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..
Anthony Bourdain’s noble 2017 documentary, Wasted!, about the systemic blight of global food waste, is a welcome and high-profile spotlight. Reducing food waste is a moral and environmental imperative. We throw out hundreds of millions of tons of food while millions of people go hungry. That wasted food contributes tons of greenhouse gases to our atmosphere and leads to trillions of gallons of wasted water.
Soon after OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital installed the LeanPath food-waste prevention platform in April 2017, Keith Harrington, Riverside Methodist’s production manager, saw they were tossing out a lot of bread at his Subway(™) franchise.
When it comes to reducing the amount of food waste your kitchen generates, prevention is key -- actually having just enough food purchased, prepped, and cooked, and no more. Of course, no matter how well you forecast, there are times you will have food left over. Chefs and kitchen managers need to be able to utilize this leftover product in order to keep their food waste to a minimum and to keep their operations financially viable.
Also, no matter how well you plan, you’re also left with trim. And whether you repurpose that citrus peel or not, you still paid for it. Throwing out trim is throwing out money, just like throwing out an overproduced pan of lasagna is.
Repurposing food is nothing new, but it has to be a deeper part of many kitchen cultures. Utilizing every bit of the food we buy, grow, and prep in our kitchens is critical in reducing food waste and the associated production of greenhouse gasses wasted food generates. Although there is a lot of food lost throughout the entire food supply chain (farm, processing, retail, consumer, etc.), in high-income countries the majority of food waste is generated toward the end of the chain, by both pre- and post-consumer activities. The kitchen staff is literally at the vanguard of reducing food waste, reducing greenhouse gasses, and saving the water that is lost from wasted food. (Yes, prep cooks can save the world!)
There are pockets of change throughout the industry, restaurants that focus on zero-waste, ugly produce programs, food donation programs (a form of repurposing), new menu items that utilize cuts or parts of products that were once considered “undesirable,” restaurants that work directly with farmers to grow exactly what they need, and the focus on tracking and controlling food waste in the professional kitchen are just a few of the noted changes being made. Still, with the much needed changes slowly taking place in the behavior and mindset of the consumers and culinary industry, we need to do more, much more.
We need to retool our brains, open up our creativity, and our palates, change our mindset, and embrace the behavior change that comes with utilizing and repurposing our food. So what does that look like for the consumer and the industry professional? Here are some ways you can change your behavior and refocus your efforts on repurposing food that will minimize your avoidable food waste.
Hotel buffet lines are notorious waste generators. A recent study by Hyatt Regency Orlando found that guests were eating only about half of the food put out for them, and just 10 to 15 percent of the leftovers could be donated. The rest? Into the garbage with you!