n less than a year of operations, Sustainable Food Movement, has been recognised as one of the best social impact startups supported by EGG, the best Greek Startup in Gastronomy Category at the Startup Europe Awards 2017 and more recently, amongst one of the 12 Greek representative startups for the RG Challenge 2018 that takes place in London next week .
This social enterprise registered in Athens, Greece in July 2017 is aiming to tackle food waste and promote sustainable development in the Greek Culinary Arts Industry. We sit down with Vee Bougani, Founder and President of SFM as she shares her journey, inspiration and vision in motivating a food change in Greece.
Sustainable Food Movement to tackle Greece’s growing food waste problem
According to the Country’s Sustainability Ranking developed by RobecoSAM and Robeco Greece sits in 39th place. This score is based on 17 environmental, social and governance indicators. Also according to the Food Sustainability Index, Greece’s score is middling for food loss and waste, with minimal scores for the policy response to food loss, solutions to distribution-level loss and policy response to food waste outweighing strong indicators for food loss itself and food waste at an end-level user. Nevertheless, the country has earned a high score for sustainable agriculture, with a strong performance for the air-category and for sub-indicators such as diversification of agricultural system, land ownership and sustainability of water withdrawal serving to bring up the score in the land and water categories.
A study conducted by Sustainable Food Movement shows that in a year the average greek would have wasted 80 kgs of food. Whilst, at a premium restaurant in Athens serving an average of 50-70 people daily during low season food and packaging wastage is about 910 kg per week. Out of those numbers, 45% of this is the packaging which can be recycled. It’s also worth noting that on average a middle-class Greek family roughly wastes about €600 annually on food that ends up in the garbage because of loss or toss while at the same time, 2,500 meals are donated every day in all Greek regions by NGOs that fight food insecurity. So, numbers prove that there’s too much food going to waste. There aren’t any records or statistics from food loss/toss in supermarkets and groceries as that emphasises on the hospitality industry and premium gastronomy.
SFM aims to promote sustainable development in the Greek Culinary Arts Industry
Vee shares, “Throughout the first year of running the company, we’ve been experimenting with the educational and consulting services that we want to provide to professionals and restaurateurs. We wanted to go deep into sustainability and really observe what our targeted customers really do on a social and environmental level.”
“Talking about Sustainability, social, environmental and financial as the main 3 pillars we work on. We’ve realized that it’s our responsibility to train and consult our segment groups in CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), Sustainable Human Resources, ethical consumption/production and food waste awareness and have built a framework for Sustainability that has duration minimum of 6 months for any restaurant that wants to be considered eco-friendly and sustainable. We’ll follow the American sustainability system, however, have been inspired by the Nordic Culinary Industry methodology and the Canadian environmental policies. Apart from the framework, we’d provide consulting upon request and run open educational workshops on various topics for professionals and any personnel. Collaboration happens with Culinary and Hospitality Academic Institutions as we emphasize in sustainable gastronomy cooking techniques (hands-on workshops and theory classes). Our next goal is to certify professionals and restaurants as sustainable.”
Aiming to change the mindset around food
SFM has introduced various ways aimed at professionals and the general public to help curb food wastage. This has involved a series of public speaking events, interviews, open events, food festivals and the use of social media aimed at changing the perception around food. The team focuses on educating people to eat local and seasonal whilst urging chefs/TV personas to adapt to new ways of cooking. Vee continues, “Greek consumers are eager to change the way they buy food as the financial crisis has affected their lifestyle. They’ve cut back on dining out, as, they are looking for creative ways to cook food and makes use leftovers. They have adapted very well to eco-friendly suggestions such as plastic bag & straw ban. There’s daily progress towards sustainable living even if it’s very slow.”
Other areas SFM can assist hospitality players in adopting a Sustainable approach
The team believes there’s a definite need to train people in Sustainable Human Resources. “It’s very important before practising sustainability to be able to work within a team that shares the same values, otherwise, it’s hard to prove that we have a social and environmental impact, should the team not follow through. We do our best to educate personnel in Corporate Social Responsibility and in Environmental policies,” explains Vee.
SFM teaches sustainable gastronomy techniques in theory and practice and provides waste management solutions by guiding the team in adapting the 3 Rs policy “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”. They assist in collaborating with local farmers and producers and consult them in the design of food and drinks menus that must be seasonal and as possible as it can be created with local ingredients.
SFM’s inspiring a change
Within a year, SFM’s established various collaborations with Culinary Arts and Hospitality & Tourism Schools in Athens. They are also providing pro bono consultation to Hytra Restaurant in Athens. They pride themselves in a strong team, consulting bars in sustainability. They’ve worked with the Matsuhisa Group in Athens and Mykonos and the Mitsis Hotels.
Own journey and interest in Sustainability
Vee has been working in the food industry since 2000, changing various job roles from Kitchen porter to Sous chef and from restaurant manager to culinary consultant. Since 2013, she’s been working as a freelance food and travel editor for various digital platforms, editorials and guides.
She reflects on her professional career and aims to be the best, “I’ve never stopped educating myself. In 2013, I was working as a Culinary Consultant in a very popular Mexican franchise in London and was shocked about the huge portions of food that were going to waste at the staff training before the official store opening. I couldn’t believe the quantities of food that was tossed in 10 days of training. I started talking to my seniors about changing the way we trained personnel and it seemed that I had approached people who had little care about the issue, even if the food was at the cost of the company, one could step outside to the corner of the restaurant and come across at least 3 homeless people who needed the food food. I decided to quit the job and since ventured out on my own personal journey in finding ways to save food. I’ve realised that I am sensitive when it comes to people who fight food insecurity because I know that there’s too much food to feed all of them. So, to me, it’s kind of disappointing to speak to people who aren’t humanitarian sensitive.”
“I decided to learn more about sustainability by applying for a PhD scholarship in the States. I’ve traveled a lot and I read all the books, articles, essays, anything you can imagine on sustainability. I found out there’s not much progress and information in the Culinary Industry, so I decided to visit the Nordic countries and experience the “from farm to table” education. I’ve started building my network with people who support and practice sustainability and when I got back home it was crystal clear to me that I can fill this gap in the market by providing all the knowledge and network I have. That’s how I decided to launch SFM, because I want it in the future to be an umbrella organization for others who share the same values with us.”
“I chose to become a Sustainable Food Entrepreneur in Greece because I am part of this global war that has been started, I am an ethical consumer and I’m not off the hook.”
Foodity is SFM’s surplus food sharing app for premium hotels and restaurants. Foodity urges restaurateurs to take advantage of their surplus ingredients or meals by uploading them to a system where consumers who are located nearby can pick up and collect the food at a very low cost. Foodity is in an open Beta stage currently and ready to be pilot tested in Athens.
One restaurant in Greece that’s a role model in Sustainability
For Vee and the team, “Tamam Restaurant” in Chania, Crete is a role model for others. Its cuisine is Cretan, promoting Mediterranean diet as well and all the ingredients they use is sourced and locally produced. The menu changes according to seasons of the year, offering customers seasonal ingredients and dishes. They support the local community and the location of the restaurant has been renovated, saving energy and water.
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