© Good Travel Guide, July 2022
Gastronomy is the study of the relationship between food and culture. Sustainable Gastronomy is the community-benefiting and planet-protecting network of farmers and diverse businesses that together brings farm to frying pan. A research blog by the Good Travel Guide takes you inside the food industry and disassembles it into its main parts to show you why it’s not sustainable and what farmers and businesses need to do to protect communities, animals, and our planet.
Is Sustainable Gastronomy Possible?
Whether you travel to discover new flavours or always look for familiar tastes, whether you like to cook at home or prefer to eat out, food has a significant impact on the environment, the economy, and every one of us.
Sustainable gastronomy aims at reducing the negative impact of food by taking into account how food is grown, how it’s processed, and transported to us. Sustainable gastronomy is about preserving culinary traditions that reflect the natural and cultural diversity of the world.
Why is gastronomy not sustainable?
The food production chain includes multiple industries such as agriculture, aquaculture, fishing, farming, food processing, distribution, transport, retailing, and cooking. To make gastronomy sustainable, all actors involved in the supply chain need to work sustainably, which means operating a profitable business in a way that has a positive impact on the environment and affected communities. Unfortunately, the ‘business-as-usual’ of current food production chains has had a considerable negative impact.
In the last century, the industrialization of agriculture and farming has considerably damaged the environment. Forests and grasslands have been transformed into croplands and pastures. Mechanisation caused an increased reliance on fossil fuels. Agriculture consumes excessive amounts of water, uses practices that cause soil erosion and uses pesticides, fertilisers, and other toxic chemicals that pollute water, air, soil, and marine ecosystems (“Impact of Sustainable Agriculture and Farming Practices”).
Similarly, industrial farming relies on high water and energy inputs, the overuse of antibiotics and on keeping animals in cages and lots, feeding them grain-based feed (“Eating Meat Sustainably”). Industrialization encouraged the development of large-scale farming systems, with a few large-scale actors controlling a considerable share of food production. Agriculture and farming also contribute to the loss of biodiversity, with livestock outweighing the number of wild mammals in the world and with a decreasing number of crop plant species being grown. The worst part of it all is that we waste so much of what we produce that food waste is responsible alone for 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions (Ritchie and Roser).
How can gastronomy become more sustainable?
For gastronomy to be sustainable, all the industries involved in the food production process need to make changes. We will look in more detail at what sustainable agriculture, farming and food services entail, and what choices are available for local supply chains and consumers.
Sustainable livestock farming
With the right approach, livestock production could contribute to restoring ecosystems and maintaining soil fertility. Sustainable livestock production implies:
– Raising animals in pastures instead of inside barns.
– Practising farming on a smaller scale, matching the number of animals to the pasture area.
– Limiting antibiotic treatments only when necessary for serious illnesses.
Raising the animals in pastures has many benefits including:
– Livestock eat the grass that naturally grows in the pastures instead of having to be fed grain-based feeds that require a considerable amount of resources to be produced
– Improved soil quality from the absorption of livestock manure.
– Grasslands used for pastures absorb huge amounts of carbon from the atmosphere and restore degraded soil.
Challenges to Sustainable Livestock
There are a few obstacles to the implementation of sustainable farming.
First, it is more labour-intensive and expensive which makes milk, cheese, meats and other things we buy more expensive.
Secondly, sustainable farmers have difficulties finding businesses to cooperate with for the processing (e.g. slaughterhouses and bottling plants) and distribution of the products because many small-scale businesses closed through the years. (“Raising Animals Sustainably on Pasture”)
The Short Food Supply Chain (SFSC)
The idea behind the SFSC is to have a limited number of actors including producers, processors, distributors, retailers, and consumers within a close geographical area stimulating local economic development. The long food supply chain involves multiple processors, traders and wholesalers. In the SFSC, all these intermediaries are removed and producers have more direct access to the market.
Consequently, they get to keep a higher share of the profits and have higher bargaining power when dealing with other members of the SFSC. The higher income and autonomy support producers in adopting sustainable practices. The SFSC creates jobs locally and allows for welfare and money to be spread within the region, instead of being diverted to organisations outside of it.
The SFSC has other benefits:
- It generates higher social cohesion and community networks
- Increases cooperation and solidarity within the food chain
- Direct contact increases transparency and mutual trust
- Consumers can speak directly to the producers about their business and practices and become more aware of food production processes
- It ensures fresh fruit and vegetables and encourages people to include seasonal, local produce in their diet, following what works best for the land (“The benefits and sustainability of short food supply chains”).
Sustainability in the foodservice industry
The preparation of food is undoubtedly at the heart of gastronomy. Sustainable gastronomy implies preserving and transmitting culinary traditions and using local and seasonal ingredients. Many practices can make the foodservice industry more sustainable:
– Preventing waste by creating sustainable menus: menus that use the same ingredients in multiple dishes and include a menu of the day items to use food that would otherwise go bad
– Reducing food waste: utilising sharing economy platforms or donating surplus food to charities and food banks
– Getting involved in SFSC to buy sustainable products from local producers
– Proper inventory management is also important to reduce waste
– Proper recycling and waste management
– Improving water and energy efficiency
The choice of the consumer
The way we cook and eat at home also has a relevant impact. If now you are wondering what you can do in your daily life, here’s a list of suggestions we have compiled for you:
Buy sustainable produce:
– Organic and bio-labelled fruits and vegetables are a more sustainable option
– Support sustainable local producers by buying directly from their farm or through farmers’ markets, or with dedicated online marketplaces
Opt for plant-based diets:
Animal-based meals (meat, dairy, farmed fish) generate higher emissions and require more water than plant-based food.
Reduce food waste by:
– Buying only what you need
– Picking ugly fruit and vegetables, oddly shaped or bruised fruits and vegetables can be just as tasty
– Being creative in the kitchen, integrate leftovers into other dishes; use mature fruit for smoothies, juices, and desserts; freeze unused products for later
– Help restaurants and grocery stores reduce waste: use sharing economy platforms used by businesses to sell products that are destined for the trash for a cheaper price; check if your grocery store has a section where they sell discounted products close to the expiration date
You might find that sustainable products are more expensive than the others. It is important to understand the reason behind this price difference. Products from industrial agriculture and farming benefit from economies of scale and don’t take into account the cost of the environmental damage they cause and the related environmental clean-up costs.
The mindful consumer is informed and active
As sustainability becomes more relevant, there are producers, restaurateurs and other actors in the food supply chain working on making sustainable gastronomy possible. You can support this transition in your daily life, even though, often, the most sustainable option is not the most readily available. We have given you a few tips on how to find more sustainable food options, but it is up to you to look for sustainable producers in your area, reduce food waste at home, and choose a more plant-based diet. This journey will bring you to live a more sustainable and healthy lifestyle and meet like-minded people.
Sustainable gastronomy stories from our destinations
Discover the good practice stories of our destinations that developed great initiatives to promote sustainability in food production and localise their gastronomic offer:
Bosnia and Herzegovina City of Trebinje
Croatia Lika Destination
Slovenia Miren Kras
Slovenia Logarska dolina – Solčavsko
Slovenia Občina Ajdovščina