At LeanPath, we often say that food waste matters – after all, our mission is to end avoidable food waste. So we believe it, and we act accordingly.
We’ve all been to a catered event, whether it was a buffet or a plated meal, a business luncheon or a wedding reception, a breakfast line brimming with scrambled eggs and bacon or a break table piled high with pastries. But I’ll bet you’ve never been to a catered event that ran out of food.
Overproduction is a given for most caterers, because if they run out of food, there’s not a kitchen in the back to prep anything more. And more than with onsite dining, the host of a catered event carries more responsibility for their guests’ happiness, and a caterer doesn’t want them to be unhappy. In my years as a chef, I’ve seen events that have half of the food ordered -- or more -- go uneaten.
This type of food waste is the inconvenient truth of running and organizing a catering event. All the chefs, planners and attendees know it’s happening, nobody likes it, but we struggle with how to fix the problem.
The momentum around food waste reduction continued throughout 2017. The high-profile documentary “Wasted!” debuted, adding celebrity chef voices to the effort. The Natural Resources Defense Council released a pair of comprehensive reports detailing food waste in major U.S cities. The World Wildlife Fund partnered with the hospitality industry to release the Hotel Kitchen toolkit designed to encourage the measurement of food waste, the establishment of food donation strategies, and the diversion of food waste from landfills. From the Food Waste Fair in New York City to London Food Tech Week, thought leaders and innovators congregated around the world to discuss and strategize. And even Pope Francis weighed in: “We are called to propose a change in lifestyles, in the use of resources, in production criteria, including consumption that, with regard to food, involves growing losses and waste. We cannot resign ourselves to saying someone else will take care of it.”
Now, looking to build on that momentum in 2018, we’d like to suggest a resolution for anyone concerned with reducing food waste, but particularly the foodservice industry: move from a culture of diverting food waste to one of preventing food waste.
More specifically, we urge organizations in the foodservice industry to continue to move up the EPA’s Food Waste Hierarchy. A decade ago, the cutting edge of food waste prevention was a restaurant starting a composting program (which is just above sending your waste to the landfill on the hierarchy). But foodservice has kept moving its way up: repurposing used fryer oil for fuel, separating excess for animal feed, and setting up donation programs for unused food, which gets the industry almost to the top of the hierarchy.
Central Indiana-based Reid Health is an independent, non-profit hospital with a broad and unique foodservice operation. The 207-bed hospital’s central kitchen doesn’t just feed patients and supply it’s cafe -- about 3,600 meals a day -- it also services a local Meals on Wheels, provides meals for the county Head Start program, and feeds children at a local residential facility. On top of that? Internal and external catering.
We were pleased to contribute to November’s conference on food waste and food security in Arlington, Virginia, led by FFAR, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research. The session, entitled Food Waste to Food Security and Beyond: Identifying Research Gaps Across the Food System, pulled together a broad swath of thought leaders from government, NGOs, academia and business to focus on challenges, innovations, and advances in reducing food waste. FFAR has a specific interest in exploring high impact research opportunities related to inefficiencies in food production, food waste prevention and reduction methods, food waste measurement and reporting methodologies, and alternative uses for food waste (better stated, excess food resources with value). FFAR’s goal – achieving actionable outcomes through its research – is attractive..