot toward sustainable food production and consumption that will shape the future of the food industry.

Sustainable food is not a fad

It’s the future. In the EU, policymakers are devising strategies, laws and rules about how every aspect of the food industry - including restaurants - can become more sustainable with their food sourcing and responsible production.

Let’s dig into this meaty topic to find out just how important sustainability is, and how restaurants can incorporate it into their menu, from potato to plate.

What is sustainable food production?

On a planet with 8 billion people and counting, there is increasing demand and stress on an already stretched food system, it’s no wonder sustainability is a hot topic in kitchens and culinary establishments.

Though the term is increasingly popping up on food labels and menus across the country, there can be some confusion about what exactly makes food sustainable.

By definition, food that is produced sustainably uses cultivation techniques, efficient farming methods and processes that conserve resources and energy. The production methods must be non-polluting and must not deplete natural resources, ensuring that the agricultural, dietary and food needs of future generations are not compromised.

Moving toward sustainable agriculture is important. 

It’s estimated by the UN Environment Programme that a quarter of all global greenhouse emissions are caused by crop and animal production that are the building blocks of our food system. Getting to grips with sustainable food production and understanding how new rules and regulations will affect every element of how we eat, is the right thing for both our plates and the planet.

Right now, there’s no black and white rule that makes one piece of food more or less sustainable than another. But this is all set to change when the EU Commission integrates sustainability into all food production policies.

This will cause changes on-the-ground that include:

  • A minimum threshold and targets for monitoring sustainable food sourcing
  • New governance and policies that will affect growers, suppliers and food industry actors
  • Stricter labelling requirements for food products

With this in mind, it’s a good idea for restaurants and food businesses to stay ahead of the curve, and start to consider ways to make their menu more sustainable today.

How can restaurants become more sustainable?

The crux of sustainability is about stripping everything back to basics. This starts with taking a look at the produce you’re using in your menu, and whether or not it’s being grown responsibly.

It’s all about the ingredients and how much resources it takes to produce. Governments are looking to lay down concrete guidelines covering the environmental impact of food production. Their goal is to work with food companies to reduce the emissions from the food production sector and curb waste across the supply chain.

Some of this guidance will be more applicable to food producers or restaurants, with practical steps to follow.

Already, there are leaders in the food sector - such as  growers, producers and agribusinesses who will be ramping up actions to make food production more sustainable.

These include:

  • Managing the efficient use of natural resources
  • Limiting use of fossil fuels in processes
  • Taking care to conserve water
  • Implementing energy efficiency measures at manufacturing sites
  • Preserving natural resources through limited use of pesticides and fertilisers
  • Preventing soil loss and degradation by restoring organic matter in soil

For restaurants specifically, there are actionable steps they can begin to add to their sustainability initiatives. A good place to start is with their supplier and procurement choices.

By far, the most impactful thing restaurants can do is choose their ingredients from verified  sustainable suppliers.

Different foods and raw ingredients have standards and certification bodies to signal their sustainability credentials, and this is what restaurant managers need to be aware of.

For example, fish products that are deemed sustainable are certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). The MSC works alongside fisheries to scale up sustainable fishing to make sure fishing activity is maintained at a level that can continue, without the fish population and the ecosystem being damaged or depleted. Similar bodies exist for other food sectors in meat and agriculture.

Minimising packaging

Secondly, focusing on using packaging for takeaway and delivery food options that are environmentally friendly is another big step. This could include minimising packaging, limiting things like straws, serviettes and excessive wrapping of food, as well as using materials that have a smaller environmental impact such as biodegradable bamboo, or - even better - using recycled materials, where possible.

Reducing food waste

And finally, reducing food waste is a key activity for restaurants. There are a number of ways this can be done. Whether through mindful ordering of products for well-planned menus, or using high-quality packaging to extend shelf-life and limit wastage of perishable goods. It’s also important to be conscious of food waste being sent to landfill, and consider donating any leftovers or excesses to local organisations or using it as animal feed for local farmers.

Lamb Weston and a sustainable future

If you’re wondering where to start with your sustainable menu, here’s how Lamb Weston can help. The most significant action restaurants can take to help contribute to a sustainable future is sourcing their ingredients from verified sustainable suppliers and partners.

As a global leader in the potato production industry, Lamb Weston is committed to playing an active and responsible role in creating a better food future. When restaurants choose our potatoes for their delicious potato-based dishes and menu staples, they can be sure that they are working with a supplier that produces the highest quality potatoes with minimum waste and maximum taste.

Demand for potatoes remains high. But even now we are seeing  extreme weather from flooding to droughts that are affecting agriculture and crop yields. It’s crucial that future harvests are protected to ensure that customers aren’t left with shortages, scrambling to secure their orders, that growing and processing potatoes remains possible for many generations to come.

It’s undeniable that the humble and nutritious potato is at the centre of many culinary options as chefs and kitchen managers continue to see the possibilities in potatoes. But to avoid paying too high a price - financially and environmentally, it’s vital that potato growers continue to innovate to stay at the cutting edge of sustainable practices.

Sustainability is a licence to operate, and that it is an ongoing process at Lamb Weston. Since we initiated our Sustainability Programme in 2011, we have continued to drive our sustainability agenda from farm to fryer to fork.

As customers are increasingly looking to dine in places that align with their own sustainable food values, Lamb Weston customers can be proud that we have been able to deliver most of our Sustainable Seven 2020 goals and continue to work towards our new Sustainability Agenda for 2030.

Sustainability Agenda 2030

The Lamb Weston Sustainability Agenda concentrates on three key challenges. These are: a balanced diet, zero waste and climate action.

Helping customers and consumers transition to a balanced diet is one of our 2030 Key Challenges. To do this, we retain as much of the potato’s natural nutrients as possible when we make our products, while lowering the levels of what we add. We aim to capture the natural goodness of our nutritious and humble potato into convenient, tasty products that customers love and continue to order.

We need resources to grow potatoes, including soil, water, and fertilisers. To process our potatoes into finished products, we need energy, water, vegetable oil, and packaging materials. Over the last decade we have worked hard to further reduce our waste streams and increase the reuse and valorisation of our potato by-products. Since 2008, we have sent zero waste to landfill, while less than 0.5 percent is incinerated.

It is clear that to reduce our product carbon footprint in a meaningful way, we need to concentrate even more on helping our growers to advance sustainable agriculture. This is why we are continuing to expand our Sustainable Agriculture (SA) Plan, launched in 2017, across our other growing regions in Europe.

Find out more about Lamb Weston’s Sustainability Agenda 2030.