Most people agree that good tasting food is part of what makes our travels more enjoyable. Unfortunately, the food served at tourism resorts is often not very sustainable.
Our food choices do impact tourism in several ways including the climate change impacts, higher energy costs, soil erosion and loss of agricultural land, and marine environment pollution from fertilizers.
It is estimated that global food production contributes between 14 and and 22% of total CO2 the world produces every year.
Food production is one of the greatest sources of greenhouse gas emissions including:
- emissions from animals
- fertilizer use
- transport of food
- deforestation to develop cropland
The U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization reports that our diets, especially meats, may cause more CO2 than industry or transportation.
Higher energy costs can make tourism operations less profitable. As energy and food costs continue to rise, the attractiveness of sustainable tourism resorts producing some of their own food or making more sustainable choices increases. The amount of energy to produce food can be significant.
In the U.S., 10% of energy use goes to food production not counting the energy used in processing or transportation. Food processing and packaging account for 23% of energy use in food production. Food transport requires a significant amount of energy. For example the average American foodstuff item travels 1500 miles before being sold.
The average U.S. food item takes 3 calories of energy for every calorie of energy produced. Beef takes 35 calories of energy for every calorie produced.
Soil erosion and loss of agricultural land is also contributing to our food crisis. Inefficient agricultural methods also are contributing to the problem. Soil is being removed 10 to 40 times faster than it is being replaced. As top soil is removed food production decreases. With the natural soil erosion of wind and water, forests are often cut to replace unproductive agricultural land.
On a global scale, 75% of the worlds deforestation is due to agricultural practices to develop new farmland.
As agricultural land becomes more unproductive, farmers often add more fertilizers which in turn adds more pollution to the rivers, streams, bays, estuaries and oceans. There are over 400 dead zones around the world and fertilizers are the primary source of pollution causing these dead zones. In addition fertilizers have been linked to the disruption of ecosystems and red tide which in turn impacts people in coastal communities.
More worrying, some say, is that agriculture - the sector which has been most impacted by extremes of rain and drought - is yet to benefit from strategies to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
In Jamaica for example, entire agricultural sub-sectors are in decline. In 2008, banana exports ceased due to the damage caused by years of consecutive storms. Farmers were too broke to bounce back, and it is the same story in the coffee industry.
At the same time, the Jamaica second national communication on climate change, which guides climate change policy, identifies agriculture as "one of the key economic sectors in Jamaica". The document warns that changes in temperature, rainfall and atmospheric carbon dioxide are likely to affect production. With Jamaica heavily dependent on services which account for 65% of its GDP and tourism providing most of the nations foreign exchange, a decline in agriculture is a serious challenge.
There are solutions to these challenges. Choosing to source food from organic, hydroponic, sources and choosing to feature sustainable seafood are good starting points for sustainable tourism.
Organic and hydroponic food offer great benefits to the tourist destination or community that produces such food. Benefits over traditional agriculture include:
- reduction of water. - Hydroponics use less than 1/10 the water of traditional agriculture
- reduction in energy costs - Local food does not need the long transport costs.
- increase in freshness of food - It can be delivered locally faster, daily in most cases
- strengthens the local economy - As the food is produced in the local areas and purchased in the local area the economy is strengthened.
- helps prevent soil erosion - With less fertilizers and in the case of hydroponics not planting in the ground, their is less soil erosion.
- uses less land.. -- In the case of hydroponics the same amount of food can be grown on 1/14th the land.
- reduces pollution in the water ways - With hydroponics, fertilizers are used in a fraction of the amounts of traditional agriculture or with organic food production or not at all.
- provides a local food supply - in the event of a disaster a local food supply makes mitigation stronger and recovery quicker.
Already, hydroponic systems, some of which integrate aquaculture, are being called Farms of the Future. These farms of the future are here today to be utilized by the tourist industry to supply more sustainable food choices at a lower cost.
One of the most promising solutions is found in the work of Alan Savory from Zimbabwe Africa who has found that by using a process he calls Holistic Management & Planned Grazing, livestock production can actually fight desertification and reverse climate change.
Promoting sustainable seafood as menu options is another strategy that the tourism industry can utilize in making healthy food choices.
The oceans are being overfished at a rate of 40% more than is sustainable. This has led scientists to pose the question "Can The Oceans Keep Up With the Hunt?"
According to the California Academy of Sciences over 1.5 billion people in the world depend on seafood as their primary source of protein. Promoting sustainable seafood is key to feeding the planet and providing for the world's nutritional needs.
Promotion of sustainable seafood has many benefits including:
- Seafood is generally low in fat and high in Omega 3 making it a health choice.
- Seafood uses far less carbon emissions than grain fed beef.
- Making the choice for sustainable seafood promotes a market demand choice that changes the way fish are caught and farmed around the world.
- A sustainable seafood choice is a vote in favor of protecting the oceans.
There are many simple ways for the tourism industry to begin promoting sustainable seafood including but not limited to:
- Refusing to accept seafood harvested unsustainably.
- Using sustainable seafood guides such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program to help Chefs make choices for the menus.
- Feature a sustainable seafood choice of the day on the menu of each restaurant.
- Purchase seafood from local fishermen and/or aquaculture providers.
In addition the tourism industry can support initiatives such as the
Caribsave Partnerships for Resilience: Caribbean Fish Sanctuaries program which is working to restore reefs, and improve the fisheries.
They can also become supporters of groups like the Sustainable Seafood Coalition developed in the UK to address sustainable seafood issues.
We can also learn from other cultures such as the practices of the Ancient Hawaiians who were help to catch sustainably and caught more than we do today while fishing less.
Tourists themselves can take a more active role in asking where their fish is caught, whether it is wild or farmed, and using the Seafood Watch App to make better consumer choices.
The Walt Disney Company is one example of using organic, and hydroponic food along with aquaculture. At Walt Disney World a few examples include:
- Growing tons of of tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and other vegetables grown at the Land pavilion are served in the Land's Sunshine Seasons, and other Walt Disney World restaurants.
- Growing other onsite at Walt Disney World that is used for animals at the Disney Animal Kingdom. 80 acres of land are in production at Walt Disney World for fresh grasses, banana, acacia, bamboo, and willow. These crops are harvested daily and transported less than 2 miles for use, thus saving energy costs.
- Offering fish, such as bass and tilapia, raised at the Land Pavilion through aquaculture are served at the Coral Reef and other Disney restaurants.
- Gathering of excess prepared food from Walt Disney World kitchens and distributing it through the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida. This results in the providing of 704,845 pounds of food to feed the hungry in Orange, Osceola, Lake, and Seminole counties that feed more than 1,000 local children through this program
- Utilization of native plant species at the Eagle Pines and Osprey Ridge golf courses and in other areas.
- Walt Disney World® Horticulture Department has eliminated phosphorous from their fertilizer formulations. This eliminates phosphorous from over 500 acres of fertilized turf.
- Use of slow release nitrogen techniques thus reducing the total use of nitrogen.
Watch the Blue Community Series Part 4 video to learn more.
With more attention to food choices in the tourism industry, much progress can be made in mitigating the impacts of climate change, reducing energy costs and CO2 emissions, reducing harmful pollution, restoring the land, and protecting our fishery resources, coastal habitats, marine environments.
Dr David W. Randle - Director USF Patel College of Global Sustainability Sustainable Tourism, Managing Director International Ocean Institute Waves of Change Blue Community Initiative, and President & CEO WHALE Center.