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The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization declared that roughly one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, which amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year. The average Canadian consumer throws out an estimated 170 kilograms of food per year, which comes up to 40% of what they buy. The numbers are even worse for Americans at 415 kilograms, and 249 kilograms for Mexicans. These numbers are tremendous, and they only involve the average household… Can you imagine what’s going on in restaurants? As restaurateurs, it’s important that we change our behaviour and apply achievable goals in the way we deal with food.
In order to do so, let’s talk about some things we can do to reduce food waste in our restaurants. In this text, we’ll go over these following strategies: choosing the right supplier, inspiring yourself from some of the industry’s biggest names, and taking small steps towards big changes.
1. Choosing the right suppliers
Restaurants have the freedom to choose the suppliers with whom they want to do business. This is when they can be creative not only to save on their food cost but also to favor suppliers who respect the food they sell to their customers. For fruits and vegetables, prioritize local farms and companies. You’ll always be able to get fresh produce from companies right near you if you adapt your menu to the seasons. This will be good for your finances, as well as the quality of your plates. Another idea is to work with companies like Perfectly Imperfect Produce, that sell products with small defects that would otherwise have been found in the trash can. These fruits and veggies may be too small, too big or uneven at times, but they still have the same freshness and taste as category 1 vegetables.
If a restaurant serves meat, they can favor relationships with suppliers who respect the animal and use it in full. You can buy whole animals and hire employees who have experience in the butchery, ensuring that all parts are used, even the skin and bones for broths, etc. It is by using every part of the meat that we respect the animal and that we avoid waste. Restaurant customers are getting more and more curious and knowledgeable so this is your chance to show them some really unique stuff!
2. Inspiring yourself from some of the industry’s biggest names
It’s no mystery that chefs are generally very passionate about their profession and anything that has to do with food. We’re particularly happy to see that some of the best and most recognized chefs are applying that passion in the battle against food waste. Let’s talk about big industry names who are fighting to make a difference.
It’s a potato that is much better than a truffle” A Potato Waiting to Become a Truffle (2010)
Pretty much everybody in the restaurant world knows that renowned chef Massimo Bottura has an immense passion for the topic of food waste. He works very hard at reducing his own consumption, but also to educate people on the subject. In an interview for The World’s 50 Best, Mr Bottura said: “I believe that at this level, we have a big responsibility to show the young generation the right approach for the future. In addition to many projects and strategies used in his kitchen to avoid food waste, the chef has also opened refettorios, approaching the style of soup kitchens. It was in 2015 that he invited some of the world’s most famous chefs, including René Redzepi and Daniel Humm to come cook with him in an abandoned theater, using the 15 tons of food waste from the Milan Expo to create more than 10 000 meals. This pop-up project has now spread across the world from Milan to Rio and London, to name a few, and until today, he continues to prepare meals from food deemed unsaleable along with top international chefs. In this way, he managed to feed thousands of people in need, rather than having tons of food going in the trash.
We must fight those who claim that only the noble parts of products deserve to be considered and worked, sending everything else to limbo
The world-famous chef Thierry Marx also aims to raise awareness in the world against food waste. He, along with 30 French chefs including Régis Marcon and Sébastien Bras, wrote an anti-waste cookbook, with the idea of relearning to cook and consume each ingredient. He also talks about a chef’s daily life and how to make enlightened choices in the way we manage a kitchen. “Cooking without loss, buying the right quantities, thinking about the seasons, serving the right portions are part of our job as a cook, it’s in our genes”‘, he says.
In addition, Mr Marx also participates in La Grande Tablée, organized by the Tablée des Chefs, with the mission to fight against food waste in addition to feeding families in need, and educate disadvantaged children towards healthy choices. The chef relentlessly aims to raise awareness against food waste and even goes so far as considering himself an activist in the matter.
Waste nothing is the catalyst to our cuisine at Noma
René Redzepi is one of the best-known chefs in the world and his restaurant Noma qualified as the number 1 restaurant more than once in The World’s 50 Best. It is with great luck for food waste activists that he happens to be a big player in this field. The matter of food waste is so important to him that he even claims that the world’s future leaders should learn about sustainability the same way they are taught finance.
At Noma, in addition to making full use of his products, including scraps, René Redzepi has implemented a compost system that he describes as zero-waste and which can reduce food waste up to 90 percent. In an interview with Food and Wine Gazette, Chef Redzepi said that 40% of all the food that is produced is wasted, and he claims this is because of people’s obsession with beauty, and they dare not use a product just because it has a small flaw. Rather, he says, we must learn to honor this product, and make it spectacular. This is the true job of a chef.
Redzepi only uses local products. Most of them are found a few kilometers from his restaurant and they are extremely fresh and of top quality. If you want to do like René and deal with smaller organizations, ensure they meet all norms and quality standards. Some ways to do this is to have trusting relationships, being sufficiently informed about their procedures and doing regular follow-ups with them.
Montreal chef Charles-Antoine Crête has been involved in the topic of food waste for a while now. Today owner of Montreal Plaza, Foodchain and Charles-Antoine Crête & Cheryl Johnson, the former chef of the reputable Montreal Toqué restaurant! and Brasserie T! makes sure to always use the products in their entirety, even the parts that many would qualify as waste. Mr. Crête believes that it is out of laziness and lack of imagination that producers, distributors and cooks waste so much. It’s even since his time at Toqué! that he began to use techniques that ensured that the product was used from A to Z. For example, he’ll serve fried asparagus peels and as well as reduce the skin and seeds of a tomato to make a caramel. Talk about creativity.
These chefs, even if they actively participate in the fight against food waste, all believe that it is also as important to raise awareness and especially to teach future generations the importance of the subject. It is in campaigns, in education and even in recipes that they encourage everyone to be part of the movement. It is by showing creativity and research that we see the birth of extraordinary dishes. Just type “recipes against food waste” in a search engine and thousands of recipes will turn up to inspire you.
By maximizing the use of food and avoiding waste, restaurateurs can not only participate in the fight against food waste but can also benefit from it financially. Less food wasted means less food to buy, which puts more money in the pockets!
3. Taking small steps towards big changes
Even though we just spoke about some huge key players in the restaurant industry, it’s important we note that whatever type of restaurateur you are, you too, can make a difference. You don’t need to take media-worthy steps to improve your food waste situation.
Here are some actions which do not require major commitments but which can bring great improvements.
- Create intelligent systems for your ordering and inventory processes.
- Educate yourself on optimal storing temperatures and methods for each product.
- Use strategies like France, which strongly encourages diners to pack up and bring back unfinished food. Prioritize compostable and biodegradable packaging for takeaways.
- Prioritize local suppliers to prevent certain products from deteriorating during the journey. This also allows you to have a closer eye on their production techniques and ensures that they follow industry standards. As mentioned above, the choice of suppliers is an important step in the development of your food offer.
It is by discussing the suppliers, the activists and the recommendations that we were able to see that the subject of food waste is a topical one and that it is essential that we know it. Even though it will not happen overnight, there are some very easy and simple ways to decrease this immense number of wasted food which stands at 1.3 billion tonnes. The restaurant industry certainly has its part to do in raising awareness as well as actions to be taken. Fortunately, it is reassuring to see that there are people who are working hard in the fight against food waste.