How do you know the food you are eating is safe? Where has it come from? Where was it grown or reared? What do you know about its journey from farm to fork? Sustainability and reducing waste are growing trends in many parts of the world and now, so too, is the issue of food security.
The government of the UAE is keen for people to be able to get answers to those questions: “If you look at the definition of food security it’s all about how do you enable the citizens of a country to have access to safe, sufficient, nutritious, affordable food at all times?” UAE Minister of State for Food Security, Mariam Hareb Almheiri, told Euronews. “Vegetables and fish are some of the foods that we feel are that the technology is now available for us to grow these in the UAE sustainably and economically.”
Food producers in the UAE take up the challenge
Emirates Bio Farm is the largest private organic fruit and vegetable farm in the UAE and somewhere the staff take pride in educating people at events like their annual festival.
“Farm to table as a concept has been developing recently,” explains the farm’s Operations Manager, Yazen Al Kodmani. “The idea is you are trying to find what is seasonally available. What I can cook with? if you are doing that you end up eating fresh, you end up eating more nutritious food, and you end up reducing your carbon footprint as the food you’re eating hasn’t travelled thousands of kilometres.”
As Natalie Lindo found out, there is an appetite for a more sustainable way of eating.
“We’ve just started walking around but I’ve seen some of the produce and some of the greenhouses and it’s amazing right?” said one person. “You don’t think that in the desert that maybe some of them (the plants) can survive but it seems like a really nice setup.”
“The surprising factor was the climate, the water and the quality of the water which is used for this, and how you protect plants from the insects you know,” added one man.
“Most kids under 15 believe that sustainability and the environment are the biggest threats to our planet and think it’s the main cause that we should be voting towards,” said one teenage girl at the festival.
Local produce, global technology
Across town, at Madinat Jumeriah, a new sustainable food festival is also aiming to inform and challenge consumers.
“Human beings have stopped having the urge or the curiosity to know where their food comes from,” explained Hemant Julka, a co-founder of VeggiTech.
“You know when I look at a tomato, I have no idea where it came from, and that’s the problem we wanted to solve. So we’ve got the technology in place, the software in place which creates a QR code.
The QR code generates a link on your mobile phone. Follow the link and it tells you everything you need to know about the crop, where it was harvested, details of the farm involved even down to which field where the crop was grown in.
Businesses play their part
Restaurants in the UAE are also keen to use affordable and sustainable food.
“Just from a traceability element people are more curious to understand where their produce comes from, what ingredients we are using for what dishes and just that traceability element,” Steven Holloway, Operations Manager at Sarood Hospitality told Euronews.
And Steven said customers have been surprised but receptive to the idea.
“They can’t understand that how really this quality of produce can come locally and now as technology evolves, the vertical farming and so on – it’s a breath of fresh air that customers are so inspired about it.”
Dubai’s International Financial Centre is a hub for high-end cuisine.
BOCA restaurant has added a sustainable Chef’s Table and the menu uses a high proportion of local produce.
“80-90% in terms of vegetables and seafood – because I always say like if it’s good it’s local – I’m going to do something with it,” explained Head Chef Matthijs Stinnissen.
“There’s actually a lot of farms upcoming and there’s amazing seafood here as well. People forget we have hundreds of kilometres of coastline here and the seafood is amazing, it just depends on what you do with it, same for the vegetables.”
And there is plenty of scope to increase local produce. Currently the Gulf region imports around 90 per cent of its food.
As food sustainability continues to be a global priority – the journey from farm to fork in the UAE getting much shorter, there’s less waste, yet the taste is just as good if not better.