According to a report from the charity Wrap, just 1.78 per cent, or 47,000 tonnes of 2.64m tonnes of surplus and waste food is redistributed for human consumption.
Currently 1.9m tonnes, or 73 per cent, of all food and drink waste generated by supermarkets and their suppliers are thrown away. Even though the UK’s supermarkets have pledged to reduce their food waste by 20 per cent by 2020, there will still be mountains of waste. Wrap believes that 1.1m tonnes (56 per cent) of this waste is avoidable and calculates that as much as 270,000 tonnes of wasted food may be suitable for redistribution.
At the moment, supermarkets are portrayed as the biggest demons in the food waste debate, but how much is the leisure and hospitality industry doing to reduce food waste – or is it adding further to the problem?
According to Italian chef and food activist Massimo Bottura, there is a lot more that the industry could do to both reduce waste and raise awareness among its customers.
Last year, Bottura opened Refettorio Ambrosiano, a wasted food café in Milan, Italy, to feed homeless people. Food for Soul is a non-profit offshoot of this. One of the aims of the organisation is to encourage chefs to be more mindful about waste and create refettorio (which translates as refectory) elsewhere to feed the poor.
The first international site was at the Rio Olympics. The RefettoRio Gastromotiva was set up in space donated by the municipality of Rio de Janeiro and cooked food from the surplus from the Olympic village. Now, it is a hub for projects related to food and social inclusion, empowering the local community by running workshops on nutrition and healthy food.
Bottura argues cutting down on food waste is a cultural process which needs to engage all restaurant staff, as well as restaurant guests. More education and training is needed for hospitality staff and using 100 per cent of products should be the golden rule of any restaurant’s programme.
He calls for a mindset change in both the kitchen and back office: “Often ingredients are ordered and rationalised in terms of price, not quality or ethical value,” he says. “Reducing food wastage is connected to the quest for quality ingredients: the best ingredients are valuable not just for their flavour. Buying entire animals and fish – no more fillets – is one step in the right direction. Initially these ingredients might be considered expensive, but if you consider the whole – and use every part of the animal, fish or vegetable – then you are not only not wasting, but also respecting the butchers, fishermen, farmers and artisans who produce them.”
As well as using a nose to tail approach, Bottura calls for a root to tip approach: “When I say the whole vegetable I mean stems, peels and trimmings. Cutting down on waste really means using everything – bones, leftover bread, vegetable trimmings, and so forth. Any part of a fruit or vegetable that is inedible should then be composted.”
Leading on from this, Bottura says the hospitality industry should be educating the public through its front of house staff: “When you are serving offal, variety meats, bone stock, potato skins and broths made with vegetable trimmings or onion skin infusions, it is really important to have a shared vision of the restaurant experience with front of house and service because they are the ones who communicate with the public.”
Aesthetics and ethics should go hand in hand and chefs should be expounding these values beyond their restaurants, says Bottura.
“I advise chefs to get out in the world and act outside their kitchens, as well as inside them,” he says. “Participating in the dialogue is important, because it sends out a message to encourage everyone to do something to cut down on food wastage, to shop and cook more ethically and feel that they are part of a bigger community.”
Wasted food cafés
This thinking is resonating with some chefs, and a new genre of restaurants is springing up. ‘Pay as you feel’ wasted food cafés gather food waste from a number of sources and create a menu reflecting that day’s supplies. If there is no coffee, punters have to drink something else. Customers leave a donation according to what they feel the meal is worth. Some can’t afford to pay anything, others trade their services for food. Principally run by volunteers and charities, the aim is not to turn a profit, but to reduce food waste and highlight the waste issue.
Already this fledgling model is starting to adapt. Notting Hill’s organic, vegetarian, wasted food café, Tiny Leaf, has a business model based on turning a profit, rather than being a charity project.
“We want to challenge the perception of public waste and do what we can do to make a positive change in the world,” says director Justin Horne. “We see Tiny Leaf as a scalable, franchisable and profitable business – this is a global problem, so this could be a global business: we’ve already been approached by people in France.”
Tiny Leaf successfully trialled the concept of transforming what would be wasted food into gourmet dishes at a pop-up restaurant. Dinner costs around £8 to £15 and the menu changes daily, although it’s likely to be along the lines of courgetti with hemp pesto and a butter bean ragu.
Horne, who uses vegetable peelings to make crisps and braises (delicious)beetroot tops, has been shocked by the amount of food waste in the industry. “Typically restaurants will use about 10 per cent of an artichoke and throw the rest away. There needs to be more training and a mindset change. Chefs need to become more adventurous, offering dishes which use everything.”
Real Junk Food
His long-term aim is to create a restaurant which produces all its own ingredients and he is currently in talks with BRE about buildings which could have rotating walls to grow vegetables.
Getting the supply network underway has been the biggest challenge for Tiny Leaf, although this became easier following the press coverage after the launch of the pop-up. Now it works closely with Planet Organic, as well as other organic wholesalers.
“It is good for them too,” says Horne. “Their customers tend to be ethical and don’t like waste, so we’ve stopped a hole in their supply chain.”
Intercepting food before it heads to landfill and knowing how to create and manage an adequate supply are the most common challenges which wasted food cafés face. Happily, the Real Junk Food Project, which runs a network of wasted food cafés in the UK, has recently made a step forward in this respect, by signing an agreement with Ocado. The online supermarket will store food from orders cancelled by customers after it has been picked and packed, for the charity to collect each day.
Although this is still a way behind French supermarkets – which now, by law, have to donate food to charities or food banks, rather than discard it – it is, at least, a step in the right direction. Like everyone, the pressure is now on the leisure and hospitality industry to be mindful about the amount of waste generated. Not just with food, but across the board.