How green are your vegetables?

Fairmont Dubai's eco-champion Alka Patel discusses the merits for hotels of using organic produce and gives hoteliers food for thought with advice on how to turn their kitchens green.
How green are your vegetables?
By Alka Patel
Thu 18 Sep 2008 04:00 AM

Most of the foods we eat have been grown with the use of pesticides, herbicides and artificial fertilisers, as are many types of fibres we buy, such as cotton.

Harmful chemicals residues may be present inside or on the surfaces of our foods and fabrics. The production of these items allows for chemicals to enter our natural environment and pollute our water systems and drinking water.

Studies over time have shown that pesticides can cause health problems, such as birth defects, nerve damage, cancer and other long term effects. The effects depend on how toxic the pesticide is and how much of it is consumed. Some pesticides also pose unique health risks to children.

When the impact of food production and transport on the environment is factored in, local may be just as important as organic.

Another concern is the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to produce food. GMOs in food have caused great debate and have even caused trade disputes between the European Union and the United States. Although no major hazards have yet been identified, many groups argue that the risks of GMOs - to health, biodiversity and eco systems, for example - have not been studied enough.

The demand for "organic" products continues its dramatic growth; especially in North America, the European Union and Japan. Such international interest means that guests from around the world will be looking for organic items on restaurant menus.

Buy organic foods whenever possible and where it is cost-effective. Be sure to point out organic items on your menus, and show guests that you are buying responsibly; they'll appreciate it.

What is organic food?

You may notice that in your local grocery store, the price for organic produce tend to be higher than for non-organics. This is because organic foods are more labour intensive to produce and do not always support large scale farming. At its most basic level, organic produce means that:

• Crops are grown without the use of conventional pesticides, fertilisers or herbicides, and are processed without radiation or additives.

• Animals are raised without routine antibiotics or growth hormones.

• Genetically modified organisms are not used.

• However the organic process is usually more than that; it promotes production that is environmentally, socially and economically sound, with the following principles:

• Protect the environment: minimise pollution, promote wellness, replenish soil fertility, and preserve biodiversity and habitat.

• Recycle: to the greatest extend possible, reuse and recycle material within the farm and its surrounding community.

• Treat livestock ethically: meet their health and behavioural needs with care.

There are hundreds of different organisations worldwide that certify organic food. To better guarantee organic products, make sure your suppliers have a credible certification.

How to go organic

Apart from going through your usual suppliers, you can also harness your bulk-buying power by working regionally with larger organic growers to guarantee a supply. Potatoes, poultry, eggs and salad mixes are some key items to consider.

It's also extremely important to encourage the use of locally grown food. When the impact of food production and transport on the environment is factored in, ‘local' may be just as important as ‘organic'. Ideally, you will find suppliers that are both. A growing number of organisations work to link sustainable farms to large purchasers - see what's available in your area.

Why go organic?

There are substantial benefits for hotels seeking out a local organic food producer - foremost of which is the fact you get better quality food.

Local food is fresher and tastes better than food shipped long distances. Local farmers can offer produce varieties bred for taste and freshness, rather than for shipping and long shelf life.

Knowing where your food comes from and how it is grown or raised also enables you to choose safe food from farmers who avoid the use of chemicals, pesticides, hormones, antibodies or genetically modified seeds in their operations. Buy from local farmers that you trust.

Secondly, it's much better for the earth. Because local food doesn't have to travel far, you will reduce your carbon dioxide emissions and use less packaging - a greener solution all round.

And finally, it's better for your community as a whole. Buying local food helps to build a strong community; it not only keeps your local economy healthy, but by placing your food dollars directly in the hands of the farmer it also helps farming to be more profitable, making it less attractive to sell local farmland for development.

On top of this, using your local family farms means they will continue to thrive - and healthy, flavoursome food will be available for future generations.

Alka Patel is the public relations manager for The Fairmont Dubai. For more information email:

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