One-third of the planet’s food goes to waste every year- enough to feed the world’s hungry twice over. This waste isn’t happening in one bulk throw out by some heartless corporation (although those certainly play their part). It’s the plums you throw out at the end of the week (which you meant to eat but then they suddenly went off), and the leftovers you never got around to eating. It’s the offcuts the kitchen couldn’t use, and the produce that went off before it could be useful. Small mistakes, which add up to that incredible amount of waste. It’s not isolated either- the environmental cost in the production and shipping of all that food goes to waste. Today we’re going to chat about what restaurant kitchens can do to reduce their food waste.
Donating leftover food
The most obvious solution is to donate surplus food. There are millions of people who do not have sufficient food worldwide. It doesn’t even have to be that much effort- once every few days (every day would be golden), take your surplus food to your local shelter who will distribute it to the needy. No time for that? There are companies which will come and collect your excess food. A quick google search will indicate who in your area will do that. You can even prepare the food that you’re not going to be able to serve and share it with your staff after a shift one day. It’ll be a fun event and the food won’t go to waste.
You can further reduce waste in your kitchen by clearly labeling the food. The stores will already help you out in this regard- almost all food comes with a ‘best before date’. Just add a larger sticker with the same information so you know which food you can donate before it goes bad. Implementing this system will also allow you to track any food you consistently order which consistently goes off. You can then amend your ordering and save yourself a few bucks; everybody wins.
Reusing leftover food
Another way to reduce waste is to use everything you’ve got. Offal not a big star on your menu? Include it in small innocuous ways to ensure you’re getting the most out of the meat your order. Think out of the box- use excess fat for frying, use duck fat to roast your potatoes (a popular recent trend). Make use of whole animals by means of charcuterie dishes, and using bones and offcuts for stocks and sauces. The same can go for your veggie scraps. Make homemade fruit vinegar out of skin and peelings. Challenge your team to stay creative by coming up with dishes that make use of these leftovers each week. This will raise awareness about waste and allow our team to look at prep differently. Putting in this extra effort will also be a nice source of advertising for your restaurant- catalogue your waste-reducing efforts on a social media account.
Disposal of cooking oils
The chemical structure of oil changes during the process of cooking. Ultimately, it can become dangerous and carcinogenic, which means that pouring used cooking oil down the kitchen sink or dumping it in a container in your refuse bag is not a safe solution. Just like plastic and other recyclables, the product will go to waste and unnecessarily contribute to already-heaving landfill sites.
Companies like Scope Oils are educating the community on ways to manage the disposal of cooking oil, and about the benefits of using biodiesel instead of normal fossil fuels. Scope Oils collects oil-free of charge and actively promotes the safe recycling of waste products. Since 2009, the company has helped recycle thousands of litres of used cooking oil into biodiesel and other industrial products in order to lessen carbon emissions and create a smaller carbon footprint.
You can compost many leftovers that you don’t use. It doesn’t just have to be veggies either. Coffee grounds and eggshells are great for feeding worms which will improve the quality of your soil. Use the compost to fuel your own veggie garden, and bring the waste reduction full circle by using your own farm grown ingredients (which will also sound great on your menu). The students here at Hurst Campus are taught how to work and cook with veggies grown in our own vegetable garden. It’s important to teach the next generation of chefs the importance of sustainability and farm fresh ingredients. No space for a garden? Sell your compost. The latest trend for buying local will add a folksy charm encouraging local gardeners to purchase your compost (or even, give it away- you don’t have to pay waste removal fees after all).
Often sustainability issues like not wasting food are pushed aside in a kitchen facing larger, more pressing issues. Be the restaurant that leads by example and take into account by trying to reduce food waste.