MFK Fisher, one of America’s first food writers, said “First we eat, then we do everything else’. We can’t deny that not only is food the fuel that all people need to survive, good food puts us in a good mood, and as Virginia Woolf said, ‘One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.’ We certainly don’t fully enjoy our travels if we don’t enjoy the food we eat on our travels.
Exploring local cuisine has become an important part of travelling, almost as important as the scenery and the attractions. What’s great is that visitors to Cape Town love our food, so much so that they awarded us for it. In 2016, Cape Town was named the best food city in the world by Conde Nast Traveler in its latest Readers’ Choice Awards survey. To quote Allan & Dot Keir, ‘The reason we visit frequently from UK. Food is awesome, as is the scenery. Love it!’
Knowing that food is important to everyone’s well-being, it’s sad to realise that not everyone knows where their next good meal is coming from. In response to this, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations commemorates World Food Day on 16 October each year to create awareness of those who go hungry, of the need for us to eat nutritiously and the need for us to ensure food security.
The message for World Food Day 2016 is “Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too.” At first glance you may think as we did that this is not related to responsible tourism, but after delving deeper we realised that this theme is about the relationship between food security and climate change – how producing and consuming food can contribute to climate change, and how climate change affects the ability to produce enough food. Not only are tourists consumers of food within a destination (they don’t bring their own food on their travels after all), and when we think of all the travel involved in tourism, we can’t deny that tourism contributes to climate change.
The FAO is calling on countries to address food and agriculture in their climate action plans, but tourism businesses and individuals can take responsibility for their own actions too. Here is what the tourism industry can do to ensure food security and reduce climate change from food:
Serve less meat
Livestock contributes to nearly two thirds of agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and 78% of agricultural methane emissions.
We’re not suggesting that your business follow the example of Way Out West, a vegetarian festival, but perhaps consider fewer meat dishes on your menu and more vegetarian meals.
Another option is to follow the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and do Meat Free Monday. Not offering meat for just one day a week will reduce your business’s carbon footprint, and if the Terminator can do it, others can do it too. Wildlife ACT’s Cape Town team is an example of a business that has made a big sacrifice in giving up Spur’s two burgers for the price of one Monday special.
You can’t force visitors not to eat meat on any day of the week, but you can encourage them to do so with discounts and special offers on vegetarian meals, and off course making vegetarian meals that are too good to resist.
Grow your own
FAO estimates that agricultural production must rise by about 60% by 2050 in order to feed a larger population. Climate change is putting this objective at risk.
Every little effort towards growing your own food counts by putting less pressure on agricultural producers, and also reducing food miles – carbon emissions from transporting food from source to table. Also a tourism business that grows its own food reduces its food costs.
In Cape Town, the Double Tree by Hilton at the Upper Eastside grows organic herbs and vegetables in its rooftop garden. Isaac from Turning Point Guest House, one of the businesses participating in the Cape Town Responsible Tourism Challenge, also grows veggies and herbs that his wife, Doris, uses in the delicious meals she serves guests.
On a larger scale, the gardeners at Hotel Verde have been cultivating their own garden and growing organic vegetables, like tomatoes, artichokes, spinach and Swiss chard that is used together with vegetables and herbs grown in an aquaponic system.
The innovative vertical aquaponic system hold 475 plants such as lettuce, herbs, spinach, leeks, peppers, tomato and spring onions. Edible fish called tilapias are housed in water tanks at the base of the system. They feed on the algae growing in the tanks, as well as small amounts of additional food. The nutrient of their waste, once broken down by a bio-filter, feeds the plants. The hotel harvests the plants and replants every 3.5 months. Good news for climate change, the aquaponic system is virtually emission free, is a cost effective sustainable food production at a high density per floor area and saves water in comparison to traditional planting methods.
Avoid food waste
Over 1/3 of food produced worldwide is lost or wasted. That amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year. Methane is emitted by rotting food and is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
The first step a tourism business can take in avoiding food waste is to reduce the amount of food waste generated in the first place. Here are some tips on how to reduce food waste if your tourism business prepares food:
- Better purchasing practices – buy only what you need and only when you need it
- Better portioning – reduce portion sizes, offer different portion sizes and cook with all parts of the ingredients you’re using, serve meals to order instead of a buffet
- Better stock management – store food correctly at the right temperature and in air-tight containers, rotate stock or use the first-in first out
- Better food preparation practices – do not over trim, use carcasses, bones and trimmings, etc. to prepare stock for sauces or soups
If you still have surplus food, make arrangements to donate it to a community organisation that may want to receive it. Hotel Verde regularly sends left over food from the kitchens to the Haven Night Shelter in Belville.
If this does not work for your business, consider composting waste and using the compost in your garden to keep the soil healthy. Composting produces less emissions than if food waste is sent to a landfill. At The Backpack, vegetable waste from the kitchen is used to feed their worm farms. The worms turn the food waste into compost and a nutrient-rich liquid that is called worm tea, both of which they use in their garden. Table scraps go into the bokashi bin which is taken to the Woodstock Peace Garden.
Keep the soil in your garden healthy
Healthy soils naturally absorb carbon dioxide, thereby decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. Poor soils can release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and contribute to climate change.
Like the Backpack does with worm tea and worm compost, use compost made from your business’s own food and organic waste to fertilise your garden, and improve the soil’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide.
Serve sustainable fish
By 2050, catches of main fish species are expected to decline by up to 40% in the tropics, where livelihoods, food and nutrition security strongly depend on the fisheries sector.
Serving sustainable fish should be easy for tourism businesses to do the SASSI app makes it very easy to identify which seafood alternatives are both sustainable and tasty.
At the CTICC, fish suppliers are all required to adhere to SASSI requirementsequirements and freshwater fish (such as trout) are sourced from local farms. The Vineyard Hotel was the first hotel to sign up to the SASSI initiative, in which hotels are committed to making sustainable decisions when it comes to buying and ordering seafood. Chef Carl van Rooyen champions the cause and has has been named a SASSI Trailblazer for his efforts in support of sustainable seafood practices.
Use products from sustainably managed forests
Deforestation and forest degradation account for an estimated 10 – 11% of global GHG emissions.
Look out for paper with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label. This label indicates that the paper has been produced from trees from sustainable managed forests. Or take a page out of Hotel Verde’s book and use wood from alien trees from clearing projects in hotel décor. B.I.G Backpackers takes another approach and either refurbishes old furniture or upcyles waste into something new and distinctive.
Contribute to feeding schemes
The world aims to achieve Zero Hunger by 2030; climate change is a challenge that must be addressed in order to continue the fight against hunger and achieve this goal.
We all know that the future of South Africa rests on educating its children, but we can’t teach a hungry child. The easiest action for a tourism business to take is to support school feeding programmes like the The Peninsula School Feeding Association. A step further is to create your own feeding programmes like Hotel Verde has done at some local schools.
You can also get guests involved. It’s not unusual for visitors to Cape Town to be approached by homeless people for money or food. You can encourage guests not to give money but to buy food or shelter vouchers, which you can stock for convenience. Shelter vouchers, which include a warm meal, are sold by the Haven Night Shelter. The Broccoli Project sells a booklet of five food vouchers at R50, and these can be bought at Pick’n’Pay supermarkets in Gardens, Constantia, Claremont and at the Waterfront.
Guests and restaurants can also contribute through StreetSmart. Guests can add a voluntary R5 to their table’s bill at a participating restaurant, which is then distributed to children’s charities.
To round off
James Beard, one of America’s first celebrity chefs, said that food is our common ground, it is a universal experience. We can’t deny that food is the fuel that all people need to survive, but, James, with his passion for cuisine, clearly meant something else – that everyone loves food and that food is central to everyone’s happiness, whoever they may be and wherever they may be.
In Cape Town, food gives visitors an idea of our culture. If they are eating traditional fish and chips at a harbour or sampling the new wave of excellent gin being distilled in Cape Town, they get an idea of what drives us, literally, and this is just one of the things that makes Cape Town such a great place for people to visit. We’ve wowed tourists with our food – the next step is ensuring that this food is always available for them to enjoy.