The food service industry has a huge impact on the environment - largely due to its energy, and water consumption and waste - but there are multiple ways that consumers can make more sustainable choices through food, even while eating at their favourite restaurants.
But what about when you want to go further afield? When travelling abroad, you don’t need to leave your sustainable dining principles at home. To help those wanting to continue making environmentally friendly dining choices when they travel, Icelandair asked expert Bruce McAdams, Associate Professor at the School of Hospitality, Food, and Tourism Management, to share his five top tips on what to look for.
Bruce's top tips:
Look for menu items that include fresh, seasonal and local ingredients
After recent calls from consumers for restaurants to be more transparent on the origin of their food, it should be easier to identify menu items that use fresh, seasonal or local ingredients. Most should now communicate this on their websites and menu, and staff will be able to answer questions around sourcing. There are also a number of sustainable certification bodies like Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or Fair Trade, so look out for menus indicating that products are recommended by these organisations. Fresh, seasonal and local ingredients are generally more sustainable due to reduced food miles from transportation and reduced energy used to grow and store non-seasonal food items. This extends to choosing beverages, such as wines or beers, and not just food.
Information is everything
More and more restaurants are taking the time to tell their sustainability story on their website and social media platforms. The more information, detail and effort done in this regard, the more confident you should feel that the restaurant is thinking and acting sustainably. When travelling it’s a good idea to not only research the sights and attractions of your destination ahead of time, but also the local cuisine as well. This can give you a heads up on sustainable options in advance.
Moderate your meat
Reducing your meat intake is a great step towards adopting a more sustainable way of dining. It is known that plant-based items are more sustainable than dishes with animal proteins. If you are a meat-eater, try to reduce your meat or look for menu items where meat is a component of the dish as opposed to the main item.
Make sure to ask questions
You might find that it’s more the answer you get when asking questions that matters. If staff know little or nothing about a menu item's provenance, it’s probably not a good sign. But if you are going to ask questions, asking about protein is maybe the most important. For example, you could ask how the beef was raised, or about how and where the fish was caught.
Say no to disposable items
It might be hard to find out whether or not an establishment uses single-use, non-recyclable items before visiting. Photos on online review sites can be very informative in this regard. If you see photos of food served with plastic knives and forks, or lots of condiment containers on the plate, it’s likely best to avoid the restaurant.
Finally, in some countries you’ll find there are ‘sustainable restaurant’ certification bodies that award stars or ‘levels’ of sustainability. Any restaurant that has gone through the process of gaining this certification is a good choice.