Katharina Beelen coordinates the sustainable consumption and catering program of VECO in Belgium. With this program, VECO wants to accompany kitchens and mass catering in the public and private sector towards a more sustainable approach. The activities are mainly pursued in Belgium, but they link up to initiatives abroad and contain interesting lessons worth sharing.
When and where did the initiative start? Was it initiated by Vredeseilanden or was it a direct reply to external needs addressed by another institution?
The activities of Vredeseilanden in that sense began in 2009 in Ghent. The capital city of East Flanders had previously launched a pilot project targeted to develop a more sustainable catering within the city. Working closely to the city of Ghent allowed us to learn from each other, since Vredeseilanden had the time and capabilities to conduct action-research, while Ghent itself disposed of fairly clear ideas and knowledge on sustainability in catering.
Our first step in this direction was therefore targeted towards governmental catering: we thought that could have been an example for the Belgian population as a whole. Afterward we decided to continue not only with government bodies’ canteens, but also with catering in other sectors, such as university canteens, hospitals, private companies, …
What are the main characteristics of the project?
We have 6 principles we work with: reduction of meat consumption and vegetarian food, seasonal and local food products, sustainable fish consumption, the promotion of organic and fair trade products and the reduction of food waste and proper waste management. The reduction of meat consumption, the use of seasonal products and proper waste management are also indispensable to limit the costs: the budget is the first thing that the catering sets.
What about the taste? Different food products and combinations also mean different tastes which we are not used to. How about feedback from the consumers?
Before or during the changes in the menu, we let the consumers try the new dishes. To contain com-plains and negative feedback that can arise after the introduction of new dishes, we also propose to form groups to taste the new recipes in advance, directly involving the consumers in the process. We organize surveys in federal restaurants to assess the level of satisfaction of the users during such changes in the menu.