Ariel view of a basket of root vegetables on a grey wood surface.


Sustainability spotlight: Go local with your event catering

The Menurama survey, undertaken by food service analyst Horizons, recently found that there is a growing trend for restaurants listing the provenance, local sourcing and the weighting of meat and fish options available on their menus. The findings have discovered that consumers’ tastes are becoming more sophisticated and an awareness of ethical and health issues relating to food provenance indicate that they have a desire to know the origins of their food. For many, the most common questions coming from guests now are: ‘Where is it from?’ ‘Is it sustainable?’ ‘Farmed or from a factory?’ ‘Family run or large business?’

This trend isn’t just taking place in restaurants, but is becoming increasingly important with delegates too, as locally sourced food becomes more common and more widely discussed in the media. Going local with the food and drink at your event is a perfect way to minimise the carbon footprint impact of any event, and is a brilliant way to ensure that delegates leave having had the chance to sample local ingredients and experience a little bit of the culture of the area.

When working with your venue to address the environmental impact that catering has on the conferencing industry, and support local farmers and food industries through the use of locally produced food and drink, there are a few things that you can do.

So, why choose local food for your Conference or event?

Eating locally grown food helps in the fight against global warming. Rich Pirog of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture reports that the average fresh food item on our table travels 1,500 miles to get there. Buying locally produced food eliminates the need for fuel-guzzling transportation, and instantly reduces the carbon footprint. There are many great food producers in the city of Leeds including George and Joseph Cheesemongers, Green Pasture Farms, Alders and Brown and Out of this World, all of which pride themselves on sharing their locally grown food and bringing it to the tables of visitors to Leeds.

In addition to being better for the environment, using locally sourced food also helps to supporting local farmers and food producers by working with a venue that sources ingredients from the area is a great way to ensure an essential industry keeps thriving in the UK.

Finally, it might seem like an obvious one, but locally sourced food is often fresher and therefore likely to be tastier than food that has travelled miles before it’s arrived on your delegates’ plates. Leaving them with a better experience of your conference or event, and the likelihood of returning to your next one.

How do you plan an event with locally sourced food?

The first thing to do when considering planning an event with locally sourced foods is to speak to your venue and your catering team about your goals. They will know the best producers in the area and will also know the dishes that have gone down really well with delegates in the past. Asking simple questions at the start of the relationship about their sustainability initiatives, including food and locally sourced food, is the best way to start the relationship and work out the best way to move forwards together. You should outline your expectations here; whether you want it to be every meal or if you would like it to start with breakfast or sit only in food breaks.

Once you have outlined your expectations, defined your partners and secured your budget, it’s time to get thinking about the menu. In this instance, it’s crucial to eat seasonally and this is really important when considering your conference and events menu, as you can plan your dishes around the produce that is in season and likely to be cheaper and tastier – such as rhubarb in January, asparagus in May and red cabbage in December. Leeds venues could make the most of our Yorkshire Recipe book when considering the best locally sourced food to use at venues.

How are Leeds venues leading the way?

One of the venues in Leeds leading the way when it comes to sustainable, local food production is SHINE, a meetings and events space in Harehills, who are known for their sustainability and their forward-thinking CSR practices. Their on-site catering provides a wide range of locally sourced vegan and veggie produce – and where possible the team like to use the produce that they actually grow on-site. In addition to this, SHINE have a gardening programme hosting workshops with the local community giving them long-term skills, and at the end of the session attendees take home food that they have helped to grow. This is currently being expanded to work to support local primary school children too.

Another venue using locally created produce is The Queens, which has some unusual guests keeping staff busy actually on the site of the hotel. The venue has made a home for four colonies of honey bees on its roof in an attempt to combat the decline of the pollinators currently faced both in the UK and globally. An estimated one third of food is pollination dependent, with bees playing their part in pollinating the fruit and veg on our shelves, as well as the food for the animals we consume. The Queens’ bees are regularly looked after by a resident beekeeper, with the venue now offering locally produced honey to guests.