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India’s Growing Sustainable Food Movement

SUSTAINABILITY. It’s a popular catchphrase these days in the development sector that now includes food and agriculture. But what does it really mean?

According to the American Public Health Association, a sustainable food system is one that “provides healthy food to meet current food needs while maintaining healthy ecosystems that can also provide food for generations to come with minimal negative impact to the environment”.

We’re happy to report that entrepreneurs, chefs and foodies alike are embracing this movement across India.

Concerned about the dwindling marine life off the west coast of India, a group of marine researchers created an initiative, Know Your Fish, to promote a healthy ocean ecosystem and help restaurants and consumers to make better decisions in their seafood consumption.

They created a calendar that highlights which fish is good to eat during certain months in the hope that Indian fisheries will stop over-harvesting and serving seafood that is highly vulnerable to exploitation.

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) promotes a similar initiative, Choose Wisely, to encourage consumers to make socially and environmentally informed decisions in their seafood consumption. While Know Your Fish looks at mating patterns to spare fish during breeding seasons, WWF’s recommendations consider population size and how the fishing practices affect the environment. For example, it has been found that lobsters and large shrimps are being caught using bottom trawls that destroy the seabed, but their numbers are stable, so they will be classified as orange.

ITC hotels were the first participants in India to join this campaign. They use WWF’s colour-coded guide classifying fish into three categories: green (healthy), orange (declining) and red (depleted). ITC has committed to eliminating the red species entirely from their menu and offers the visual indicators on their menus to help customers decide which dishes to choose. The project has since expanded to 20 leading hotels in Kochi, where seafood is a dietary staple.

Another Indian innovation in the sustainable food industry has been the Original Indian Table venture. They aim to bring the farm to fork while providing a fair livelihood for farmers and fresh organic ingredients to customers. They encourage farmers to invest in indigenous crops and then provide them an outlet to the national arena. They not only supply sometimes-forgotten traditional products to new markets, but also deliver valuable background knowledge of the origin, nutritional benefits, uses and farmers of each item so customers truly understand their food’s journey.

It’s not just the social entrepreneurs and development organisations going green though. Some hotels, food chains and restaurants are taking the sustainability movement beyond the produce as well. 

Delhi’s AnnaMaya, a European style food hall, aims to “stimulate socially conscious minds through true stories, artisanal foods, and experiential education to eat mindful, shop artisanal, and raise awareness”. Their ideology includes “having only products that are produced in India, have a socially inspiring story behind the business execution, and a socially relevant business module to help communities and their respective environments”.

In an effort to help reduce India’s dependence on fossil fuels and cut its corporate greenhouse gas emissions by more than a third, McDonald’s has launched an aggressive campaign to convert its used cooking oil into biodiesel. Based on a successful scheme in the UK that repurposed cooking oil to fuel delivery lorries, McDonald’s recently scaled a pilot project in India to convert 35,000 litres a month, enough to power its entire fleet of refrigerated delivery trucks for all 85 of its Mumbai locations, and will soon expand across its 275+ outlets throughout the southern and western regions.

In addition to its collaboration with WWF, ITC is the only hotel chain to introduce at its establishments “zero-mile travelled water in glass bottles” to reduce plastic waste.

At several of their locations, they are also sharing their used cooking oil to generate biofuels; working to replacing all plastic in their restaurants with bamboo and banana alternatives; and switching to cloth laundry bags, paper straws, glass bottles, corn starch cutlery, and cardboard packaging. The hotel chain claims it’ll “save plastic waste amounting to 24 tonnes per year by 2030”.

You can do your part by refusing plastic disposable cutlery when having food delivered, not buying or using products made of one-time-use plastic (e.g. straws), ordering groceries locally from farmers using sustainable farming techniques, or clicking here to support an environmental cause.

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