Just over a week ago, 190 nations gathered in Paris at the United Nations Climate Change Conference. After years of failed meetings, this meeting was extraordinary in that all participating nations, including the EU, United States, India and China, finally pledged to make a concerted and united effort to combat climate change and avoid the catastrophic 2C threshold.
With this in mind, this is the last in our blog series, “On the Path to Sustainability.” We peer into the future of our industry in which climate change is not some remote scenario, but one that is a present and glaring reality.
Running a Restaurant in the Not Too Distant Future
First, I’m going to have to admit that this talk is purely speculative. My hope is that we never reach the point where the environment is so decimated that all of these policies and practices will be the norm. Whatever does happen in the future, I believe that we need to be proactive. If we wait to respond to an ever-changing world, then it will be too late.
Twenty-five years from now, the restaurant industry will be a very different landscape. We will be one of the highest taxed industries on the planet. These taxes will be based upon our waste output. These taxes will force us to work in particular ways. If we don’t work within these parameters, then it will not be financially possible to run a restaurant. If you think about it, the entire concept of a restaurant is based upon refining a product. And inevitably with that refinement is waste. So instead of just refining, refining, refining, we will have to find ways to re-refine the waste from what has already been “refined.” This process of re-refinement will produce less waste and thus, less tax. We will have to adopt this way of thinking because in the future, the amount of waste that you are allowed to produce will be directly related to the amount of guests that you have in your restaurant. If you exceed your allowed quota, then you will be heavily taxed. Once again, less waste equals less tax.
It may seem that I’m making the government to be this voracious tax monster, but in fact they will want to work with us. They will offer tax breaks for many different waste/carbon reducing practices. With regards to the tax for waste, if you produce less waste than your estimated limit, then you receive a tax break. The less trash that municipalities have to remove means lower costs for the city and a lower carbon footprint.
Governments will be quite strict on carbon emissions as well, thus making it too costly to order products from overseas. Again, they will offer rewards to buy local. If you order products from within a certain radius of the restaurant, then you will also be given tax breaks on these products. The closer the product, the less tax you pay on the product. This policy not only reduces carbon emissions, but also has the potential to stimulate the local economy. Because of the link between carbon miles and product, I believe that cuisines will become more defined. They will truly represent their local terroir and environment. Chefs will be forced to innovate, because when tomatoes are out of season, one won’t be able to order them from Spain. There will be no safety net for lack of creativity. I believe we will see a new revolution in culinary innovation on a scale we have never seen before in our industry.
But the carrot and stick approach won’t be limited to the purchasing of products. Governments will start to offer subsidies for restaurants that want to take over reclaimed land to grow their own vegetables. This greatly reduces carbon emissions and allows the restaurant to compost, thus drastically reducing their waste output.
Then there is the question of how we use the actual products we have. We will have to use the whole product, i.e. the whole animal or plant. It is not simply a question of the amount of waste produced, but also a question of cost. The products we take for granted now will be so expensive that the only way to get a return on our investments will be through use of the entire product.
This future is both scary and exciting. If we wait too long to change how we think, it might be too late. For me, that means being proactive rather than reactive. Of course it is a gamble to change now for a future that might not be a reality, but the price we pay for not acting is much higher.