London is a bustling metropolitan hub with cuisine from all corners of the earth. Some restaurants are very much aware of the footprint they leave on the environment and are actively trying to make a difference, making it an epicentre of change and innovation for environmental impact in the fight against waste and climate change.
The topics of climate change and damage to the environment have recently become more prevalent than ever before. People are becoming more and more aware of their footprint they leave on the planet by avoiding plastic packaging, eating less meat and trying to prevent food waste. According to leading environmental scientists at the United Nations, we have until 2030 to prevent irreversible damage to the earth. 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year, causing floating islands of rubbish the size of countries. The food we eat can have a massive impact on the world we live in, by its carbon footprint and resulting wastage. It begs the question, what is being done to quell the environmental plague being unleashed on the planet?
What the Pitta is one of the many London establishments trying to make a difference by replacing meat with plant-based products to create more environmentally friendly, Turkish-inspired meals. Co-founder Cem Yildiz explained: “ We see veganism as a more ethical options as the way forward. I think a lot of our customers fall into the meat-reducer category and I think that demographic is growing every day. People are becoming more conscious of where their food is coming from and the harm it may be doing to them, environmentally and to the animals.”
Cem also explained that meat isn’t the only factor that What the Pitta focus on when it comes to protecting the environment: “Over the last year we’ve been phasing out any large pieces of plastic, such as switching to glass bottles for water, changing our straws to corn starch and our packaging to paper, so that it’s recyclable. All our cooking oils are reused. It’s just about different ways we can try and be ethical. It’s something that’s on our mind consciously.
“One thing we do in our stores is we give discounts to people coming with their own containers and don’t use any packaging whatsoever, those people get 20 per cent off their order. If they don’t cause any plastic waste, it means they’re getting a big discount.
“I think in governments are going to start incentivising it such as lowering tax rates on businesses based on how ethical they are or based on how much of a carbon footprint your business is leaving, so we’ve got no-meat options, we’re not using plastic. I think the government need to provide more support to businesses who are making more ethical choices.
Another business trying to make a difference is Nature London. Nature London is a catering service that aims to cut out as much food waste as possible while continuing to produce high quality, delicious dishes. Food waste is arguably one of the biggest issues the world is facing at the moment, with 1.9 million tonnes of food is wasted by the food industry every year in the UK according to charity Fareshare.
Alice Gilsenan, director of Nature London explained: “I don’t like to say zero waste anymore; I think it’s a bit daunting for people because it suggests perfection. What we need is for a lot of people to do zero waste imperfectly as well as people doing it perfectly. What I like to talk about now is sustainability and getting that into people’s mindsets, getting them to understand what sustainability means for them.”
Alice said that after a career in advertising for some of the UK’s largest food and beverage brands, she had a change of heart and turned to managing a charity called the European Nature Trust: “That really opened my eyes to conservation and the environment and I just became really interested in it. Then I thought why it is just do-gooding businesses are always charities. I thought there should be an opposite end of the spectrum; doing good and making money shouldn’t be two opposite things.”
Alice told about her experience running a pop-up zero waste, vegan restaurant in Notting Hill, London: “Me and my business partner at the time, a guy called Justin, were talking one night and he said I’ve got a great idea for a zero-waste restaurant. We came across an old building called bumpkin which was a restaurant chain with four floors, and we negotiated with the tenant to have 3 months of their lease, and we created a beautiful vegan vegetarian restaurant. We only had it for those 3 months unfortunately because the owner of the building was planning on turning it into luxury flats. I’d go back into the restaurant world again, but what’s really exciting about catering is that we’ve got far much more reach compared to being in a static place.
Alice explained that sourcing their produce and ingredients is paramount: “With Nature London, I’ve a set of criteria with regards to sourcing food. for example, I work with a company called Odd Box, which is a ‘wonky’ vegetable delivery scheme. They send me surplus onions that are under size, avacados that are too small, carrots, stuff that would ordinarily go to waste. Every week it differs.
“Another feature is choosing seasonal produce, because another way that we can affect the environment is by choosing stuff that is grown seasonally rather than shipping it in from abroad. That ties into another criteria which is local. We work with local farmers, local small businesses and local sustainable-minded brands.
“I work with a company called Growing Underground based in Clapham, and they grow lots of herbs and plants underground in old tube tunnels which are 200 feet below ground. They grow them using UVA and UVB lights on old carpet remnants.”
Alice explained that the topic of reducing waste and our footprint left on the environment is becoming more and more important: “it’s almost reached mainstream now, maybe even beyond mainstream. I think when we started off, it was kind of an elitist thing. Now, especially with the younger generation, you can see people asking all of the right questions such as where does our food come from, how do I know it’s sourced well, what’s its impact on the planet, how good is it for my health and is there any wastage.”
Eating meat is something experts claim is damaging the environment. We are told to reduce our meat intake to reduce our carbon footprint. One London-based outlet, 28 Well Hung, is aiming to prove that eating meat isn’t as bad for the environment as it may seem. Providing high quality, grass fed beef streetfood, co-founder Gary Solomons wants to change people’s perspectives on what meat means for the environment.
Gary explained: “Two years ago, we started 28 Well hung. We’ve always been into where food comes from. During our experience with the meat industry, we got to learn a lot about the farms, how they’re run, their challenges and it progressed through that. It all boils down to the soil and the relationship it has with the ecosystem. it’s been a gradual change. We didn’t start out with the environment in mind. We learned that the health of the soil was being degraded over the last 20 or 30 years or so, so it’s more about that and how that affects the climate.”
Gary said that research has discovered that it’s more to do with how beef is reared than simply just labelling meat as a contributor for climate change: “It goes back to nature, put the cow back into the field. When you hear people say it costs a lot to the environment to produce a pound of beef, in terms of intensive farming, yes it does because firstly they’re feeding the cattle grain, but they shouldn’t eat grain. The grain is produced somewhere else, and it’s produced poorly, because it’s monocropped, which devastates the soils. Biodiversity is a major part of the environment and the ecosystem. They produce the grain and they use chemicals to produce it and that then degrades the soil. The grain is then transported and causes a carbon footprint.
“They then feed that to the cows, which isn’t good for them, which causes them to produce a lot more methane than they would in a grass-fed system. When you break all of this down, and you look at the impact overall, yes, it’s really bad for the environment. Intensive farming isn’t good. We need to differentiate it from grass fed beef and the benefits of that. Saying we need to stop eating red meat is only going to exasperate the problem in terms of not sustaining well-managed farms which are actually a benefit to the climate and to the soil.”
Gary also explained: “With fast food, there are a lot of people who are more concerned with the cost of food rather than the quality, but younger people are getting more aware and more interested, which I think is part of the climate change and environmental revolution with plastics and straws and the oceans, it’s mostly driven by young people. We believe in good quality food and having a good time, which is what people are interested in. It opens a door to have a conversation about where food comes from, and you can start to inform people. Over the last number of years people have been asking more and more about where meat come from.
“I think the issue is the big businesses and corporations with the philosophy of cheaper and cheaper. You can go into mcdonalds and get a meal for 3 or 4 quid. You can’t get any sort of quality for that unless it’s been mass produced. There’s a race to the bottom regarding price versus quality. In some cultures, they sit down and cook a meal every day, but in the western world, we’re more about fast food, take aways, packaging.