The idea of sustainable diets has intrigued us for some time. This is a debate which has it all. Science. Headlines. Psychology. Politics. And controversy.
Most controversial, of course, is the idea that we westerners will have to cut back on burgers. And go easy on the cheese. Less meat and dairy means less greenhouse gases (GHGs). Thats because livestock belch out methane (a powerful GHG). They also require food, which is grown using fertilisers and pesticides that also result in nitrous oxide emissions (another powerful GHG). Whats more, animals dont convert the food we grow for them very efficiently, which creates a prima facie case for vegetarianism (more people could be supported from the same amount of land if we all ate plants rather than giving the plants to animals and then eating them).
But unlike your average dairy cow, this debate is far from black and white. Not all meat consumption is bad and we all dont have to become vegetarian to save the planet (meat-eating apparently had a crucial impact on human development). The majority of us also still want to eat meat.
Thats why any changes to menus, diets and guidelines need to be approached with caution. Campaigns like Meat Free Mondays have already been criticised for being too simplistic and encouraging vegetarianism. The media and consumer backlash, backed by a powerful farming fraternity, can be ruthless. Its no surprise, therefore, that the government has gone into hiding, not wanting to commit on the definition of a sustainable diet.
But that hasnt stopped businesses. Yes, many I speak to are frustrated by the lack of direction offered by government (It is frustrating and confusing for industry to be expected to operate under conflicting advice and in the absence of a coherent strategy.). But that has stopped them dipping their toe in the water, starting discussions with clients (corporate clients are further ahead on this idea) and encouraging chefs to create menus that are environmentally low-impact, ethically sourced and healthy.
The first signs of sustainable menus are appearing. There seems to be a growing acceptance that this is where foodservice needs to go, for economic, environmental and social reasons. Its a brave move, and it will take time to wean chefs and consumers off their age-old passion for meat especially with little government leadership. But why wait? As Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has put it, addressing this issue isn’t about giving anything up, it’s about filling your boots: embracing a world of fabulous, fresh ingredients and finding some new and irresistible ways to cook and serve them. The crucial thing is the mental shift: after that, I predict you will find it a breeze.