Yesterday morning in the shower, my thoughts turned to food waste in the restaurant industry. Perhaps a few months ago, I heard a segment on NPR about this particular topic (American Wasteland author interview). Yesterday my thoughts turned to how that particular impediment to sustainability could be overcome.
In order to make the restaurant industry truly sustainable, there would have to be some major ideological changes in the attitudes of consumers and professionals. There is often limited motivation for sustainable practices, particularly since there is the perception that they are expensive (at least in terms of initial cost) or time-consuming.
So let’s just assume for a moment that this paradigm shift is possible. What would need to happen?
Professionals would need to change food management and waste reduction techniques to practices that encourage the reduction and reuse of food scraps. While admittedly time-consuming, many of the possibilities are money-saving opportunities. Let’s look at this using the long-lived “reduce, reuse, recycle” slogan of sustainability movements.
– Reduce. Reduction in the amount of food wasted (like Mario Batali’s restaurant, Lupa Osteria Romana) is generally better for the environment, but it has the added benefit of drawing attention to the efficient use of food- which in turn leads to more conscientious use of ingredients by those in the kitchen. This lowers overall food cost for restaurants! Finding ways to use products “head-to-tail” ultimately is a huge money saver, and the parts that are often thrown a away have the potential to bring great flavor. Consumers should encourage their restaurants to engage in these practices to promote change.
– Reuse. Reusing food is perhaps the most challenging because of the consumer mindset that rejects the idea of “reusing” food. This isn’t to say that scraps and overcooked food should be served at a restaurants like a normal meal. They shouldn’t, simply because people are expecting and paying for a high level of quality. Food that does not pass at the expediter or that is extra during prep could potentially be sold in a second market, however. This would be at a discounted price, but any money and use for scraps is a huge profit compared to throwing it away! Other options include donating food to those in need. This may require some manpower to sort through unused food and food products, but it certainly seems worthwhile.
Now, what could we do about all of those unused bits of food on a customer’s plate? Not much without violating health codes. But customers could help change attitudes by encouraging appropriate portioning in restaurants and/or giving away leftovers that won’t be eaten to hungry people or animals.
I think this part of be chain has the biggest potential for impact.
– Recycle. Composting in restaurants. In many cities, there are groups who are encouraging and aiding in the process of urban composting. Restaurants who don’t feel able to compost on their own can connect to these groups for assistance and ideas. Compositing encourages natural biodegrading of materials and cuts down on food products in landfills.
(for more benefits, check out the EPA’s list: EPA- food waste composting)