The sell-by-date on food waste is fast approaching
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Top chef Dan Barber is the brains behind WastED, a community of chefs, farmers, fishermen, distributors, processors and retailers working together to reconceive of the “waste” (and those are his air quotes) that occurs at every link in the food chain.
For three weeks in March 2015, New York’s Greenwich Village hosted the pop-up, devoted to the theme of food waste and reuse. Participating big-name chefs served dished composed entirely of ingredients that would ordinarily have ended up in the bin.
Now, the waste-revolution is coming to London. From 24th February to 2nd April 2017, wastED London will be taking over Selfridges iconic rooftop. This innovation in sustainable restaurant practice is paving the way for home grown commercial kitchens to adopt similarly sustainable practices. With the right support, the next generation of restaurant-repreneurs could solve the food waste crisis.
Food waste is a growing problem
Back in 2016, no-waste cooking was tipped to become an era-defining movement, and it’s easy to see why: according to the UN, food demands will increase by up to 60% in 2050 as the population continues to grow, with supply failing to meet demand.
The UK produces more food waste than any other country in Europe. In fact, the UK throws away almost 15 million tonnes of food waste each year, equal to tossing 1.3 billion meals in the bin. Not only does this massive food loss cost the UK over £19 billion each year, but our environment pays a heavy price as well: if food waste was a country, it would be the world’s 3rd largest emitter of CO2.
We live in a society where both food waste and hunger coexist. In London alone, the amount of food waste we produce costs the average person £200 a year, rising to £700 for a family with children; for every five bags of shopping bought, the equivalent of one is thrown away. That amounts to £50 million incurred by waste authorities each year.
From vegetable crops deemed too ‘ugly’ to harvest, all the way to restaurant diners feeling too embarrassed to ask for a doggy bag, attitudes at almost every stage of the global food system are in need of an overhaul.
Fortunately, the next generation of kitchen entrepreneurs are taking heed, and working towards a more sustainable future in terms of food waste. Commercial kitchens are making efforts to reduce food waste with locally sourced ingredients, variable portion sizes and set menus.
One startup that has been making ripples one side of the pond is London-based innovators Winnow. The Guardian Sustainable Business Award winners have invented a ‘smart meter’ for restaurants to document how much food waste they produce, enabling them to effectively change their process. Since the innovation was first put to use in 2013 it has saved commercial kitchen businesses £2m, and has reduced carbon emissions from the hospitality sector by 3,400 tonnes.
Now, there’s one trend that’s really making headlines: putting food waste on the menu.
Putting waste on the menu
One person’s waste can even be another person’s multi-course tasting menu, in one New York based supper club. Salvage Supperclub hosts a Dumpster-dinner series in which guests are treated to dishes made up of ingredients frequently tossed out by supermarkets and big restaurants, like wilted basil or bruised plums. At a similar project in Dalston, London, the Save the Date café receives donations of around 150kg of chicken that would otherwise have gone to waste from a nearby Nando’s restaurant per week.
The Surplus Supper Club caters for events of all shapes and sizes using ingredients that would otherwise be thrown away. It's the most ethical catering imaginable: not only do they ‘upcycle’ food destined for landfill, the club also offers training and support to help many of its volunteers back into society, around half of whom are, or have been, vulnerable.
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