Sustainable travel: Why you should consider your holiday 'food print'

Sustainable travel columnist Holly Tuppen explores how what we eat on holiday often has a bigger ripple effect than we think...

3 mins

There’s an island in the Maldives that ticks a lot of boxes regarding sustainability, yet at the same time you can (pretty much) eat anything you like while there, including blueberries from the USA and salmon from Scotland. I found another resort in Mauritius that has impressive green claims, including solar power and local employment, and yet each mealtime involves mounds of food being thrown away post-buffet.

Most guests don’t think twice. Much of our travel culture, especially luxury escapes, is built on a ‘whatever, whenever’ mindset, but at what cost? And is this compatible in a world where these small island states and many others are on the frontline of the climate crisis?

Research conducted at the University of Illinois found that food production is responsible for up to 37% of global greenhouse gas emissions, so what and how we eat hugely impacts rising temperatures. This includes the transportation of food and even the land needed to produce it, such as rainforests being destroyed for soya production (often used to feed chickens) and palm oil plantations.

Just as shocking is that food waste is also responsible for up to 10% of global emissions, says the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. One reason is that when unwanted food breaks down, for example, it releases harmful gasses such as methane. Given a third of all food produced is thrown away, according to research by the World Wildlife Federation, it’s a worrying cycle.

It’s no wonder that the World Bank’s Dr Juergen Voegele believes “There’s something fundamentally wrong with the way we produce and consume food, and we cannot get on top of climate change unless we change that.”

The 15th century Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons was the winner of the Wanderlust ‘Sustainability Initiatives’ award and is finding clever ways to put its food waste to good use (Alamy)

The 15th century Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons was the winner of the Wanderlust ‘Sustainability Initiatives’ award and is finding clever ways to put its food waste to good use (Alamy)

Travel can and should be an incubator for changing our habits, with low-carbon, low-waste, local and seasonal food experiences no longer as rare as they once were.

Eco-friendly food champions in travel are growing in number. For example, Morzine-based chalet company AliKats has slashed catering-related emissions by reducing meat on its menus and establishing a permaculture garden with chickens, fruit and veg. This helps to produce organic and local food for guests and provides a zero-waste environment, with scraps used either as chicken feed or compost.

In the hotter climes of Indonesia, Nikoi Island has a similarly impressive approach. A set menu made 100% from Nikoi’s in-house permaculture farm and local suppliers avoids food waste in terms of leftovers and kitchen scraps. Any organic matter that does get thrown away is transformed into compost and animal feed by biopods filled with fly larvae and red worms – a solution that guests often want to see in action.

The Cayuga Collection of hotels and lodges in Central America has long advocated for local sourcing. Co-founder Hans Pfister argues: “Why would anyone want to eat frozen salmon flown in from miles away when we have seafood on our doorstep?” Cayuga works with grassroots organisation Dock to Dish, which aims to revive traditional and sustainable practices of seafood sourcing, linking local fishermen and their seasonal catch directly with the hotel’s chefs.

In the UK, Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons proves that luxury doesn’t mean comprising values. Winners of the ‘Sustainability Initiatives’ award for accommodation at the 2022 Wanderlust Travel Awards, this country pile in Oxfordshire, run by Raymond Blanc, has a ‘closed-loop composting system’ across its garden and orchards, and it produces over 250 different varieties of organic fruit and veg. Coffee grounds help grow mushrooms, most wine is biodynamic, and seafood is pot-caught or hand-dived. They are not alone in their efforts, and supporting those businesses willing to change in order to reduce waste will encourage others.



Reality Check: It's not the cow, it's the flow

As with most sustainable matters, there is no quick and straightforward win when greening up our eating habits. Beef is responsible for the highest emissions worldwide, but second to that is rice. So, it’s not always as simple as cutting things out or going vegan. Often, vegan products can be farmed as intensively as meat, thus creating the same problems. Rather than blanket food bans, we need to scrutinise how much meat and dairy we’re eating and look for more sustainably farmed products – grass-fed, wildlife-friendly, pesticide-free and free-range, for example. 

Five green food experiences around the world

Visit biodynamic vineyards in Menorca (Shutterstock)

Visit biodynamic vineyards in Menorca (Shutterstock)

1. Menorca, Spain

The Balearic’s most laid-back island, Menorca, welcomes plenty of visitors in its off-season thanks partly to its slow- and local-food experiences. It’s a win-win for the island, helping to provide year-round employment, prop up local and rural economies and tackle overtourism. Experiences include the Mahon Cheese Fair every October and visits to biodynamic vineyards and artisanal saffron farms.

2. Blue Apple, Colombia

Dismayed at the lack of waste recycling in Cartagena, Blue Apple beach club and hotel set up non-profit Green Apple to turn around life on Tierra Bomba island, working with some 20 businesses. It now recycles 95% of its food waste as compost and feed for its pigs and chickens. It also uses coconuts and citrus waste to improve land regeneration.

3. Vogo Tours, India

Founder Harika Parmer set up Vogo Tours to provide trips across India that are kinder to the planet. It does this by avoiding all unethical wildlife interactions and serving only vegetarian or vegan meals. A ten-day Kerala adventure includes a Sadhya cooking demonstration and feast in Kochi, a spice plantation tour and a hands-on organic farm experience on the beaches of Marari.

4. Saorsa 1875, Scotland

Sandra and Jack McLaren-Stewart have established the UK’s first 100% vegan stay at Saorsa 1875 in Pitlochry. Its suppliers are also local, with ingredients coming from the hotel veg garden, foraging tours and Greencity Wholefoods – a food co-op in nearby Glasgow.

5. Culinary road trip in Trøndelag, Norway

Green-minded operator Up Norway offers trips that showcase low-impact Scandinavian food experiences. Activities include sea foraging, visits to microbreweries and biodynamic farm tours. And if you want to get stuck in, they also have farm stays.

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