People sharing a large meal at an outdoor table

Involving travelers in food-related conversations involves them in addressing tourism's food waste problem. | Photo by Lee Myungseong on Unsplash

September 29, 2020

From grabbing a quick bite at a hotel breakfast buffet to tasting local snacks on the road, food is an integral part of the travel experience. Sometimes it’s just a necessity, and sometimes it is an experience in and of itself.

But along the way, there are bound to be more than a few morsels that end up in the garbage.

A bite here and a serving there don’t sound like much, but food waste — and its environmental impact — adds up incredibly fast. In fact, according to the WWF, one-third of all food produced is wasted, either in the supply chain or thrown away. That’s the equivalent of 1.8 billion tons of food that never reach a person’s stomach.

Despite this excessive food waste, 821 million people go hungry every day!

And, as if this disparity isn’t worth critical concern in and of itself, the actual production and distribution of food has enormous environmental impacts. The WWF reports that the food industry is responsible for about 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Further, agriculture has caused 73% of all deforestation and land conversion.

To say that food production and waste — and its counterpart, hunger — are critical and urgent problems the world needs to address is an understatement. Doing so is paramount to getting ahead of the climate emergency. In fact, according to Project Drawdown, if humanity collectively stopped food waste and loss completely, we would eliminate 8% of our total carbon emissions. It is the biggest single action we can take to cut carbon emissions.

It’s time for every single tour operator, every single destination, and the tourism industry as a whole to get on board with addressing food waste starting today.

Those working in the travel and tourism sector are not immune to the food waste problem. In fact, the nature of the industry makes it particularly prone to food waste — a problem that has been long overlooked and under-addressed.

It’s time for every single tour operator, every single destination, and the tourism industry as a whole to get on board with addressing food waste starting today. We can not sit idly by when there is so much we can do about an activity that takes place on our tours and in our destinations every single day.

Food-Forward Solutions

One of the most powerful ways of addressing food waste is inviting travelers into the conversation about food and its environmental impact. When travelers are made aware of a challenge — and invited to be part of the solution — they not only take action that benefits the planet and promotes sustainable development, but they also take home a unique story about how they intimately connected with a destination and its people.

Some of our colleagues are leading the way when it comes to mitigating the environmental consequences of food waste. You’ll notice that many of them involve travelers in their food awareness and waste practices.

As part of my commitment through Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency, I invite you to celebrate and learn from industry partners that have already implemented innovative and creative food-related solutions. 

(A quick note: Thank you to the team at Responsible Travel, a company that helps travelers find and book responsible trips, which helped me curate many of the experiences noted on this list.)

  • In Lisbon, Portugal, Oyster Worldwide helps travelers volunteer to collect unwanted food from restaurants, bars, and cafes throughout the city and redistribute it to those people who need it most.
  • On Sweden’s Do the North trips, guests assist the “wilderness chef” in foraging for ingredients like sorrel, chives, berries, juniper, and mushrooms. All waste is recycled and composted.
  • There is a garden and farm using permaculture principles on Nikoi Island in Indonesia. These natural systems allow the staff at Nikoi to grow much of its own food following organic and free-range principles. The property uses a fixed menu that focuses on seasonality to reduce food waste.
  • According to Responsible Travel, vegan-focused holidays have increased nearly 130% over the past three years! WearActive’s guests enjoy strictly plant-based meals that are as locally sourced as possible. At Vale de Moses, a yoga retreat in Portugal, guests also eat vegetarian- and vegan-only meals. Some of the food is grown on site (including an herb garden) and other products are purchased directly from local farmers. Kitchen waste feeds worms in its worm cafe. 
  • Located in North Devon’s UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Wheatland Farm’s eco-lodges are self-catering. However, guests can have local produce delivered right to their front doors.
  • In addition to growing its own organic vegetable garden, guests at Lapa Rios in Costa Rica can take the Twigs, Pigs, and Garbage Tour, where they learn about the life cycle of food waste. The waste is fed to pigs which create methane that is then used to fuel the kitchen stove. A similar process is used at Jicaro Island Lodge in Nicaragua.
  • Several food-specific tours focus on ethically sourcing food and supporting local growers, which help travelers identify the connection between food and sustainable community development. Examples include offerings from Ecotourism Karpathos (Greece) and Adventure Tourism Services (Scotland).
  • The Farm to Fork Tour offered by Escapades Greece provides additional income for small local farms.
  • Staff at Chumbe Island Coral Park collects and composts uncooked fruit and vegetable waste, which is then used for the composting toilets on the island.

Take Action: Implementing Food Solutions

In addition to using the above innovative solutions as jumping-off points for your own food waste reduction actions, tap into the following resources for implementation ideas:

Right now, food awareness and waste is a passing thought for many people. It can’t be a passing thought any longer in the tourism industry. It is essential that tour operators, destinations, accommodations, and other frontline service providers continue to surface and develop creative food-related solutions to this urgent global challenge.

Have you encountered an innovative food-related solution in the tourism industry? Share it in the comments so we can all continue to learn and address this massive environmental challenge together!


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