A sustainable future
Is it possible to eat responsibly?
From now on and once a month, discover Accor.com brand new articles about sustainable development's trends and latest news. For today's "A sustainable future" article, we invite you to a culinary round-the-world tour!
The same dishes everywhere on the planet? Are local culinary traditions in danger of extinction? Can we be sure of the true origin of the products we consume? Under what conditions is the food we eat produced? What is the environmental impact of the food on our plates? Globalization has given birth to many such anxieties. But what is the real state of affairs? From organic farming through fair trade and the "locavore" movement: the new trends in how we eat are bringing a genuine flavor of optimism to consumers' plates!
The whole world in my plate
The first great globalization of food dates back to the era of the Great Discoveries in the 15th century, when the Europeans brought "new" foodstuffs such as the tomato, maize and potatoes back from the Americas. This was followed by a spectacular expansion in import and export of food products, notably under the impetus of the 19th-century industrial revolution: wheat travelled from Europe to the New World, coffee and sugarcane arrived from Africa, etc. In the space of just a few centuries, globalization enriched the variety of foodstuffs available to prepare meals everywhere in the world.
It didn't take long for the critics to emerge. Globalization was accused of resulting in the standardization of food products and the homogenization of cultures. In 1991, American sociologist George Ritzer spoke of "McDonaldization", referring to the process of Westernization of local cultures in countries where the American fast-food chain set up its outlets. But soon "Western" culture was not the only one to globalize - in every large city in the world, consumers can choose between pizza (from the Mediterranean), the American hamburger (originally from Germany), the Chinese nem, the Turkish döner kebab and Japanese sushi.
However, this planetary offering has not pushed local dishes off the menu. First, because each culture tends to adapt imported products to its own tastes. Secondly, because this globalized cuisine is mostly a feature of the richer countries - in the developing countries it is still reserved for the middle classes and urban elites. Finally, fears of a homogenization of food cultures mainly highlight the attachment we all have to our own culinary traditions.
Everywhere, local specialties are preserved. Some of them are now protected by UNESCO, like the "gastronomic meal of the French", traditional Mexican cuisine, the Mediterranean diet or Gingerbread craft from Northern Croatia, all of them included as examples of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010.
Everything organic is good
While over the last few decades , food industry standards have made it possible to greatly improve food security, food globalization has also ushered in some serious dysfunctions. World citizens will remember the tainted milk scandal in China in 2008 or, more recently, the horsemeat scandal that shocked Europe in 2013 . But even before this, many alarms were raised over the use of chemical products and, still today, the production of GMO crops.
These contested methods gave birth in the 1930s to organic farming, which aims to return to ancestral farming traditions free of synthetic chemicals and less harmful to the natural environment. Organic agriculture has been organized on a planetary scale since the creation in 1972 of IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements). Land devoted to organic agricultural production worldwide increased by a factor of 3.5 between 1999 and 2010 and now totals 37.3 million hectares.
Today, we find a very large number of labels and certifications in the field of biological agriculture: the Label bio of the European Union or AB in Europe, Biologique Canada or Farm Verified Organic in North America, China Green Food Development Center and Japanese Agricultural Standard in Asia, etc., to mention only a few . These products are available in specialized stores but also in mainstream food stores and mass-market retail outlets.
Hotels and restaurants are also increasingly buying "organic" products, which are good for their customers and healthy for the environment. Lovers of "organic" food have nothing to worry about when eating at Novotel hotels, but they might have difficulty making their choice: yoghurts, cheeses, wines, rice pilaf, salmon, chicken, ratatouille, etc.
This approach fits perfectly with the Accor PLANET 21 sustainable development program, which aims to offer "organic" or locally produced dishes to hotel guests eating in the Group's restaurants.
Eating local produce: a way of creating community cohesion
Consuming local products and produce is another way of guaranteeing a healthy diet and respecting the environment.
In Japan, in 1965, a few years after the Minimata ecological disaster that led to tens of thousands of people being poisoned by mercury, a group of mothers created the first teikei. The word means "cooperation" or "collaboration" and the idea is to subscribe to purchasing the crop or harvest of a farmer who then commits to producing food without using chemical products.
The teikei were the pioneers in a long series of local initiatives springing up across the globe. Today, the phenomenon has gained strong momentum, with initiatives such as "AMAP" in France, "CSA" in the English-speaking countries, "Reciproco" in Portugal, "Solidarische Landwirtschaf" in Germany, "Andelslandbruk" in Norway and "Gruppi di Acquisto Solidale" in Italy, for instance.
In these locally based partnerships between producers and consumers, the former can pre-finance their harvest and enjoy a degree of financial security, while the latter take control of their eating habits and enjoy regular access to fresh, local, seasonal products (generally in the form of a weekly basket of produce). For all the members of these new communities, another advantage is the opportunity to establish contact, exchange views and set "fair" prices.
The Slow Food movement, which was born in Italy in the 1980s in reaction to the opening of a fast-food restaurant in Rome, also aimed to give preference to local products and help preserve culinary traditions .
The locavores were no doubt inspired by all these trends in food consumption. The term was invented in 2005 by San Francisco resident Jessica Prentice who for World Environment Day launched the challenge of consuming only food produced or cultivated within a 160km radius of your home.
Still others have decided to bring the producers to their own premises! This is the approach chosen by three Pullman hotels that installed beehives on their roofs in 2011. In France, on the very top floor of some hotels, such as the Pullman Bercy and the Pullman Bordeaux Aquitania, the bees produce honey that travelers can then enjoy at the breakfast table. Along the same lines, in Bangkok, the Siam Square Novotel produces spirulina, a micro-organism particularly rich in protein and amino acids.
Last year, Accor Morocco joined forces with Pur Projet on an innovative initiative benefitting the local economic-interest group "Femmes du Rif" (Women of the Rif). In the Chefchaouen region where the soil is particularly poor, Accor Morocco embarked on planting 2,000 olive trees to support the work of the women the hotel group's employees had occasion to meet. The project is part of the "Plant for the Planet" reforestation program supported by Accor. But Accor Morocco has gone the extra mile and uses the olive oil produced from the trees in its local hotels or for direct sale to its guests.
From fair trade to sustainable trade
Consuming local products therefore offers a guarantee concerning production methods since it puts consumers and producers in contact. But not everything you need can be produced locally. For instance, it is impossible to grow coffee, cocoa or tropical fruits in Europe. For these foodstuffs, there are labels to guarantee that they have been grown in a responsible manner.
Fair trade "is a trading partnership based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. Fair trade contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to marginalized producers, especially in the developing countries, and guaranteeing that their rights are respected " . (Note de traductrice: première phrase selon la définition "FINE" (association de quatre reseaux internationaux fair trade); traduction libre pour la 2ème phrase) Accor for instance puts its trust in the Fairtrade and Max Havelaar labels, notably for the hot beverages offered in many of its hotels (tea, coffee, cocoa powder).
Fair trade is part of the more global sustainable development approach, which aims to satisfy the needs of today's consumers in a responsible manner while preserving resources for the consumers of tomorrow.
Today, the big issue is that of sustainable fisheries, an engagement made by a growing number of food-industry players. The primary aim is to limit catches of species in danger of extinction. Having adopted the cause, Accor has signed a partnership with the Seafood Choices Alliance, the SeaWeb NGO's international program, and has undertaken to remove all threatened marine species from its restaurant menus.
Accor also relies on the Rainforest label to ensure that a certain number of its products are sourced from sustainable trade.
Organic, local, sustainable or fair trade: the consumer now holds all the cards!
NB: Article on Sustainable development trends drafted by the Accor Group's communication department.