Ever thought about how a visit to a restaurant impacts your carbon footprint? Recent research shows that food served in over 40 London restaurants is not just slightly CO2 intensive, but that in many cases restaurant food produces over 100 times more CO2 than locally bought ingredients.
The research was carried out by Will Brookes, a Bsc student at the University of Nottingham (UK) and a graduate chef cook from the prestigious Leith School of Food and Wine. Brookes was so shocked at his findings that he called on the government to conduct a full environmental audit of British restaurants.
In his research, entitled ‚ÄòThe Environmental Sustainability of the British Restaurant Industry: A London Case Study’ Brookes carried out an extensive public survey to test knowledge of local produce and the cost to the environment of importing food ingredients.
It can hardly come as a surprise to you that imported food creates more CO2 than locally sourced foodstuffs. But where the study’s findings are particularly shocking is how much more CO2 production is involved in imported food and how little awareness exists about this. An average dish in which ingredients are used from outside the EU produces more than five kilograms of CO2 in transport alone. This compares to just 51 grams of CO2 emissions associated with locally sourced food.
Food transport is a huge factor in the UK’s total CO2 emissions. It is believed that food transport alone accounts for 35 per cent of the UK’s total emissions, and the food industry is the third largest contributor with industrial use.
“The concept of food miles isn’t new” says Brookes. “There has been extensive research into the cost of importing foodstuffs by supermarkets, but this is the first study of its kind into the restaurant industry and its considerable impact on the environment. Given that up to 30 per cent of all human-induced global warming is caused by global food and agricultural systems, this is one area which needs to be addressed.”
Brookes’ dissertation supervisor Nick Mount stressed that a rule of thumb is that the more expensive the meal, the lower the carbon footprint. “This is what people seem to expect, but I doubt they would believe just how high the cost to the environment is in the cheaper meals”, he commented.
In case you wonder whether meals would get extremely dull if all restaurants sourced their ingredients from a limited amount of local producers, Brookes’ supervisor admitted it’s a risk. “But what the research clearly points to is the need for regulation and a governing body to make restaurants more sustainable,” Mount said.
Oliver Rowe, a famous cook in London, says he takes food CO2 issues very seriously and that over 85% of his produce in the kitchen hails from inside London. His restaurant is no exception, even though what his chefs do with the food unquestionably is exceptional.
The UK restaurant scene is interesting to keep a check on because the entire country itself is far ahead in Europe in consumer appetite for locally grown food. “The UK’s reliance on food prepared for the consumer is at an all time high”, said Brookes. “This puts restaurants in a highly prominent position. The restaurant sector has the potential to be at the forefront of improving the sustainability of our food industry. This of course carries the responsibility of promoting knowledge of seasonal and local produce. This in turn could improve the sustainability of the food we cook at home.”