Increasing biodiversity is an important asset in our efforts to future-proof our food system. The more diverse an area, the more resistant it is to changes, such as climate change, diseases, and pests. Greater biodiversity ensures a better balance in our ecosystem and more food security. Food Inspiration lists three culinary projects around the globe that are working to bring more variety to our menu: Biodiversity on Your Plate, The Archaeology of Taste, and Colab Culinaria.

What: Biodiversity on Your Plate
Where: The Netherlands
By whom: Dutch Cuisine

"The way the bulk of our food is produced causes loss of biodiversity. Unfortunately, the Netherlands is Europe's champion of 'biodiversity loss' and our current agricultural system is one of the main causes of this," reads the Dutch Cuisine's special 'Biodiversity on Your Plate' website. But fortunately, there are also farmers, fishermen, and producers who are actively working to preserve and restore biodiversity. “As a food professional, you can actively support them through the ‘Biodiversity on Your Plate’ program,” says Victor de Lange, a member of the Advisory Board of Dutch Cuisine. “We officially launched in 2022. This program aims to motivate hospitality and catering entrepreneurs to put more 'biodiversity-friendly' dishes on the menu.” Food Inspiration is one of the partners of this program.

Change the menu

Dutch Cuisine wants to make the threshold for restaurants and caterers as low as possible, which is why there are different levels at which you can get involved. De Lange says, “By signing the ‘Biodiversity on Your Plate Manifesto,’ you commit to the basic ground rules.” 'Partners' and 'ambassadors' are expected to make at least 25% and 50%, respectively, of all dishes on the menu biodiversity-friendly. “From Dutch Cuisine, we monitor whether that standard is met.” In addition, as a participant, you commit to not use a specific set of harmful products anymore and you promise to actively communicate to your guests about your efforts. “This communication is not done in a pedantic way or with finger-wagging,” De Lange emphasizes, “but by turning it into a feel-good experience for guests through storytelling. The theme of biodiversity lends itself particularly well to this. The slogan is 'Eat Your World More Beautifully' for a reason.”

"Dutch Cuisine wants to motivate hospitality and catering entrepreneurs to put more ‘biodiversity-friendly’ dishes on the menu.”

Objective criteria

De Lange explains: “One of our biggest challenges right now is to properly explain to caterers, restaurateurs, and chefs what ‘biodiversity-friendly’ actually is. Many think it has to do with local or regional purchasing, but that is just one part of the story. We assess products and suppliers using criteria validated by experts. For example, by looking at the use of labels, such as certified organic ingredients or MSC and ASC certified fish. But we can also include ingredients that are not certified if the producer can demonstrate in other ways that they actively promote biodiversity.”

To put biodiversity-friendly dishes on the menu, this project is actively working with specialized wholesalers. They play a key role. The program, assessment method and control-system were developed with financial support and in collaboration with various experts, government, financial, and knowledge institutes, including the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. Parties such as Bionext, Caring Farmers, the Bird Protection Society and the World Wildlife Fund have also endorsed the methodology. The project thus has broad support, which is important for credibility.

Frontrunner regions set the pace

‘Biodiversity on Your Plate' is a nationwide program that entrepreneurs and caterers from all over the Netherlands can join. “In a number of regions we implement so-called frontrunner projects,” De Lange explains. “We help the participating entrepreneurs to meet the standards. We will also support these companies in various other ways, for instance with promotion both through the national program and specifically in their region, and through our partners, such as the restaurant booking platform BookDinners.” 

A first frontrunner project took off in 2023 in the province of North-Holland. Here, hospitality wholesaler VHC Jongens is actively working to include more biodiversity-friendly products from the region in its assortment and actively promote them to hospitality entrepreneurs and caterers. A second frontrunner project was launched in Utrecht in early March 2024. Organic wholesaler BD Totaal and Driessen Food are participating in this province. Their customers can participate and will receive guidance. The wholesalers have promised to make the products that fit into the Biodiversity on Your Plate program easily recognizable in their assortment and orderable on their webshops. 

What: The Archeology of Taste
Where: Spain, Santaella, Cordoba region
By whom: Miriam Cózar and Isabel Vélez | Biodiverxa


Biodiverxa is the company of two creative centipedes: chef Miriam Cózar and anthropologist Isabel Vélez. Cózar says, “In our projects, we work at the interface of science, food production, and gastronomy. Our work focuses on conserving and increasing biodiversity. We develop scalable R&D methods, participate in scientific and applied research, and are active in product development.”

Biodiverxa works to develop models and methods for restoring local plants and the flavors of the natural environment. “We work closely with local researchers, farmers, and artisans. In their laboratories, in their fields, and in their memory, they preserve and guard the seeds, flavors, knowledge, and techniques that reflect the richness of our land and gastronomic culture,” Cózar says. For several years, the pair have been working on a project called “The Archaeology of Taste.” It has become a methodology: a way to understand, appreciate, and perpetuate the relationship between gastronomy, nature, history, and culture of a region.

Food from earlier days

Vélez continues, “Several years ago, we were commissioned by the municipal government of Santaella, a rural community in the region of Cordoba, to create a food experience in the local museum. The culinary past from the time of the Iberian settlers in the region was the focus.” Cózar continues: “This was a challenging assignment because the traces of the Iberians in the region had largely disappeared and had been taken over by later populations. Hardly any written sources are available from the era. We therefore had to rely on interpretations of information from later sources and from archaeological research.”

“For this project, we applied our knowledge of archaeology, anthropology, and gastronomy to historical sources. We examined what was available in terms of crops, animal food sources, and the techniques used to collect, capture, preserve and prepare food at the time. We found evidence that food was transported by river from the coast to inland, meaning that people had access to food from the ocean, such as fish and shellfish. Furthermore, we have delved into social and cultural customs of the time, such as the eating habits around specific life events or happenings.”

"It took us over nine months to secure seeds, find local farmers, and create the crops we needed for our menu." 

Knowledge from waste

“From archaeological digs, where certain seeds were found, we learned what crops grew. You would be amazed at how much information you can get from ancient remains. When you find a cooking pot that still contains remnants of seeds, today it is possible to reliably date and identify them. Some of those seeds were forgotten, disappeared from our fields, and existed only in seed banks.”

“All this research allowed us to develop several recipes. But to serve a credible menu that was really based on food from that time and on our interpretation of how these people would have prepared it, we went a step further. It took us over nine months to collect and secure seeds, find local farmers to plant the seeds, and create the crops we needed for our menu.” 

Rethinking species diversity

“The food experience was a great success. It took place at the local museum and guests were amazed at how we managed to make this extrapolation of the past. We told them the stories of the region's historical biodiversity. We then provided the recipes to local restaurants. Some chefs have continued and further developed these recipes, and some of the forgotten crops and lost seeds we recovered are now being replanted on a small scale and used locally.” 

“This happened right before the pandemic. Then we conducted the same experiment twice more, but with Roman history and with more recent history from the beginning of the industrial period. In essence, we have now created a method that is scalable, applicable in different contexts, and innovative. It is aimed at both restoring local biodiversity and creating a new awareness with the public around regional species diversity.”

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What: Project Iche & Colab Culinaria
Where: San Vicente, Manabí, Ecuador 
By whom: Ana Lobato en Valentina Álvarez

In Manabí province on Ecuador's Pacific coast, Project Iche brings together a culinary school, restaurant, and food development lab under one roof. The initiative aims to pass on centuries-old culinary traditions to a new generation of Ecuadorian chefs and curious restaurant guests. In addition, the initiators see the project as a way to boost the economy and empower the local community.

In 2023, Food Inspiration visited the Iche lab. There we met Ana Lobato, who runs the food lab. “At the Iche lab, we develop prototypes for new products, made with local ingredients and by local artisans, so that the added value - sales, jobs, prosperity - stays in the region. And we do a lot of research, mainly focused on the pillars of sustainability, healthy eating, and local gastronomy.”

“In the Iche lab, we develop prototypes for new products, made with local ingredients and by local artisans, so that the value added remains in the region."

Colab Culinaria

The Iche lab is part of Colab Culinaria, Ecuador's culinary innovation network, which aims to create an open innovation ecosystem around gastronomy. The network consists of three partners: the Iche lab on the coast, a second lab in the Amazon - Canopy Bridge Lab in Archidona - and a third lab high in the Andes, Urku Mikuna, in a town called Salinas de Guaranda. “The idea is that what we research and discover in the different labs does not just stay in their own area, but that we share knowledge and work together, respecting the unique biodiversity in each of the three regions. Working in a network allows us to share expertise, knowledge, and ideas. The ambition is to eventually expand the network further, with research laboratories in, for example, the south of the country, in cities such as Cuenca and Quito, or on the Galapagos. Eventually, we would also like to collaborate with existing labs in other countries.”

Learn more about project Iche »