In the pre- and post-Brexit world of the United Kingdom, food sustainability, production and education is at the top of the agenda, and of course hoteliers have a huge part to play in deciding what reaches our plates.
It was a very stark remark, and it made me sit up. Probably others did so, too.
Last Tuesday I was at the UKHospitality Summer Conference in London, the yearly get-together of the United Kingdom’s hotel, restaurant and bar industries, and Henry Dimbleby had our attention.
Dimbleby is a co-founder of the Leon restaurant chain, and one of his establishments is located in the ground floor of our office building. I have eaten there.
He also has just been announced as the lead in a government review of England’s food system; in other words, he will oversee what is grown, how it is grown, how it is supplied, what it is made up of and how good, or bad, it is for us.
This food reaches the kitchens of hotels, especially as there is such a clamor nowadays for farm-to-table, field-to-fork and reduced or no carbon-footprint menus.
Dimbleby said that we now live in the first era where death will likely come to individuals due to their lifestyle choices, rather than those from others, such as disease and war.
We are killing ourselves, in other words.
The BBC said the review will be the first such review in almost 75 years, which was right at the tail end of World War II when rationing was part-and-parcel of life. And with Brexit meaning all kinds of things in terms of exports, it seems politicians are eager to see what the U.K. can and cannot do itself.
Hotels have a duty in this to educate guests, and nearly all do something to help the cause.
When I lived in New York City, I often heard concerns that many neighborhoods were in effect “food deserts,” a term given to place where within a mile radius it was not possible to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, or buy good bread.
The U.K. is not exempt.
According to an October 2018 report from the Social Market Foundation, there are an “(estimated) 10.2 million individuals in Great Britain (who) live in food deserts.”
It appears the more deprived an area, the less likely its residents will have easy access to the foods we know we should be eating. I doubt if that is a surprise.
These residents also might be less likely to be a guest at a hotel, but hotel brands such as Premier Inn and Travelodge in the U.K have done wonders democratizing the hotel stay, and both—especially Premier Inn—have a clear, definite food offering.
Yes, these offerings include hamburgers, pasta dishes and the like, but they can be just as tasty and healthy as any Michelin-starred restaurant.
For hoteliers to have the chance to both educate about healthy choices and turn a profit is a good world to be in, and when people from all walks of life check in at a budget hotel, what a golden opportunity to help farmers and food suppliers.
Dimbleby said at £3.4 billion ($4.3 billion), the U.K. food industry was the highest subsidized industry in the U.K., so there also is a monetary aspect to this.
The UK’s favorite cuisine
Ask most people what the favorite cuisine of the British is, and they might well answer Indian.
I suppose this harks back to the food scares in the 1970s and 1980s where fresh meat was off the menu. Suddenly U.K. cuisine consisted of vegetables boiled in water and then boiled again, so we looked around and said, “Hey, the Indians make pretty delicious dishes comprising only vegetables. Let’s book!”
This came to mind when at the summer conference Phil Tate, group chief executive of CGA, which does for the restaurant industry what STR performs for hotels, said the No. 1 cuisine in the U.K. right now is Burmese.
This came as a surprise as when I visited Burma, also known as Myanmar. The one thing that struck me in this beautiful country was how bad the food was, at least that served to the tourist.
But there you go.
Tate noted the phenomenal success of Brighton restaurant Silo, which produces absolutely no waste.
It prepares what seems to my eye to be a very British menu, with choices including pheasant breast, parsnip, pears and thyme; mackerel tartare; and pumpkin seed ice cream.
Another branch is being planned for London.
Tate also mentioned that topping restaurant-goers’ wish lists for restaurants is not value-for-food, but value-for-experience.
That’s something to think about.
Bring zero-waste Burmese food to your hotel soon, and you might well get miles of first-mover advantage, I’d say.
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