Sustainability and food waste are top-of-mind issues in the Spanish agriculture and food industries
Spanish chefs and sustainability
According to statistics from the FAO, 1.3 billion tons of food are lost or wasted each year in the world; a figure that represents a third of everything that is produced for human consumption. In Europe, the amount of lost or wasted food reaches nearly 89 million tons a year, or 179 kilograms per inhabitant. These statistics speak for themselves, and they have pushed many food industry-related companies in Spain to commit to changing this situation.
Over the past few years, numerous food and agricultural companies, as well as Spanish wineries, have made a strong pledge to include active and prolonged sustainability policies in their business plans.
This commitment has also extended to another link in the food distribution chain – the one that is led by prestigious chefs and their restaurants. The example that is being set by important names in international gastronomy and banners for sustainability like Dan Barber, Massimo Bottura, Tom Collichio and Spanish chef Joan Roca, has made an impact on the conscience of many Spanish professionals.
The following is a look at some of the initiatives championed by Spanish chefs, their teams and their businesses. Joan Roca is very clear on the matter: "We are destroying the planet at an unsustainable pace. But we chefs are pragmatic and we know that we have to do something now because the problem is catching up with us. I believe there is common sense behind every chef... an ecological conscience."
1) Food without waste
This collaborative initiative for reducing food waste is led by the AECOC, the Spanish association of large consumer goods companies and distributors. More than 350 companies are committed to this project. In the last two years, the project's participants have attained a 6% increase in the amount of products that, if not sold, are donated to charity organizations. The project has three objectives: to reduce waste through prevention and the development of efficient practices throughout the food chain, to maximize the use of any surplus that is produced throughout the different phases of the value chain, and to make society aware of the issue.
2) Cocina Conciencia
This project from the Fundación Raíces approaches sustainability from a social point of view: the inclusion of immigrant workers in gastronomy-oriented jobs. Chefs from all over Spain offer these young people the opportunity to enter the work force. Some of the acclaimed chefs that collaborate in this project include Ramon Freixa, Francis Paniego, Andoni Luis Aduriz, Nino Redruello, Paco Pérez and Quique Dacosta.
3) Reimagine Food
If we're looking for an example of food industry-innovation in Spain with a clear sustainable calling, we should look no further than Reimagine Food, the world's first center for breakthrough innovation dedicated to the foods of the future, which, as of October 2016, has offices in Washington D.C. Some of its main areas of work will be focused on Food Smart Cities, vertical agriculture and digital farms.
Reimagine Food also shines the spotlight on some of humanity's greatest challenges with regard to food, to analyze breakthrough technology that can be used to help to reduce food waste, or even fight obesity. To do so, the company is already in the process of negotiating strategic alliances with institutions like the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and Georgetown University, among others, at the same time that it is reinforcing its synergies with Singularity University.
4) Apps that promote efficiency
Technological applications can aid in the fight against food waste by managing all of the elements found in a restaurant in a more efficient way. One example of this is the project created by Spanish company Dual Link, which consists of a group of applications and a management software package geared towards these types of establishments. Information is the first step towards evaluating a business's efficiency. And technology is a very powerful weapon to start to do so.
A few months ago, the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Food and the Environment presented an integral plan for the sustainability of the Spanish food industry, and one of its key points consisted of offering all companies an app for evaluating their own sustainable practices.
5) Saving the oceans
Oceana's campaign Save the oceans, feed the world, boasts the involvement of numerous Spanish chefs including Joan Roca, Pedro Subijana, Ferran Adrià, and Juan Mari and Elena Arzak. The goal is for these chefs to become ambassadors and champions of its cause: to promote responsible fish consumption and serve as spokespeople for projects that focus on the recovery of the oceans.
6) Projects created by chefs
Cooking with fish species that were once considered discards lacking in culinary value, is one of Ángel León's achievements, a chef who is revolutionizing cuisine with products from the sea. Chef Eneko Atxa defends a 100% sustainable project at his restaurant Azurmendi (from purveyors to the organic garden, without forgetting the generation of clean energy and charging station for electric cars).
Ada Parellada organizes the Gastrorecup encounters, which are dinners made from products rejected by the commercial circuit – products which make diners reflect on the seriousness of food waste. This chef from Barcelona also serves as a consultant for a line of top-quality products (currently only jams, but with more products on the way) whose ingredients consist of surplus fruit and vegetables that are ugly and imperfect. The brand's name says it all: Im-perfect.
With establishments in Cantabria and Madrid, the Deluz & Cía restaurant group is a clear example of a commitment to sustainability in different areas of its business. For starters, the majority of its purveyors are small farmers and stock raisers – many with organic farming certification. Additionally, this group has created an events' catering service and a school cafeteria service serving 100% organic food prepared by people with intellectual disabilities.
Another business model rooted in sustainability is Mama Campo, which is located in Madrid's city center. This establishment brings together three lines of business: a store with organic products, a bar and a restaurant that serves exclusively organically produced foods.
8) Basque Culinary World Prize
The recognition of efforts and commitments to sustainability is always an incentive to keep fighting. This is the philosophy of the Basque Culinary Center, which, in 2016, held the first edition of its Basque Culinary World Prize – an award created to distinguish the world's most transformative gastronomic initiatives. The first winner of this prize was María Fernanda di Gaicobbe. She was recognized for her projects Kakao and Cacao de Origen, though which she was able to articulate a network of education, training, entrepreneurship, research and development in cacao criollo-producing communities in Venezuela.
In 2016 edition there were several Spanisih finalists:
- Nani Moré is the founder of the Asociación de Comedores Ecológicos (the Ecologic Canteen Association), in Catalonia. She directs documentaries and shorts (her documentary ‘El plato o la vida’ (2012) is well known) campaigning for better food for children – with the entire food chain, including organic, local food production in mind. Nani has been working with several institutions to prove that fresh, nutritious food can be made at low cost, ensuring that children get the good food they need whilst also bringing ethical local producers much needed business.
- Carlos Zamora, founder of Deliuz & Cia (previously mentioned in this article)
- Ángel León, chef in Aponiente (previously mentioned in this article)
- José Andrés, founder of World Central Kitchen (WCK) and one of the ambassadors of Hillary Clinton’s Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. He also organizes the Capital Food Fight to raise money to support DC Central Kitchen, among other philanthropic work. His efforts on behalf of World Central Kitchen, DC Central Kitchen, LA Kitchen, and Martha’s Table help these organizations combine for an estimated 8 million meals produced annually, in the U.S. and around the globe.