While there’s a decreasing trend for certain consumer products and especially those that aren’t necessary, if there’s one growing demand it has to be for more organic, sustainable, wholesome and safe food.
That said, organic food or vegan food alone doesn't mean eco-friendly, and isn‘t enough for consumers who expect to have it all and commonly link organic and vegan with sustainability. As such, it makes sense to maximise your restaurant’s potential by making sure that you are both sourcing healthy quality foods and adhere to sustainable practices. We share how to get started to improve your restaurant's menu towards being more inclusive and sustainable.
How to green your menu
This is the most sensible place to start because it’s your business. There are several ways you can do this, even if you are a Mala hotpot or Korean BBQ. After all, we have vegetarian Japanese restaurants who make fish-less sashimi, so anyone can find solutions. Here are some of our recommendations for creating a more sustainable restaurant and inclusive menu for your customers.
1. Local where possible
Consumers consider local food to be a sustainable choice so when you can, serve organic food that's locally sourced at your restaurant. Local food is also a powerful tool of resilience, as climate change and irregular, extreme seasons and disrupted weather patterns (among other environmental consequences) will require us in the near future to change how we source and consume foods we consider for granted and easily accessible today. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that by 2050, global warming may cause crop yields across the globe to decline by up to 25% which has the potential for a significant impact on Singapore where we import over 90% of our food. This is why Singapore set a '30 by 30' goal which aims to have our nation produce 30% of our nutritional needs by 2030, supporting the agri-food industry to increase its local production in eggs, green vegetables, and fish in record time. To buy local is to help our nation and support our local farmers so as to collectively secure our food future.
Beyond this, local food is naturally fresher and if you want to ensure quality for your customers, remember that locally grown crops can be easily traced back to their sources, making it much easier for standards of quality to be maintained.
2. Think about the outside too
Can you cut back on food packaging? We have personally borne witness to our favourite « sustainable » restaurants receiving their stocks in a cart that was full of only individually plastic wrapped vegetables. food that produces minimal packaging waste or comes in recycled content packaging.
Can you negotiate with your wet market supplier? Good news to encourage your local produce sourcing: local suppliers can be more flexible than overseas producers who have more challenging shipping conditions, so ask them if you can find a solution together such as reusing crates and skipping individually packed produce.
3. Up your plant options
You will have heard this, but besides a growing trend for plant based foods even in Asia, meat is eco-intensive, whereas plant-based foods cut back on environmental damage. In Singapore in 2019, over 50% of the respondents to a survey on food consumption answered that they have consumed plant-based alternatives to animal-based products in general.
Increase your menu's offer of vegetarian and vegan options, and many of them as you can. It doesn't necessarily mean having to source new ingredients either, you can easily create dishes with the condiments and sides you use in non-vegan dishes, and even add "vegan option available" to those dishes you prepare that you could modify ever so slightly to make them a green choice.
A few simple ideas:
- tofu dishes served with minced meat and dried shrimp can easily be garnished without, replacing them with spring onions and colourful chili flakes
- green papaya salad doesn't have to come in fish sauce. The vegan alternative:
1/3 cup rice vinegar
3 tablespoons maple syrup or sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped shallots (optional)
1 to 2 bird’s eye chili pepper (Thai chili pepper), sliced
- replace chicken with tofu or plant protein to make this favourite accessible to vegans
- take out any shrimp in spring rolls and add some tofu or avocado
- Korean barbecue might seem tricky, but by adding more vegetarian entrées you can offer vegetarians a lot to enjoy
- serving ice cream? There are plenty of nut milk alternatives on the market now.
- Japanese food echoes sushis and sashimis, but without even having to think of meat alternatives and creative vegan fish-replica sashimi you can create a variety of vegetable only options such as more vegetable tempuras, teriyaki, entrées and soups that don't use fish stock base, or grilled varieties.
Make it more interesting than a side salad and look at what vegan restaurants offer for inspiration. Start here for some general vegan cuisine inspiration.
4. Don’t allow for fishy fish
If you serve fish, consider sustainable seafood options such as the choices. According to WWF Singapore, 75% of our seafood is fished unsustainably. What to watch out for include local favourites such as Indian Threadfin (or“Ngoh Hur”) used in fish porridge; the Silver Pomfret, commonly used in Chinese dishes, and Yellow Banded Scad (or “Ikan Kuning”), which makes Nasi Lemak what it is. If we don' act collectively, these species could very well disappear from our Singaporean menus well within our lifetime.
Educate yourself with the WWF’s Singapore Seafood Guide - you don't want to be inadvertently supporting dodgy practices and unethical fishing. Many consumers are opting for plant-based choices not solely for ethical reasons, but because they no longer trust where their food is coming from and feel uncomfortable consuming seafood that is potentially contributing to an ecological disaster.
5. Produce closer to the table
If you have an off-site production kitchen, or have many products brought from elsewhere than you could make in-house and closer to your customers, you cut down not only on carbon emissions but also on delivery costs and logistic issues such as late, missing or damaged goods. Or for example, if you serve jam or peanut butter on your menu, make it yourself in-house with fresh local fruits versus shipping jam in.
6. Know the labels
Labels help to make better choices, and products that claim to be organic, sustainable or responsibly sourced are only as trustworthy as their labels promise you they are or if you personally know the producers and their practices. Watch out for fake labels too, and check against other sources if you buy online. This is important not just for you to be able to guarantee your customers knowledge about the menu, but also to avoid accidentally supporting shady or unethical labels.
There are many many more, so ask your suppliers what their practices are. Remember, label-less products are not necessarily unsustainable. Old traditional businesses may not know about them or have the bandwidth to look into getting certified (or see the interest in/being able to pay for the fees).
7. Review your palm oil
Oil palms grow well in low-lying, tropical regions, which tend to house rainforests and peatlands (carbon-rich swamps). Burning of forests to make way for palm pollutes the environment by releasing carbon into the atmosphere to drive global warming while deforestation also rapidly reduces the natural habitats of many endangered species including orangutang, rhinos and tigers. Sadly, the majority of this destruction is close to home, with the large majority of palm oil production occurring in just two countries, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Palm oil products come in all sorts of forms and where you least expect them, but you can already make a huge difference by choosing to source deforestation-free palm oil. Note that anything named "vegetable oil" has an almost 100% chance of being unsustainably sourced palm oil (else they would let their consumers know about it). Vegetable oils are one of the most traded global commodities, and this is particularly true of palm oil and so by collectively selecting the oil we have the power to make a direct impact.
Unfortunately there will always be a global demand for palm oil and boycotting palm oil could have repercussions of its own as the replacement crops - such as sunflower, soybean and rapeseed - require larger amounts of land to produce the same amount of oil. The only alternative today that is on the horizon is worm oil (not kidding you). It could very well save us.
Until then, don't buy "vegetable oil" labelled products where avoidable or slowly phase them out for alternative products that use sustainable practices by looking for the right labels.
What are you sustainable food practices? Share with us, and we will be happy to promote them to our members! Just reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.