Skip to main content

Sustainability goes beyond ingredients and environmental impact; it also involves looking after the wellbeing of the team and having a positive impact on the community. We reflect on this for World Sustainable Gastronomy Day.

Imagine transporting yourself to the year 2060 and walking into a restaurant. Don’t just think about the dishes or ingredients you would choose, but also the ambience and the team that make up the place. Sustainability, in short, implies a vision for the future because it is defined by its ability to endure in the long term. As the Brundtland report highlights, it is about “meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. So the next time you visit a restaurant, ask yourself: will this place still be open in 10 years’ time? What indicators support that possibility?

Three key aspects in one place

Sustainability plans cover three key areas, closely linked to the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): environmental, social and economic.

The first focuses on practices such as carbon footprint reduction, efficient resource management and recycling, including reducing the use of plastics, adopting LED lighting and using efficient appliances. These measures are aligned with goals such as Affordable and Clean Energy (SDG 7), Responsible Consumption and Production (SDG 12) and Climate Action (SDG 13).

The economic sphere is equally crucial in sustainable catering, involving support for local farmers and fishermen, as well as the promotion of a higher proportion of plant-based foods and quality meats. Choosing seasonal and local ingredients not only reduces the carbon footprint, but also stimulates employment and strengthens the local economy. These practices are aligned with goals such as Responsible Consumption and Production (SDG 12), Underwater Living (SDG 14) and Terrestrial Ecosystem Living (SDG 15).

In contrast, the social sphere tends to receive less attention in catering. While menus often mention the origin of the products or the names of the producers, the nutritional qualities of the dishes or the working conditions of the staff are rarely reported. Treating staff fairly, ensuring a balanced diet and actively contributing to the community are key pillars, aligned with goals such as Reducing Inequalities (SDG 10), Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG 8), Gender Equality (SDG 5) and Health and Wellbeing (SDG 3).

A significant shift in concept

Supporting sustainable restaurants also implies a significant change of perspective: to stop putting diners at the centre and to give priority to waiters, cooks and waitresses. An unhappy or poorly paid team will not last over time, and therefore will not be sustainable. One way to assess this commitment is to ask about staff meals, known as “family meals”. While some restaurants offer their staff inexpensive meals, others opt for balanced, tasty and generous meals. It is preferable to choose establishments that value their staff in this way.

On the other hand, a restaurant that does research is also a restaurant that lasts. It is not only about creating innovative or haute cuisine dishes, but also about the ability to use or reuse less common or normally discarded ingredients. The creativity that our grandmothers had is the same creativity that has given rise to traditional dishes such as guttering and croquettes, in contrast to bland and boring ingredients. In addition, sustainability includes the ethical use of artificial intelligence to develop new culinary perspectives.

SDG 17, although more abstract, can also be applied to the restaurant sector: partnerships to achieve the goals can be materialised by collaborating with other entities or organisations that are not necessarily related to gastronomy. For example, by giving space in the restaurant to local artists, purchasing tableware from artisans or promoting other projects in the neighbourhood, thus fostering a collaborative economy.

Is a restaurant just a restaurant?

For sustainability not to be a fad, but a real commitment, it is crucial that restaurants have a positive impact on society, even if it is on a small scale. As diners, we also have a responsibility to validate certain sustainable practices, such as questioning claims that are promoted solely through the restaurant’s website.

Next time you choose a restaurant, don’t just check or accept the ingredients on the menu or on the website; also look to see if the staff is happy and motivated, or if the food is balanced and easy to explain. Because, in the end, every bite counts not only for you, but for the world we wish to preserve for generations to come.

Anna Torrents

Discover the world through a gastronomic and sustainable lens with Anna Torrents, a journalist with a passion for exploring the culinary delights and most fascinating destinations on the planet.