Sodexo’s Tony Cooke on the challenges faced in the shift of dietary culture

FOLLOWING LAST weeks publication of the Government’s Green Food Project report, which has been tasked with making “the whole food chain as sustainable as possible”, Sodexo’s Tony Cooke talks candidly about the challenges faced by the foodservice industry in changing the culture of consumption.


Foodservice Footprint DSC2020-199x300 Sodexo's Tony Cooke on the challenges faced in the shift of dietary culture Comment  Sodexo Green Food Project Foresight Report The Future of Food and Farming Food Matters














Consumption challenge must be addressed


“WE ARE ALL, by now, pretty well aware of the grand challenges of providing adequate nutrition for nine billion people by 2050; in a world where resources, including water, soils and oil are rapidly depleting; in a world of grossly uneven food distribution – where one billion people are obese but an equal number are malnourished; in a world where climate change and market volatility increase the risk of shocks and underline the need for resilience of supply.


Previous reports, notably the Government chief scientific officer’s Foresight Report The Future of Food and Farming and the Cabinet Office’s Food Matters have set these challenges out clearly, but the question now is: what do we do about it?


This is where Defra’s Green Food Project comes in, having been set up on the premise that no one player in the system – government, consumer, retailer, caterer, manufacturer, farmer or NGO – has either all of the levers to pull or all of the responsibility to bear. It is an attempt to bring all parts of the food system together to achieve consensus on priorities and collaboration on “reconciling how we will achieve our goals of improving the environment and increasing food production”.


The clear message from the Project so far is that it is impossible to fully resolve the food production challenge without first having addressed the consumption challenge. In a world where the consumer is king and producers respond to market signals, it stands to reason that we will not see the shift to more sustainable production that we need without it first being demanded by consumers.


In this respect, I believe that the foodservice sector has a vital role to play in stimulating more sustainable food consumption. To demonstrate this, I chaired a working group to look at how curry – as a representative national dish – would need to adapt to the challenges we face by 2050.”


The Challenge


“We took a typical chicken dhansak recipe and challenged a team of Sodexo development chefs to develop an alternative recipe in response to these challenges. Their response demonstrated the kind of creative flair you would expect from professionals; they minimised the use of high impact ingredients by reducing the volume of chicken and substituting chickpea flour into roti-bread as an alternative source of protein; substituting coconut milk with chopped tomatoes; and cutting out rice by introducing lentils. All whilst reducing salt, sugar, and calories but maintaining taste.


They demonstrated that not only is it possible to dramatically improve the environmental credentials and the healthiness of a curry dish through reformulation and ingredient substitution, but it is possible to do so right now and in a way that would be acceptable to consumers. The feedback from the chefs was that once they understood the challenges, they found it easy to respond.


For foodservice, as for every other part of the food system, there is a gulf between the best and the worst of us in terms of our sustainability literacy. At a sector level, this is a strategic issue that we must address. If we can close this gap, it will go a considerable way to helping us adapt for the future.”


Tony Cooke is director of government relations at Sodexo. He represents the foodservice sector on the high-level steering group of the Green Food Project.