Food has always played an essential role in the hospitality industry. The most glaring example that illustrates this fact is the growing importance of the culinary tourism market. By 2032, it is expected to surpass US$ 4,530.9 Bn according to the Future Market Insights, which means a compound annual growth rate of approximately 16.6% per year. Moreover, new trends are emerging when it comes to culinary tourism. Indeed, travelers are reconsidering the impact of their consumption, “vegans, vegetarians, and flexitarians are gaining immense traction in food tourism”. And that’s a good thing.
2022 has underlined how much our food system is weak against extreme events. Food prices have been soaring worldwide due to the war in Ukraine, but that is not the only reason. Extreme climate events, such as drought, flooding, and blistering heat, have put pressure on food production, keeping supply tight and prices elevated. For example, heatwaves could reduce grain harvesting by 5% in the European Union this year compared to last season. In China, an important drought is also threatening food production, adding pressure on the food system.
If some impacts of climate change can be easily witnessed by human eyes – who has not seen dry grass in a park this summer – others might be more difficult to spot. Yet, their impacts are as much alarming. Bee populations are declining, meaning that less and less of those insects will be able to do their job – pollinate plants – that would have turned out to be actual food for humans. Indeed, “Bees, in particular, are responsible for pollinating around 90 commercially produced crops”, among other plants.
Coming back to a good thing. Reducing meat consumption by becoming vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian would have at least two benefits for our food system. Let’s take the example of the UK. Knowing that “animal-based foods account for 57% of agricultural greenhouse gases versus 29% for food from plants” in the UK and that “currently, 85% of agricultural land in England is used for pasture for grazing animals such as cows or to grow food that is then fed to livestock”, reducing meat consumption could help to mitigate the impact of extreme climate and prevent food shortages and the soaring price of crops by actually growing food directly for humans rather than livestock. The second benefit would be that it would also reduce greenhouse gas as “grazing and feeding livestock consumes about 80% of the earth’s farmland, with everything from cow burps to the mass deforestation of land to make way for pasture causing planet-heating emissions”. Therefore, according to scientists, dietary changes are necessary to meet the two-degree limit in global temperature change, especially as it is possible to find nutritionally comparable plant-based foods with significantly less climate impact. However, the US government diet guidelines for 2020-2025 ignore these facts and never mention the climate impact of food. Scientists are urging the US Government to consider this issue for the 2025-2030 dietary guidelines and suggest dietary changes that should be implemented.
In other words, actors from the hospitality industry should all reconsider their roles in the food system and try to find ways of offering more sustainable food for guests whilst also proposing a journey towards more sustainable diets. It seems that one way or another, the industry will have to adapt, either because the growing number of heatwaves will increase food insecurity or because consumers will have understood what is at stake and will request more sustainable food options. By taking the issues about our food system seriously, the hospitality sector can only become more resilient. Indeed, food has an important impact on the service quality of hotels and restaurants. It is important for those entities to make sure that they will be able to face potential food shortages. Moreover, they need to take responsibility and have an active role in the greening of the food system.
What about proteins? Innovative foods, meatless diets and the reinvention of food waste
On the bright side, innovation never stops and human curiosity can save the world. Entrepreneurs are developing food innovations to offer alternatives to meat consumption. Soon it will be possible to find vegan fried chicken in the supermarkets and more vegan cheese alternatives. There are startups and research labs working on alternative sources of protein and new food. The company Air Protein makes Air Meat from … yes, air – they turn elements in the air into sustainable protein using the process similar to how yogurt and beer are made.
OmniFoods is developing the alt-food innovations to promote a plant-based diet – its OmniSeaFood range of products, manufactured of non-GMO soy, is claimed to be identical to fish. In parallel, other entrepreneurs are launching fast food restaurants, offering healthy, plant-based meals to customers.
More and more startups are shifting to cultured meat – growing meat in labs using cellular science (and without killing animals).
A well-known alternative, yet more challenging to implement as it does not meet Western visual and taste standards, is insects. Mealworms, for example, are environmentally friendly source of protein with a meat-like flavoring. And they have been already used as a snack for pets. For example Loopworm, an agribiotech startup that uses insects to produce novel bio-based products, has raised $3.4 million in seed funding from leading investors.
Steamed worms or fried crickets can be our food of the future. Remember the word entomophagy, the practice of eating insects, it will become popular soon. Moreover, new insect cooking processes are being tested to develop tastes similar to what the Western population is used to. 3D food printers can make these insects dishes visually appealing. If you don’t find new food ideas tempting, you can take a fresh look at existing fruits. We may soon be seeing breadfruit on the shelves, a culinary alternative to a potato resilient to climate change according to the researchers.
More and more people are concerned about sustainable development. Governments encourage companies to advance agritech and work on new products and farming processes that can mitigate climate change and boost food security. Dubai is creating a new ecosystem for agribusinesses.
Younger consumers, Gen Z, wants sustainable and healthy products. Celebrities are beginning to invest in sustainable startups like Back To the Roots – a home-gardening venture started out of curiosity aroused in a Business Ethics class at university. Indoor vertical farming could also revolutionize the future of agriculture by offering new approaches to food production, which is especially relevant when the agricultural land is in short supply. The current turmoil in agriculture leads to turmoil in markets and there are many possible solutions to the food insecurity but the challenge of developing these innovations to a point of mass manufacturing remains unresolved.
One more way to move toward sustainable consumption is to tackle the problem of food waste as one chef does by producing a range of ice creams and sorbets made from surplus ingredients collected from farmers and producers. It’s tragic that at a time when humanity is facing food shortages, there is more edible waste in landfills than plastic or paper. One solution is to find a way to bring buyers and sellers together quickly and in a timely manner to avoid tainted products ending up in the waste dump. Tridge, a South Korean startup that connects global agriculture buyers and sellers in more than 150 countries by offering reasonable prices, has already raised $37 million at a $2.7B valuation.
About the authors