The final straw for hospitality

04 February, 2019

Recently someone described me as a ‘lefty communist’, which is a bit weird really. What, as opposed to a ‘righty communist’?

Given the limited intellect of the person making the comment, and the fact that, in my case, there are many worse things to be called, I let it go. And to be fair, there is some smoke to that particular fire. As a teenager I was given a badge saying ‘there are theories at the bottom of my jargon’, and there are very few – OK, no – left wing bandwagons I haven’t clambered aboard.

Yes I know this isn’t a political column but as we enter 2019, I do have a serious point to make. You see, when I see spring flooding in Sydney, I don’t think “oh, poor Australians”, I think: “What’s happening to the New South Wales barley crop?” Australia lost its grain supply a few years back and when the country sneezed, the rest of the world got a cold, because Australia needs a lot of barley and imported much of it from other territories.

This sort of ‘natural’ disaster is becoming all-too common. In 2018 the east of England lost its spring barley because of the ‘beast from the east’. And it’s the spring barley crop that supplies Britain’s beer and whisky industry. The severe weather decimated England’s lamb stocks and farmers incurred huge costs housing, heating, and feeding their animals. The European drought in the summer of 2018 further impacted on crop yields and drove many farmers into debt because they had to pay for feed for their livestock. Four of the hottest years on record have occurred in the past five years. If you’re British, never mind Brexit – climate change is bringing myriad problems that will impact on supply of raw materials, and therefore prices. Much more of this and who knows where it will plunge our hospitality industry?

And it’s a global problem. Yet, despite all the evidence, too few of us are taking this seriously enough. As the socialist comedian Jeremy Hardy once put it, we might give up our deodorant sprays, but we are hardly the Runcorn Chemical Works, are we?

Well actually, yes we are. Collectively we can make a massive difference. Already some of Britain’s biggest pub chains have started to think about the environment and the way they run their businesses. Collectively the independent sector can make a difference too.

Some small businesses in other fields have taken steps in this direction already. Our local sports masseur has stopped giving her clients a plastic water bottle after each session and replaced it with a paper cup of water. If she’s seeing eight clients a day, five days a week, that is 40 bottles a week. And that’s a staggering 2,000 bottles a year.

So may I suggest a New Year’s resolution to this magazine’s readers? Can we agree to think global, but act local? And can we all make an effort to think about the environment? What that means in practice is avoiding plastic cups and bottles where possible, and recycling as much all we can. Most of all, it means taking the simple step of banishing plastic straws to history, or replacing them with paper ones. Huge companies such as McDonald’s and Starbucks have made moves in this direction and it’s totally necessary. Incredibly, In the US alone, one estimate suggests 500m straws are used every day. One study published earlier this year estimated as many as 8.3bn plastic straws pollute the world’s beaches.

Independents can make a difference. I was in a bar recently where they were suggesting customers didn’t have a straw at all. This isn’t rocket science, it’s common sense – let’s make a virtue of helping our planet.

There. Rant over. Now where’s my copy of Das Kapital?

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