Day 2 London Action Hub: takeaways

Tuesday morning’s session brought together industry leads and chefs to discuss sustainability, or lack thereof, within the catering industry. Gathering a diverse group of people at the table, this session explored how the Action Plan could be brought to life in this context.

There is space for sustainability in the catering and food industry. Board-level actors are already exploring its positive implications for productivity, quality of food and food environments etc. As trusted actors, chefs have a role to play in pushing for sustainability within this industry by highlighting the story to tell around sustainability.

Industry persons

FoodSpace is one such story. Adopting a sustainable approach, FoodSpace shows that its more than possible to run a sustainable catering company, it’s also profitable.  “At FoodSpace, we often emphasize the need to think outside the four walls of the kitchen and view it as part of the community,” says Chef Conor Spacey.  This guiding principle has dictated all aspects of FoodSpace’s operations-- in the sourcing of local ingredients, curation of menus and waste management. 

Conor chatting

This discussion a number of questions: Do chefs know enough about sustainability? What role do consumers play in this industry? How can the Action Plan support contract caterers? Does it need to be adapted so more relevant and useful in this context?

A twisted path to sustainability

In his talk, Lawrence Woodward discussed the frequent misuse of the term “sustainability”. He remarked that “sustainability is not just about meeting the needs of the present without compromising the future. It is about health, wellbeing, tradition and culture - its functioning encompasses technology, logistics and social and political cohesion,” With this definition, Lawrence argues we must re-define food quality to consider more than just taste and appearance but also its ethical, cultural and ecological impacts.


Flavour: how can we understand it?

Over lunch, Josef Yousef spoke about the research of Kitchen Theory, the gastronomy experience design lab exploring how we perceive flavour. Through the re-designing of a children’s yoghurt, Josef explained the applications of this knowledge to influence healthier food choices. For example, as 90% of flavour is experienced through our sense of smell, food developers can reduce yoghurt’s sugar content and modifying its smell as to create healthier product that is still tasty and appealing to children.


Food as it shapes our lives

“Everything is about food but it’s almost too big to see.” Carolyn Steel traced the interplay between food and the development of cities throughout history up to the present day. "In modern society, we are increasingly separated from nature although we are just as dependent on the natural world as our ancient ancestors. As more of us move into cities, more of the natural world is being transformed into extraordinary landscapes in order to feed us,” says Carolyn.  


Our Food Future: the true nature of food in urban environments and how to create sustainable actions for all

In the afternoon, Chef Chantelle moderated a panel with Claire Prichard, Sudhvir Singh, Chris Holmes and Carolyn Steel. Here’s a snapshot:

Claire discussed the importance of food as a connector bringing everyone together. “Economic development, health etc. can all be seen through a lens of food,” explained Claire. “We need to ask: where is food in everything? How can we better support individuals working in these systems?”

Sudhvir highlighted the need to consider the needs of vulnerable populations. He argued that poor nutrition shouldn’t be seen as an individual choice in a system that privileges bad foods. As such, we need to re-structure food environments to make good food more accessible and affordable for the most vulnerable.

Chris highlighted how poverty influences people’s food choices. “Pizza is the single biggest impact on family nutrition. What if we were to design a more nutritious, cost effective pizza? We need one that isn’t 3,000 calories but still affordable-- this is the reality of peoples’ lives in London,” says Chris.


Carolyn brought up the concept of food’s role in shaping society. Historically, society has shifted from trading food to money. Despite this shift, food acts as the ordering principle of our society, what Carolyn refers to as a “Sitopia”. If we recognize this, Carlyon argues, we can use food as a tool to shape the world and even re-define what is meant by a “good” society- as one in which everyone can eat well.  

What role can chefs play? Panelists suggested that chefs help translate science on sustainable diets by showing us what a sustainable diet looks like on our plates. Doctors were identified as a group who could learn from chefs to create conversations around food that focus on taste instead of nutrition. In this way, chefs can help increase the public’s engagement in sustainable food systems, who can then hold policy-makers and business accountable.


Re-introducing food in nutrition conversations

To end the day, Corinna Hawkes gave an overview of the global and local nutrition space. With 1/3 of the global population experiencing some form of malnutrition, Corinna urges for broader engagement around nutrition at a local level. Instead of working in silos, nutrition actors must re-introduce social aspects and tastiness of food into nutrition conversations. Chefs can help here.