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On 7 February, The Food Foundation hosted the first UK investor summit dedicated to food system transformation at 15Hatfields. We welcomed leading investment analysts, policymakers and NGOs to our Elements Suite for a series of panel discussions, talks and Q&As.

When it comes to the role investors must play in mitigating climate change, over the last decade the topic of fossil fuel divestment has gained prominence. Sustainable food production has received less attention, despite food systems being responsible for a third of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Recent research emphasises the link between a healthier diet and lower carbon footprint. Reducing meat intake and processed foods in favour of a diet rich in fruit and vegetables is beneficial to both environmental and human health. And yet, our current food system incentivises the consumption of meat and highly processed foods. Globally, the majority of agricultural subsidies are used for animal and dairy farming which artificially lowers the price of meat and dairy products. This means that healthy and sustainable alternatives are rarely the most affordable option. Transitioning to a sustainable food system will require governments, investors, manufacturers, retailers and food businesses to be aligned on the prioritisation of a lower footprint diet.

At 15Hatfields, we’ve been thinking about the role venues and caterers have to play in empowering event planners and delegates to make sustainable choices.

Challenging perceptions – innovative plant-based dining

Agriculture is the primary driver of tropical deforestation and therefore, a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss. Around 85% of agricultural land is used for grazing or to grow crops to feed livestock for meat and dairy production. However, as a venue we regularly receive enquiries from planners who are keen to explore plant-based dining.

In recent years, awareness of the environmental benefits of reducing meat consumption has combined with increasing curiosity surrounding vegan and vegetarian dishes. This is in part thanks to a rise in quality, sustainability-focused caterers who have debunked the stereotype that going meat-free means serving a wilted side-salad. Venues can support planners in making sustainable catering choices by increasing the proportion of plant-based dishes available. Working with a dynamic caterer enables venues to showcase sustainable dining at its most diverse and delicious.

Our local partner Eden Caterers provides us with an 80% vegetarian/vegan sandwich buffet selection. We’re passionate about supporting event planners who are interested in opting for a vegan or vegetarian menu at their event. Our day vegan rate (DVR) offers a variety of innovative plant-based dishes and treats – including Blackbird Bakery’s moreish lemon drizzle cake!

During the UK investor summit, The Food Foundation decided to offer their delegates the vegan hot buffet. We served Moroccan vegetable tagine, Thai green curry and Dhal with sweet potato and coconut crust.

Roz Salik, Events Manager at The Food Foundation, said:

"It’s really important in line with our messaging at The Food Foundation that we offer healthy and sustainable food options at our events so we chose three vegan bowl food offerings to be as inclusive as possible and they were all delicious."

Returning to our roots – fresh and local ingredients

Another topic discussed at the UK food system summit was the environmental impacts of ultra processed foods. Plant-based meat substitutes are now offered across many food businesses and supermarkets as a lower footprint solution. While significantly better for the environment than meat, substitutes are often highly processed. The energy used during processing, preserving and refrigeration all contributes to an increased carbon footprint. The health benefits of a plant-based diet are also impacted by processing during which fibre, vitamins and minerals are often lost.

Considering this, seasonal menus centred around locally sourced fruits and vegetables are both nourishing for delegates and better for the planet. Our sustainable caterers at Eden avoid buying processed foods and prioritise ingredients that have been foraged or bought locally. We’re encouraged to see seasonal menu planning being adopted by more venues. It certainly keeps things fresh and interesting for delegates! For inspiration take a look through our Spring selection of sample menus.

Don’t let it go to waste – flexible ordering and portion control

Working with local suppliers who prioritise local produce is also beneficial in terms of waste prevention. Less time spent in transit and storage, means less chance of food spoilage.

There are a number of ways venues can save food from landfill. To avoid over catering, flexibility and communication between event planners, venues and caterers is crucial. We allow event planners to inform us of changes in delegate numbers up to 12pm the day before the event.

Once served, food is trickier to repurpose for hygiene and safety reasons. That’s why we recommend holding some food in reserve rather than serving everything at once. Take flapjacks as an example – for a refreshment break with 120 delegates, we would begin by serving 80 pieces. Signs can be used in catering areas to encourage delegates to request more if they would like it. This is an opportunity to inspire guests to be mindful of food waste during the event and inform them of the waste prevention policy.

In conjunction with a robust waste prevention strategy, venues also need to have a recycling procedure which ensures that leftovers do not end up in landfill. Anaerobic digestion is recognised as one of the most effective methods of food recycling. Microorganisms break down the food waste inside a sealed vessel to produce biogas which is used to generate renewable energy. Eden Caterers works with a local food waste plant to ensure leftover food is recycled through the process of anaerobic digestion. A by-product of this process is a nutrient-rich liquid fertiliser. The fertiliser is then used for food production which brings us back to the very beginning!

Looking forward 

Do you want to learn more about waste reduction at our venue? We’re keen to work with event planners on establishing industry benchmarks for waste and energy reduction. Contact our team to learn about tracking food waste, water usage and electrical consumption at your next event.