From plate to planet - the stakes are high, and change starts here.
In hospitality, we aim to look after the health and wellbeing of our guests, not just their entertainment. Getting informed about critical food issues impacts how we protect the health of our customers, ourselves and the global environment.
What I wish I had known
I started my hospitality career at The French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Centre) in New York City. I was in love with classical French cuisine, and over the moon to study with French chefs teaching the same vocational curriculum followed by culinary students in France. An auspicious beginning, certainly!
However, one thing I wish I knew when I started my training is that my ambition to delight, entertain and restore people’s wellbeing through food could go beyond the delectably rich cuisine of my classical training. I wish I had known that eating healthily and eating richly are not binary options - that a desire to create joy and pleasure through food could also mean cooking in ways that promote health, both for humans and the environment.
Fast forward to today
After a long and unusual mix of careers, I decided to combine my skills and passion for delicious food, health and teaching others to launch Cookability, a London-based social enterprise. Now, I teach diverse groups of people how to have a better relationship with food, which includes how to cook well, for themselves and others.
A really innovative training programme that I love supporting is Hotel School. This 10-week course helps vulnerable people, touched by homelessness, start a career in hospitality. Hotel School students pursue an intensive curriculum of subjects essential to our industry — from hotel reception, barista training and events planning, to food safety, knife skills and gourmet cooking on a budget.
Good for us, good for the planet
One of the sessions I teach, eat well/be well, takes a small-step approach to behaviour change — in this case, adopting new, healthier-living habits. We focus on understanding what real food is, and explore (and cook and eat) a rich variety of delicious cuisines that are good for us, and good for the planet.
I mention this, in part, because changing habits is difficult, both for individuals and entire industries. The idea behind a small-step approach to change is that when a significant impact is needed, small actions and clear plans underlie real, sustainable success. Ironically, it’s the more grand and best-laid plans that rarely do.
Understanding the challenges we face
This takes me, finally, to the point of this Blog. What we eat is causing severe problems for our health in the UK and beyond (see stats, below). Also, our relationship with food, including how we produce and consume it, is creating huge problems for the environment, both locally and globally.
A few stats shed a sobering light on the challenges we face:
• UK obesity levels have increased from 15% to 26% since 1993 with 62% of adults now either overweight or obese.
• Being obese significantly increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke, and it’s the biggest cause of cancer after smoking.
• Globally, food production is responsible for up to 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, and 70% of freshwater use.
• Land conversion for food production is now the single most important driver for loss of biodiversity
Problems and opportunities
In the end, the choices we make with food in hospitality affect not only the health of our guests but also the health of the planet. My aim for this blog is to explore the links between food and health, from our bodies to the global environment. I want to challenge our creativity and commitment as an industry, to make a huge impact on the way we care for our guests and the planet.
There’s a lot we have yet to do. Taking small, informed steps, here and now, could get us there.