Is this Waste or are you still Eating it?

Yes, this is a piece on sustainability, but don’t worry. I won’t lecture you with UN stats that 800 million people worldwide suffer from malnutrition whilst globally we waste around a third of all food produce. Instead, I would like to talk about taking away the traditional menu and cooking with what’s considered food waste.

I suppose the most ‘out there’ concept right now comes from the New York pop-up WastED, by Dan Barber, which is located in London, hosted by On the Roof at Selfridges. The mission is to raise awareness of the ‘waste at every link in the food chain and to explore the gastronomic possibilities of the unlovely by-products’. Basically, get rid of the menu and cook with what’s available.

This may seem odd, especially when eating out is still considered by many people as an experience where we get what we want when we want it and not ‘leftovers’. However, can we really afford to think that way, especially when the UK produces around 10 million tonnes of food waste, of which 60% could be avoided. In all fairness, the hospitality sector only contributes to around 9% of that, but us as consumers do fuel the food surplus production with our purchasing/eating out habits. So, going back to basics and using what you’ve got, instead of demand even more is a good step into the right direction.

The ‘no menu’ trend is certainly not new. London has hosted many no-menu restaurants over the years, such as the Chinese restaurant Hunan. That’s all about getting a kick out of not knowing what you will be served. Another example of our love for adventure is the ‘Secret Dinner’ concept with a secret menu, which was popping out all over Europe’s capital cities over the last two years. If we are okay with that, why would we not be okay with a reduced or unusual menu for the sake of the environment?

In Amsterdam, InStock ‘rescues’ food and cooks only with unwanted food donated from supermarkets. The chefs get a box of supplies and have to conjure up some dishes with that. Whilst reducing food waste from a different stream, we have another restaurant without a menu. On a side note, we have to consider that the idea alone is great, but it is not viable without a skilled and creative Chef. The industry has started to recognise this, which is why sustainability is gaining importance on the curriculum of culinary schools like Le Cordon Bleu & Co.

Silo, in Brighton is the UK’s first successful zero-waste restaurant and it is making headlines. Their tag line is: ‘designed with the bin in mind’. That is the only way to be zero-waste because you need to engineer your menu down to the level of detail that you don’t buy flour, but mill your own, follow this up with the right equipment, upcycling furniture and install the right type of food composter at the end.

Meanwhile in MENA, specifically Beirut, the first restaurant recommendation I got whilst travelling there was Tawlet in Mar Mikhael. This communal space / restaurant evolved from a traditional souk. Today, Tawlet welcomes local farmers on a weekly rotation, who come in and cook with their own ingredients. Again, there is no menu and the people love it. This concept, whilst still sustainable because of local sourcing and seasonal cooking, is about traditional cuisine, the appreciation for local community and home cooking.

Ugly or not the carrot you waste costs money and the carrot you sell makes money. Therefore, it is logical that repurposing food byproducts:

1) decreases waste amount and waste cost

2) reduces cost of goods

3) improves yield

4) makes me happy

Finally, remember your charming cash-cow, the customer. A study by Sustainability Matters found that 81% of consumers are more likely to buy from brands with a positive approach to sustainability.

The philosophy of Dan Barber, which was unappetisingly tagged ‘putting food waste on the menu’ (not entirely unfair when ingredients include fish heads for example) has recognised how wasteful typical restaurants are and the urgency for chance. Adopting this philosophy and implementing it, at least partially, doesn’t have to be so extreme and complicated. Chefs on cruise ships have to be inventive because on some itinerary’s, you don’t get to ‘shop’ for new ingredients for a while. So the Chefs use potato skins to make chips, coffee grounds for cakes and cookies.

There are of course countless initiatives to responsibly handle food leftovers once cooked, and they are all great. You can use the ‘To Good to Go’ App, which links the customer to a restaurant to purchase leftover dishes for half price, or you can donate to charity and (win-win) write of the tax.  However, that’s comparable to treating a symptom instead of healing the cause.

Why am I telling you this though? As a consumer you should be expecting this innovation from your favourite Chef. As a Landlord or Developer you should be supporting and encouraging it, even if 7 of 10 attempts to introduce a ‘green clause’ into the lease are still being rejected. Finally, as an operator, you should already be doing it. Considering all the Brexit news, the resulting uncertainty and the unstable pound, considering the continued discussion to ban all food waste in the UK (France has done it), considering the poor harvests on the continent (remember the courgette crisis!?) and the subsequent increase in food cost. Last but not least, don’t forget to consider the environmental impact. How can you choose not to adopt a practice, at least to some extent, which will improve your business in margins and image.

Now, after all this ‘rubbish’, I will not let you go without a treat. Check out Salt & Straw in Portland, USA. They are making Ice Cream from food waste. That apple might be ugly, but it will do just fine for a scoop of ‘Rum Spices and Apple Butter’ flavour. Oh, and I’ll have a scoop of ‘Strawberry and Balsamic Vinegar’ as well, while you are at it.

#PlanA #lovefoodhatewaste #JLLUpsteam #createdontwaste