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According to recent research, every year, one third of the world’s food production is literally thrown away: this means that roughly 222 million tons of foodstuffs are binned, a quantity that is roughly equivalent to the food production of sub-Saharan Africa.
It is actually as a reaction to this alarming figure that, on one hand, a growing number of people are engaged in combating waste at all levels of the food industry and, on the other, “zero waste” has become a trend which, according to several sources (comprising Mintel, Rabobank and Sterling-Rice Group) will continue to exert a strong influence in 2017. It's a year that promises to be a decisive one in terms of combating waste, if the newly founded "European platform on food losses and food waste" is anything to go by.
In brief, “food philanthropy”, together with the zero waste and reutilisation philosophy, has truly passed the border between theory and practice.
The WastEd Project
Much was said (in glowing terms) on this topic in Greenwich Village, when Dan Barber – chef of the renowned Blue Hill at Stone Barns New York restaurant and nutrition consultant to the Obamas – launched the WastEd project in March 2015 (literally “waste education”): a network set up to unite the players of the supply and production chain – chefs, farmers, fishermen, designers etc. – to kindle ideas on the best way to optimise food waste. Thanks to the collaboration of some of the world’s top chefs – Alain Ducasse, Enrique Olvera and Grant Achatz to mention but a few – what usually represents kitchen waste has been admirably transformed into dishes of surprising refinement.
Barber has done nothing more than put the “third plate” concept into practice in the kitchen, by presenting simple yet refined ideas: the Dumpster Dive salad, for instance, made from pistachios, bruised apples and pears, is served with chickpea water (the brine used to preserve them) transformed into a velvety emulsion sauce (very much the same thing as "aquafaba"). Noodles made from pork rind and king prawns served in a delicate (dashi-style) broth of potato peelings. Or what about a most original hamburger: waste vegetable scraps for the burger, breadcrumbs and crusts for the bread roll and a cream of bruised red beetroots performing the function of ketchup?
The experience is about to be replicated in London where, from 24 February to 2 April 2017, a pop-up restaurant will be in full swing, based on the same zero waste concept: on the iconic terrace of Selfridges, meals will be served whose ingredients normally end up in the bin and, in any case, are underrated in food production.
The world’s top restaurant leads the way
Almost at the same time as Dan Barber was launching his no-waste concept, the chef of the world’s best restaurant, Massimo Bottura, was also starting his own personal crusade against food waste, defining it as the goal of his social evolution. It was May 2015 and Expo Milano – with its slogan “feeding the planet” – was about to open its gates and the Modena-based chef spoke out against the unacceptable phenomenon of tons of good food going straight into the bin. From words to action.
First Bottura set up the Refettorio Ambrosiano near Milan, where about 50 internationally acclaimed chefs took turns in cooking for the less fortunate, using the surplus food (never eaten and served before or processed anyhow) from Expo 2015 restaurants. Together with his wife Lara Gilmore, he launched the Food for Soul project in March 2016: a cultural and social organization created to continue his work committing to reduce food waste. That's why in the Summer of the same year he flew to Brazil for the Olympic Games and facilitated the creation of the RefettoRìo Gastromotiva, which savaged the surplus food, otherwise wasted, from the Olympic Village.
According to the figures released, of the 250 tons of food served every day at mealtimes, 12 tons were recovered and, in turn, transformed into thousands of meals for the homeless. A "culinary philanthropy" that is moving ahead at full speed: after launching the Socialtables @Antoniano in Bologna, last December Bottura's Food for Soul organization arrived in Modena with a project called Socialtables @Ghirlandina, preparing meals for needy persons in the city's Refettorio every monday. What's happening in 2017? Bottura's Food for Soul keeps moving: work is in progress for new projects to be launched in New York, as well as London, Berlin, Turin and Los Angeles.
From legislation to start-ups
Meanwhile, legislative measures are being taken in different countries to combat waste at various levels (as in Italy where a bill has been approved regarding the introduction of a food waste tax or in France which has paved the way towards considerations regarding supermarket waste); at all latitudes there are those who have grasped the value – by no means negligible – of the foodstuffs which, for aesthetic or cultural reasons, fail to be channelled into the distribution network, and are developing start-ups of undeniable economic, social and environmental importance.
One such example is the British "Winnow" which, thanks to an app that acquires data on surpluses in the catering industry, allows operators to make more prudent purchasing choices. Food Cowboy in Washington deploys mobile technologies to “divert” the food rejected by distributors towards canteens for the needy. Then, there is the Bostonian Daily Table which transforms food close to its “best before” date into inexpensive cooked dishes.
The electronic exchange of CropMobster in San Francisco is another example of how the exchange of farming surpluses between producers and consumers can be facilitated, successfully diverting huge quantities of food from the waste tip to the table. On the subject of farming, what about the innovative technology that exploits field waste and turns it into “something else”?
Have you ever heard of the “leather” (for vegan-friendly shoes and accessories) obtained from processing pineapple leaves? Going under the name of "Piñatex", it originates from the Philippines and is already intriguing fashion designers. But that’s quite another story…