restaurant server apron

The importance of sustainability has been highlighted time and again in so many aspects of life and business, from the drive from electric cars to home energy efficiency, from recycling to green electricity generation.

In view of all this, it has always been inconceivable that food production and service could escape scrutiny, as everything from the carbon footprint of importing produce through to the sustainability of the materials used in restaurant server aprons has been an issue.

A question worth considering, however, is this: is the impetus for change coming from within, as those in the industry acknowledge their responsibility to use resources efficiently and appreciate ways this can positively impact on the bottom line (such as energy efficiency in hospitality establishments), or is it a response to being put under pressure to act?

This is no idle query: the issue was thrown into sharp relief in London this month when protestors occupied part of an upmarket restaurant in the Mayfair district to protest against what they see as unethical farming practices and to promote a plant-based diet.

As the Evening Standard reported, this incident involved activists from Animal Rebellion, a group linked to the environmental protest group Extinction Rebellion. They staged their protest at Scott’s Seafood Restaurant to demand an end to animal farming and fishing. Occupying reserved tables, they placed home-made ‘menus’ promoting plant-based diets at the tables.

One of the protesters, Louisa Hillwood, said: “We’re peacefully occupying tables in Scott’s to make a definitive statement that no seafood is sustainable.” She argued: “We know that transitioning to a plant-based food system would support fishing communities into sustainable jobs whilst providing abundant affordable and nutritious food.”

That claim might be one some fishing communities would dispute, given they may not live in places well-suited to crop growing, rather in the same way hill farmers would argue meat and wool from sheep is the only viable agriculture in upland areas with poor soil.

In the event, the group was removed by police and their links with Extinction Rebellion may not help them; the latter group has often blocked roads and even tried to disrupt public transport, bringing unpopularity with the public. It may therefore be that such activities prove counterproductive and do not in themselves aid improvements in sustainability.

A more effective approach may lie not in militant activism but in exercising consumer choice and seeking to persuade more people to follow such decisions. This can work when a significant part of the sector responds by catering for these choices.

An example of this is Barge East, a sustainable venue on a boat moored on the Regent’s Canal in Hackney. As This is Local London recently reported, the establishment recently gained two AA silver rosettes, to add to the Silver Environment Recycling Award given to it by sustainability body First Mile.

The prime reason for the latter award comes from the total lack of food miles involved in the menu, with much of the veg coming from the gardens by the adjacent banks of the canal. This is food localism at its best.

Such an approach is hardly viable for a seafood restaurant in London; after all, it’s not as if the fish can be caught in the canal. But Barge East does show that by making progress in at least some ways, sustainable establishments can make a name for themselves, attracting punters rather than protesters.

April 07, 2023 — Jacob Blakey