By Gamze Cizreli, Founder and Partner, BigChefs Café
Climate change, global warming, last glaciers, plastic islands and the list goes on - to hear these terms, we no longer need to be addicted to documentary channels. In developed countries, efforts of raising awareness, campaigns and research on sustainability have increased so much that we can clearly see how reckless we are in consumption. The World Wildlife Fund states that “humanity is currently using nature 1.75 times faster than our planet’s ecosystems can regenerate”. In short, we have stolen resources from future generations and wasted what we can convert through recycling or renewable energy.
I can't help but ask myself the question posed by historian Yuval Noah Harari: “Why did Homo Sapiens turn into an ecological serial killer?” In search of the answer, the issue of sustainable life immediately comes to mind.
We can define sustainability as waste recycling, food management, a labor force that is not able to participate in business life, to name a few and more. Here in Turkey, I’m afraid that we are not in an advanced position in terms of sustainability. But the awareness that has recently started to rise in society and the surge of prominent campaigns that are having global influence promise hope.
Starting business as a female entrepreneur
When opening the first BigChefs restaurant 12 years ago, no one could have imagined that we would come to this point. Being an entrepreneur and a woman was a challenge itself. The road to making my dreams come true in the food industry was long and hard. But I never thought to give up.
Way too many challenges await women entrepreneurs not only in Turkey, but in the whole world. First of all, we face gender discrimination. It takes time and determination to destroy the walls of prejudice. Especially whe facing a system that denies global warming and resists implementing necessary changes. It is not easy to create a brand with a vision of sustainability and while trying to establish a set of habits that do not yet exist in the sector and society that we operate.
We have made significant progress since opening our first branch in Istanbul, expanding abroad with our Dubai restaurant in 2014 and opening our first restaurant in Europe in Frankfurt. Our work on sustainability passed beyond being a challenge and became an important asset of our brand, that is integral to our success. We began to collect the fruits of progress without compromising our dreams and vision.
“From our Female Farmers to your Table”
Since the first day we opened, we aimed to offer our guests natural, local and delicious products. We gained success by blending traditional flavors with international cuisine, first in Turkey, then abroad. One of the most important factors behind our was our business model, which focuses on sustainable development, engages with different stakeholders and adopts an inclusive approach. We thought that we would preserve both our flavor quality and local products, and ensure the continuity of Turkish cuisine and our cultural value by supporting local agriculture and production.
With this vision, we initiated From our Female Farmers to your Table. As female entrepreneurs ourselves, we wanted to support female farmers with limited opportunities and to set a model for rural development. In our country, with a population of 80 million, only 8.9 million of our 30.1 million women work. The number of female farmers is about 2.5 million. 78 percent of these women are unpaid family workers. To contribute to reducing these figures, as BigChefs, we began to source from female producers engaged in organic farming in different regions of Turkey. From cheese to honey, asparagus to bulghur, chickpeas to rice, artichoke to flatbread, tarhana (sundried food made of curd, tomato and flour) to all our jams, we buy many products from female farmers who participate in our project. We enriched our menus with these products. In this way, we focused on eliminating the disadvantages of the Anatolian women who make their living from the soil.
Today, we are working with 30 female farmers under this project. Ten percent of our supply comes from the goods these women produce. On the one hand, we are able to offer our guests healthy and organic products, and on the other hand, we support women's improvement and the development in organic agriculture. We are pleased to contribute to a sustainable life by making a significant transformation in the supply chain ecosystem with our project.
Our goal is to reach more women in time and by 2021 to have half of our supplies come from this project.
Waste management is priority
We have not limited our sustainability efforts to supply chain management. We also pay great attention to waste management, which is one of the most important problems in the food and beverage industry.
At BigChefs restaurants, we categorize waste as paper, glass, plastic and metal. We use recycled towels in our lavatories that require less energy and water. In this context, in order to avoid wasting food, we prefer actions and items which do not harm the environment like serving in small portions, serving water in glass bottles, removing plastic straws from use, and instead, using wheat stalk. To reduce the waste, we also work on recycling food waste.
Working within the regulations of the food and beverage industry in Germany makes us think that we have long way to go in terms of sustainability regulations in Turkey, where BigChefs was born. As one of Turkey's largest restaurant chains, we will continue our work to be an example to other enterprises in our country. However, not only us, the business owners; but also governments and non-governmental organizations have great work to do in this regard. We believe that we can reach our sustainability goals more easily and rapidly if we work together.