Food Recovery is Great, but far from Perfect

I’ve tried my fair share of seemingly-strange food combinations, but I have never thought to try combining tomatoes and chocolate in anything other than Mexican mole sauces. However, I read a story on NPR a couple weeks ago about how three Spanish chefs had created chocolate truffles with dried Nigerian tomatoes – and served them at the World Economic Forum, no less! The creations, “Bombom Kaduna,” were designed to raise awareness of the fact that 75% of Nigeria’s tomatoes are annually wasted.

produce-tomatoes

Professor Christopher Barrett of the Charles H. Dysons School of Applied Economics and Management was one of several people quoted in the article scoffing at the idea. One thing he took issue with, which I saw echoed in an op-ed in The Globe and Mail last week, is the concept of trying to use food waste to alleviate world hunger. As the latter article notes: “Hunger is what happens as a result of privation and poverty. Treating hunger through society’s waste compounds the indignity of hunger, and points us away from more permanent solutions.”

I wholeheartedly agree that food recovery is not the solution to hunger. These two articles do a good job discussing how poverty should be better addressed to combat hunger, but I also know that the problem of food waste warrants much more comprehensive strategies. First off, it seems pretty impossible to recover the over 1 billion tons of food that are “lost” every year. Secondly, most of the world’s food waste stems from so-called first world, such as the United States and European Union, while most of the world’s hungry people live in rural Asia and Africa. The logistics of transplanting the excess of one country to another isn’t feasible on a large enough scale to feed all those in need.

saynotofoodwaste.foodquote.sustainability.love.share.care.give.behappy.nature1

That is not to say that there are not food insecure people in the first world or that food recovery is by any means a bad idea. Donating to soup kitchens and food banks is an excellent use of surplus, even if it isn’t a solution to hunger or its causes. However, there is a danger that food donors might not take any other steps to prevent waste. After all, what’s wrong with generating excess when it’s going to feed hungry people? Well, not only does it dehumanize the hungry by treating them as garbage bins; it also encourages a food system that promotes overabundance, thereby waste.

The best compromise, I believe, is one that my college practices. I am a student Food Recovery Network volunteer at the University of Rochester, and we freeze surplus from campus dining establishments to deliver to a local soup kitchen. Most importantly, we inventory the kinds of foods being donated so that the school can see what foods it can afford to cut back on. For instance, we now find ourselves donating far fewer bagels than we did four years ago, when they constituted the majority of our inventory, because the school has adjusted to the apparent lack of demand.

Food recovery is not the be-all, end-all solution to hunger or food waste. However, it’s a good step in the right direction and brings attention to these critical issues.

Eva

5 Cookbooks to Help You Toss Less Food

Have you, or has someone you know, made a New Years resolution to cut down on food waste? In addition to perusing our blog, which has shared tons of tips to show how easy it is to prevent waste in general, be sure to check out these anti-waste cookbooks. They are full of delicious recipes that make use of leftovers and oft-discarded ingredients as well as teach readers how to respect food.

1. The Use-It-Up Cookbook: Creative Recipes for the Frugal Cook by Catherine Kitcho

Sample recipes: Braised Short Ribs with Chocolate, Cheese Rind Soup, Cilantro Stem Green Sauce, Potato Peel Croutons, and Pumpkin Seed Mole

2. Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook: A Guide to Eating Well and Saving Money By Wasting Less Food by Dana Gunders

Sample recipes: Banana Sorbet, Buried Chocolate Avocado Mousse, Chilaquiles, and Sour Milk Pancakes

cooking-chop3. The CSA Cookbook: No-Waste Recipes for Cooking Your Way Through a Community Supported Agriculture Box, Farmers’ Market, or Backyard Bounty by Linda Ly

Sample recipes: Chard Stalk Hummus, Fennel Frond and Ginger Pesto, Pea Shoot Salad with Radish and Carrot, Skillet Greens and Bacon Bits with Pomegranate Gastrique, and Watermelon Rind and Jalapeño Pickles

4. The Waste Not, Want Not Cookbook by Cinda Chavish.

Sample recipes: Chicken Breasts with Apple and Rosemary, Rosemary Lemonade, Salmon with Sweet and Spicy Chinese Cabbage, and Wild Mushroom and Potato Bisque

5. Love Your Leftovers: Through Savvy Meal Planning Turn Classic Main Dishes Into More Than 100 Delicious Recipes by Nick Evans

Sample recipes:Fire and Smoke Pizza, Jalapeño Popper Potato Skins, Shredded Chicken Hash, Spicy Beef Wontons, and Tomato Poached Cod

 

Wishing you a happy 2017 full of delicious food,

Eva

 

National Spotlight: Italy

Most recent estimate of annual food waste: 5.1 million tonnes

Considering that food waste annually costs the national economy an estimated €12 billion, it is no surprise that Italy has been stepping up its efforts to save food from the garbage. Agricultural Minister Maurizio Martina has stated that he wants the country to recover one billion tons of excess food by the end of this year, and there are many new initiatives underway that could make his goal a reality.

italy1At the end of July, Italy’s senate reinvigorated the country’s food recovery policies by providing incentives for and removing bureaucratic hurdles associated with donating surpluses to charities. For instance, restaurants, retailers, and manufacturers must no longer declare each donation in advance but instead complete only one declaration for all donations made each month. Additionally, products can be donated after their sell-by dates; farmers can freely give excess produce to charities; and all food donors will be rewarded with tax reductions. Ministers hope that the law will save at least 1 million tons of food from going to waste each year.

The agricultural ministry has also been looking at reducing consumer waste. Much like France, Italy is home to strong anti-doggy-bag bias that stops many restaurant customers from saving the food they don’t finish in one sitting. The term ‘family bag’ is now being promoted to emphasize that leftovers provide families with delicious second meals and distance the idea from the negative connotation of dog food. Another campaign is researching new forms of packaging to preserve food better, especially during transit.

Unsurprisingly, Italy is home to many organizations that connect recovered food to hungry mouths. Rete Banco Alimentare is a national network of 21 food banks that redistributes donations from producers, restaurants, caterers, and retailers to nearly 9,000 charitable organizations throughout the country. The volunteer-based organization started in 1989 and, eight years later, launched National Food Collection Day, in which customers can buy food to be redistributed to charities. In 2013, more than 11,000 supermarkets participated in the annual event, allowing over 9,000 tons of food to be collected by 135,000 participants.

italy capreseAlongside government programs and charitable organizations, activists within the food industry are getting international attention for combating waste. Chef Massimo Bottura, head of the World’s Best Restaurant 2016 Osteria Francescana, made headlines at the Expo Milano and again at the 2016 Olympic Games for setting up soup kitchens that utilized excess food from the respective events to feed those in need. Another renowned Italian chef, Ugo Alciati, requires his customers to reserve at his restaurant and eat from a fixed menu to minimize the amount of food left in his kitchen at the end of each day.

Bravo, Italy! Dire di no a rifiuti alimentari.

Additional Sources:

Stephanie Kirchgaessner (The Guardian) – Italy Tackles Food Waste with Law Encouraging Firms to Donate Food

National Spotlight: Japan

Most recent estimate of annual food waste: 18 million tons in 2010, according to the Ministry of Agriculture

When global climate change awareness started gaining traction in the 1990s, Japan was quick to put recycling on the national agenda. Since then, its recovery and waste management policies have included innovative food waste solutions focused on repurposing would-be waste for animal feed and fertilizer.

japan recycling
Photo courtesy of Timothy Takemoto

The Food Waste Recycling Law (English summary here), passed in 2001, called for the development of national food loss reduction targets and standards for businesses as well as recycling promotion strategies. Six years later, the law was given more teeth: it assigned recycling volume targets by  food industry sector, required businesses to report their waste quantity and their recycling efforts each year, and encouraged collaboration between the food and recycling industries. These measures spawned Recycling Business Plans, aka “recycling loops,” to circulate resources. For instance, a retailer might pass its waste to a business that converts it into fertilizer or animal feed, which is then used to produce foods that the retailer purchases to sell. Much organic waste is also diverted to biofuel production.

Thanks primarily to the recycling law, Japan recycled 82% of its food waste in 2010. Nevertheless, food constituted 25-30% of municipal solid waste in that same year. A leading culprit for these disappointing figures is the “one-third rule” that many companies follow. Looking at a product from its manufacture to its best-by date, manufacturers must deliver the food to retailers within the first third of its lifespan, and it cannot be sold after the second third. So, a can of nuts manufactured in January 2015 with a best-by date of January 2017 a) has to be delivered to retailers by August 2015 and b) has to be purchased by April 2016 – otherwise, it’s thrown out. The annual values of food returns to wholesalers and to manufacturers based on date-expiration sum to more than ¥155 billion. In a few exemplary cases (16%), though, products past the sell-by period are sold at discounted prices, rather than trashed. Fortunately, Japan has been reexamining the unwritten “rule” over the last couple of years and extending shelf-life labels of shelf-stable foods such as canned products, bottled water, and packaged rice cakes.

japan sushiAesthetic perfectionism is another cause of waste that Japan is just starting to address. The Ministry of Agriculture estimates that food rejected for purely visual reasons accounts for roughly one-third of the country’s annual waste. To call attention to this issue, the company a-dot has launched four distinct restaurants across Tokyo that specialize in using foods that are deemed “unsellable” by retail aesthetic standards. The project, called Mottainai (“wasteful”) Action, not only saves food from being tossed but also rewards producers and market vendors for their products (otherwise, they would have earned no profit for unsold food).

Finally, there is the Foodloss Challenge Project, launched in 2012 to analyze how and why food waste occurs and strategize what can be done about it. The project began with studies that examined food waste management practices at all levels of the food supply chain. Participants in the research (farmers, retailers, manufacturers, restauranteurs, chefs, consumers, etc.) not only learned about the economic inefficiency and ecological harms of waste but also brainstormed ways to raise public awareness and promote new practices to cut down on waste. The campaign then hosted a “salvage party” on household waste reduction tips in which consumers brought leftovers from their homes for on-site chefs to improvise into new dishes. Additionally, the project has launched extracurricular programs to teach children about waste as well as a sticker for retailers to affix to products approaching their expiration date to encourage customers to buy them sooner. Meanwhile, nonprofit food banks have become increasingly prevalent, redistributing unwanted consumer-, farmer-, and company-donated food items to people in need.

japanAlthough Japan still has a lot of work to do in the food waste prevention department, the country’s steps to improve waste management are laudable. Japan is worth keeping an eye on as it develops more mechanisms to deal with waste.

Keep pushing forward, Japan! 食品廃棄物にノーと言います.

Eva

Additional Sources:

Federica Marra (Food Tank) – Food Waste in Japan: How Eco-towns and Recycling Loops are Encouraging Self-Sufficiency

Kaori Iwashita and Junko Edahiro (Japan for Sustainability Newsletter) – The Foodloss Challenge Project, a Co-created Project on Food Loss and Waste

OECD – Preventing Food Waste: Case Studies of Japan and the United Kingdom

Preventing Waste vs. Eating Healthily: Is There a Conflict?

People need to learn how to eat better. Poor diet contributes to the two leading causes of death worldwide – heart disease and stroke – as well as a slew of other medical problems including obesity, diabetes, and even certain cancers. Without a doubt, promoting proper nutrition is one of the most important food policy focuses of our time. However, it is by no means the only issue.

I recently spoke with someone who is not entirely convinced of the importance of saving food. She understands the principle of preventing waste but cares far more about getting people to eat healthily. Her example: if a person were deciding between throwing away a half-eaten bag of potato chips or saving them, she’d say to throw them away. It’s not worth salvaging junk food that can wreak so much damage on our bodies, her logic goes. chips

As someone whose life’s mission is to fight food waste but also cares deeply about nutrition, I needed a moment to wrestle with this argument. Since I used to overeat in the name of preventing waste (here’s my reflection post about it), I know how the pretense of saving food can clash with healthy eating intentions. Many weight loss diets even explicitly say that people shouldn’t eat everything on their plates, since portion sizes tend to be excessively large. So, does trying to avoid waste mean making poor dietary choices? In a word, no. The keys are storage and smart decisions.

Back to the potato chip example: I say the eater should save the chips as leftovers. That way, the next time the person has a craving for salty, fatty food, he/she can have more chips from the bag, rather than buying a new bag (i.e. giving more money to junk food companies). Plus, with half the chips already eaten, the portion size is limited, whereas a brand new bag would present the temptation to devour all the chips at once. Alternatively, the remaining chips could be shared with friends or served at a party.

nutsBringing leftover junk food home seems like it just invites bad choices; but that’s where my “smart decisions” point comes in. Once food is in the home, it can lose some of its novelty, making it easier to moderate intake. Since the food will still be there tomorrow, there’s less temptation to overindulge now. Unhealthy cravings can be sated in moderation. Moreover, the root of the problem is buying potato chips in the first place. If you don’t want to consume so much sodium and fat, buy a healthier snack!

I realize my counterargument isn’t perfect, but neither is our food environment. Ideally, junk food wouldn’t be so prevalent, nor portion sizes so large, that we have to debate saving unhealthy food for later. Teaching people how to eat well can only go so far as long as we’re surrounded by unhealthy options.  Nevertheless, the pursuit of good nutrition does not have to undercut food waste reduction.

National Spotlight: United Kingdom

Most recent estimate of annual food waste: 15 million tonnes. About 47,000 tonnes of food surplus are redistributed and 660,000 tonnes are used for animal feed production.

As food waste has gotten more and more global attention, Britain has consistently been a source of profound reports, inspirational practices, and innovative solutions aimed at combating the problem. The face of the British anti-waste movement is WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Plan) and its “Love Food Hate Waste” campaign that has been running since 2007. Founded in 2000, WRAP collaborates with all levels of government, businesses, community organizations, trade unions, and individuals to champion sustainable waste management. Its Courtauld 2025 Commitment has set 20% reduction targets for food waste and greenhouse gas intensity of food and drink (production, distribution, consumption, etc.) in the UK over the next 10 years.

UK wrap report
Image courtesy of WRAP

In 2015, WRAP created the Manufacturing and Retail Working Group to develop resources and undertake research projects to analyze and improve food waste prevention practices. Just last month, the group published its report examining the current waste levels and progress in the UK with accompanying recommendations for development. Among its findings, the research produced the nonprofit’s first-ever estimate of preventable waste from the UK manufacturing and retail sectors: 56% of the 1.9 million tonnes of food that was discarded could have been eaten.  Nonetheless, less than 5% of food production in the British retail and manufacturing sectors ends up as surplus or waste, which is quite commendable. Moreover, 47,000 tonnes of surplus food were redistributed in 2015, and 660,000 tonnes were used in animal feed production. While WRAP rightfully continues to push for improvement, the UK’s progress in preventing waste so far is by no means negligible.

The “Love Food, Hate Waste” campaign is geared towards consumers, teaching people how easy it is to prevent waste at the household level. Its website of food saving tools includes a recipe search engine to use up leftover ingredients, portion and up-to-2-week meal planners, and tons of storage, cooking, and shopping tips. In addition to these resources, the LFHW mobile app offers a kitchen inventory tool to help users keep track of the food they’ve bought. The campaign references British food waste statistics, but, naturally, the tips and tools are universally relevant and useful.

London

Another strong fighter in Britain’s food waste arena is ReFood, Europe’s largest food waste recycler. The corporation collects waste from retailers and producers across the UK and converts it into biogas, electricity, and fertilizer via anaerobic digestion, providing a clean, efficient method of food waste management. In 2013, ReFood launched Vision 2020, a step-by-step plan to help the food industry prepare for a total ban on food waste landfilling by the year 2020. Far from idealistic, the campaign’s acknowledges the financial and administrative difficulties of instituting a landfill ban and accordingly offers recommendations and assistance for developing the necessary infrastructure. Furthermore, it promotes food waste education, citing “Love Food, Hate Waste” by name. ReFood’s goal is to embrace food waste as a profitable resource.

As for the private sector: Britain’s largest supermarket, Tesco, has demonstrated an impressive commitment to preventing waste. In 2013, the corporation published an extensive report on the waste generated by products sold in its stores, disclosing its food waste statistics for the first time ever. Now, the retailer annually publishes food waste data for its UK franchise – which, sadly, saw a 4% increase in waste from 2015 to 2016. Still, Tesco has been working to eliminate wasteful practices, such as Buy One Get One Free offers on fruit and vegetables. The chain also hasn’t sent any food directly to landfills since 2009. Details on the store’s other efforts can be found here.

Last September, the Food Waste (Reduction) Bill was introduced to, among other things, establish national food waste reduction incentives and require large retailers and manufacturers to cut down their waste at least 30% by 2025. Unfortunately, the proposed legislation never made it out of the House of Commons – but it wasn’t the first time that food waste was on the government agenda, and it certainly won’t be the last. In 2011, for instance, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs issued date label guidance to the food industry so as to prevent the excess of caution and confusion that generates waste.

Jolly good show, UK!

National Spotlight: South Korea

Most recent estimate of annual food waste: 4.82 million tonnes in 2014

South Korea is home to one of the world’s most innovative national strategies for fighting food waste: charging its inhabitants to dispose of food waste. To use organic waste disposal bins, residents have to either pay per garbage bag or, as of 2012, according to the weight of their waste (explained below). This year alone, the price of the specialty garbage bags has gone up 30% to provide extra incentive to reduce household waste.

koreaThe “volume-based waste fee” aka pay per trash bag system was introduced in 1995. Within 10 years of the system’s implementation, South Korea’s recycling rate had increased from 15.4% to almost 50%, according to a policy bulletin from the Ministry of Environment in 2006. The government has continued to include food waste as its pursued further recycling reforms, including banning urban-generated food waste from landfills in 2005 and announcing the RFID system in 2012. Under the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) system, residents have to swipe special ID cards to open mechanized disposal bins so that they can throw out their waste. With each transaction, the bin recalculates the weight of its contents, and the disposer is billed once a month according to his or her waste contribution.

Unsurprisingly, the success of these measures over just a couple years has received international praise. According to the Strait Times, daily aggregate food waste in Seoul decreased from 3,300 tonnes to 3,181 tonnes between 2012 and 2014, and the city government is aiming to cut that to 2,318 tonnes per day by 2018. Household and restaurant food waste have fallen by 30% and 40%, respectively, PSFK reported earlier this month.

korea food2The Korean government’s focus on food waste came after years of ecological negligence, for lack of a better term. Even until 2013, most of the country’s organic waste was processed in sewage plants and then dumped into the ocean. The ‘gray water’ produced by the high liquid content of the waste devastated coastal marine life and even began leaching into soil. Although the government joined the London Convention against marine pollution in 1993, the ban on food wastewater dumping wasn’t enacted until 20 years later. Fortunately, most food waste today is recycled into compost, animal feed, or biofuel, largely thanks to government subsidies to those recycling facilities.

A final fun fact: in response to the anti-food waste trend, the company Smart Cara has started manufacturing domestic food waste processors. The appliances grind food waste into a powder that can be utilized as fertilizer or cooking fuel. With the rising fees for residential food waste disposal, sales of the processors tripled between 2013 and 2015 and continue to climb.

Kudos, Korea! 음식물 쓰레기에없는 말.

-Eva

 

Other consulted sources:

South Korea: Ban on Dumping of Food Wastewater in the Ocean Comes into Force (Library of Congress)

South Korea: Cutting Back on Food Waste (Pulitzer Center)

South Korea’s food waste reduction policies (Innovation Seeds)

National Spotlight: France

Most recent estimate of annual food waste: 7.1 million tons, equivalent to roughly 140,000 tons per resident

ParisIn March 2016, France became the first country in the world to place a national ban on food waste in supermarkets*. Food that is considered “unsaleable” but still safe to eat (ex. approaching its sell by or best by date) must now be donated to food banks and charities, and stores that fail to comply will face hefty fines of €3,750. The donation process from the factories to food banks has also been greatly simplified, but sanitary standards for handling and distribution still stand, of course. Moreover, supermarkets will no longer be allowed to deliberately taint discarded food, which is a common tactic to ward off freegans and dumpster-divers. Did I mention that the French senate passed this bill unanimously?!

While such legislation would be impressive in any country, it is especially interesting that the anti-food waste movement took one of its biggest steps in France, the fourth worst food waste offender in the EU. The fact that 67% of the country’s waste occurs at the consumer level indicates that a nationwide change of mentality, not just institutional reform, is needed. Fortunately, the last few years have seen France turn its attention to addressing its jarring waste statistics. In response to mounting concerns about poverty and the environment, the National Pact Against Food Waste was established in 2013 with the goal of eliminating 50% of the country’s waste by 2025.

One instance of government and private sector intervention has been the doggy-bag movement. In 2014, the New York Times reported that the Ministry of Agriculture had begun collaborating with restaurants in south-central France on a promotional campaign to encourage diners to save restaurant leftovers – a practice traditionally shunned by the French. In addition to the common prejudice of leftovers being a sign of lower-class desperation and/or stinginess, the French have held a stigma that views doggy-bags as an American phenomenon based on oversized portions. Even chefs who support the doggy-bag have commented that food should be good enough and offered in reasonable enough quantities that diners finish everything on their plates. To combat anti-leftovers aversions, the campaign refers to ‘gourmet bags’ for food remainders and adopted the tag line, “It’s so good, I’ll finish it at home!” Of course, the purpose was to raise awareness of food waste in general, and there is nothing wrong with finishing a meal in the first sitting.france doggy bag

The movement has since spread to the rest of the country. Last year, 95% of 2,700 survey respondents said that they would be willing to take restaurant leftovers home. That March, the company TakeAway entered into an agreement with the Union of Hotel Professionals to provide restaurants with microwave-friendly containers and even special bags for unfinished bottles of wine. Finally, to ring in 2016, a law came into effect requiring restaurants to provide customers with doggy-bags upon request. Slowly but surely, the French are coming around to preserving the food that they are already so famous for revering.

A smaller-scale sign of the changing times in France is Partage ton Frigo (Share Your Fridge), a network of communal refrigerators started in 2013. The website and app allow people to share and find excess food that has been, for example, rescued after a catered event or left over after a family feast. Users can either keep the food at home and post an ad offering it to neighbors or can leave the food (with a note listing their name and the date) in a public fridge for anyone to come and enjoy.

Way to take charge, France! Dites non aux gaspillage alimentaire.

-Eva

*The law specifically targets stores that are at least 400m².

National Spotlight: Denmark

Welcome to the inaugural post of my anti-food waste travel guide! Spending Easter weekend in Copenhagen and getting a glimpse into Danish food culture has inspired me to start a new (non-continuous) series of posts highlighting countries and nations taking exemplary measures against food waste. With enough promotion and consumer support, good practices from anywhere in the world can stimulate change in other countries. Since food waste is a global problem, the fight against it requires global effort.

Denmark

Most recent estimate of annual food waste: 700,000 tons, worth 11.6 billion kroner (about $1.7 billion)

CopenhagenThis small Scandinavian kingdom was named the ‘European leader in the fight against food waste’ in 2015. In just five years, Denmark was able to reduce its domestic food waste by 25%, according to the Danish Agricultural & Food Council. This achievement was made possible through efforts by the state, NGOs, and private sector.

Like much of northern Europe, Denmark is strongly committed to recycling. Among the goals set in its 2013 plan ‘Denmark Without Waste – Recycle More, Incinerate Less,’ the government pledged to increase the amount of organic waste recycled from the service sector from 17% to 60% by 2018. Household waste, which includes 260,000 tons of food each year, was also targeted in the report so that at least half would be recycled annually by 2022. To complement these objectives, the country is going to continue to focus on biogas (derived from manure and food waste) as a clean alternative fuel source. Daka Refood, for instance, collects food waste from restaurants, supermarkets, schools, manufacturers, etc. to use directly in animal feed or to convert into biogas and, in the case of used cooking oil, biodiesel. In addition to preventing the CO2 emissions otherwise generated by incineration, biogasification allows nutrients like phosphorous from organic waste to be used in fertilizer.

Another way the Danes encourage eco-friendly waste treatment is through bans and fines on landfilling. The European Environment Agency reported that in 2010 only 4% of Denmark’s waste ended up in landfills!

WeFood DenmarkArguably the most famous Danish food waste-fighting initiative, though, is WeFood, the new so-called social supermarket that deliberately sells products considered unsaleable by mainstream grocers. From ‘expired’ packaged goods to visually-imperfect produce, the perfectly edible food is being sold at discounted prices because it would otherwise be discarded. Naturally, this attracts low-income consumers, but NPR reported that most customers are actually shopping there to make a political statement against food industry wastefulness.

A similar anti-food waste pioneer is Rub & Stub, the restaurant whose menu changes daily based on donated ingredients. The volunteer chefs design meals to use excess food from Food Bank Copenhagen, grocers, farmers, food cooperatives, and bakeries, which accounts for almost one third of the restaurant’s food supply. As in WeFood, the donations are totally safe to eat but have been rejected by mainstream food retail for mainly aesthetic reasons.

Aside from word of mouth, locals as well as tourists in Denmark can find establishments like WeFood and Rub & Stub through YourLocal. The app was developed by two Copenhagen Business School students who wanted to create a platform to show people where they could find surplus food that would be destined for the dumpster. Grocery stores registered with the app simply indicate what products are nearing their sell-by dates and offer them at discounted prices. Released in May 2015, YourLocal has already reached more than 50,000 consumers, is collaborating with over 400 stores, and is spreading from its origin in Copenhagen to other Danish cities.

As a last fun fact, one of Denmark’s most popular desserts, romkugler aka rum truffles, originated as a way to use leftover baked goods! Bakers, concerned that their unsold breads, muffins, or cakes would start to taste stale, combined the leftovers with jam, rum, and chocolate into delicious little balls, typically rolled in chopped nuts or coconut. Check out an easy recipe here.

Well done, Denmark! Sig nej madspild.

-Eva

How Four Questions Can Prevent Restaurant Plate Waste

Let’s start with some numbers: according to a 2013 study by Business for Social Responsibility, at least 84% of restaurant-generated food and drink waste in the USA gets sent to landfills (a measly 1.4% was donated). That is 15.7% of the American food industry’s organic waste. In the UK, WRAP estimates that 22% of the state’s food waste is generated by restaurants, 34% of which is from customer plates. As for China, annual restaurant food waste is equivalent to 10% of national crop production.

Trying to discuss all of the ways that restaurants can cut down their food waste, especially keeping it out of landfills, would look more like a dissertation than a blog post. However, reflecting on my ample experience of eating in restaurants, I have come up with some introductory suggestions for preventing plate waste. As a first step in waste reduction, restaurants should make it their policy to have their servers ask diners these four simple questions:

“Would you like some complimentary bread to accompany your meal?”

restaurant breadRestaurant hygiene regulations state that once food has been served, it can’t be reused. In restaurants that automatically provide diners with free bread (or chips or whatever else), that means the leftovers have to be thrown away. Waiters should ask diners whether they would like bread rather than immediately placing the basket on the table. This question forces the patrons to think, “Do I really want bread? Am I going to eat it all?” Even if the diners opt for the free food, they might specify, “Yes, but only a few slices.” Ideally, not only will there be no wasted bread, but the patrons who save room by skipping bread will be more likely to finish their main course.

Moreover, having to ask for bread will discourage overeating. Many people eat free restaurant bread just because it’s there, but the request acts as a ‘hurdle’ that the diner would have to cross to get that temptation. In a world of more than 1.9 billion overweight adults and 42 million overweight children (source: WHO), every effort to combat unhealthy eating habits is crucial.

“Some more water?”

While most drink refills cost money, many restaurants in the US provide free water*. Some even go so far as to have servers circulate with pitchers and refill patrons’ glasses at no request. I always try to stop servers from refilling my almost-empty glass, and on one occasion, the server worriedly asked me, “Are you sure? I’m supposed to…” The employee seemed scared that he would get in trouble if the manager saw that my glass wasn’t filled to the brim. Instead, diners should be offered a refill so that they have a clear chance to say no.

*expect a future post about varying free water laws across the world

“With everything?” or “Any substitutions?”

Many people are embarrassed to be judged as picky eaters, so they don’t specify their orders. That means that a diner might ask for a Greek salad and leave a pile of sun-dried tomatoes on the plate when (s)he could have easily said, “A Greek salad, but without the sun-dried tomatoes, please.” By inviting the patron to make specifications, however, a waiter offers a judgment-free zone. The diner feels like modifications to the menu are expected rather than inconvenient, and ultimately there is no sad pile of unwanted food scraps on the plate.

“Would you like to box anything?”

restaurant takeoutIf a restaurant were to adopt only one of my suggestions, this one would be the best. ‘Doggy-bagging’ food is a service that not all diners are aware of or that, again, they might feel embarrassed for requesting. Fact is, even the leftover bread mentioned in the first tip can be wrapped up! Sadly, there is no guarantee that the food will get eaten once it’s taken home, since humans can be quite forgetful; but at least it’s a start. The implied encouragement to take food home might offend some people as being ‘judgmental,’ but, frankly, I think that anyone who consciously decides to waste food deserves to be judged.

As this list demonstrates, one of the keys to combatting food waste is acknowledgment and communication of preferences. Servers just assume that patrons want free bread or refills because they haven’t been told otherwise. Restaurants thus perpetuate a culture of wastefulness that relies on the abundance of cheap food and water to please customers rather than just asking them what they really want. Diners have a responsibility as well, though, to consciously make efforts to prevent waste. They- we need to recognize food as valuable, not disposable – contrary to how the spontaneous gratification at restaurants makes it seem.

Food is meant to be eaten, not left on a plate and then thrown in the garbage.

Eva