Going to war on restaurant food waste

Watching Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s War on Waste on the BBC last moth  it was difficult not to be left with a sense of dread. How is it possible that in a country where 13 million people are struggling to put food on the table, we waste a third of what’s produced?

And with Christmas fast approaching, a time when generosity of spirit tends to spill over into mountains of waste, we’d urge you to catch up with the programmes now. After all, you don’t want to contribute to the absolutely horrific 2 million turkeys, 5 million Christmas puddings and 74 million mince pies that UK households throw out each year.

Hugh’s main target was the giant retailers, but he also paid a visit to KFC where he discovered that the ubiquitous fried chicken restaurant chain rears, cooks and bins more than 1 million birds every year. Truly staggering. And the Great British public also figured in Hugh’s cross hairs. 

Then there was the parsnip farmer, binning tonnes of their crop every week because they didn’t meet Morrisons’ exacting standards of size and shape.

Not surprisingly the nation has been outraged.

The programme did contain some great little nuggets of good news. Under some pressure from Hugh, KFC did pledge that by the end of 2016 at least half of its restaurants will be set up to send their waste (we prefer to call it surplus) chicken to local charities where it can be used to feed people in need. And the major supermarkets responded one by one with announcements about new food waste reduction initiatives they are implementing.

Hugh isn’t the only Food Made Good chef to take to the airwaves recently in a bid to beat food waste. Tom Hunt, chef and founder of Poco as well as author of the Natural Cook: Eating the Seasons from Root to Fruit, appeared on BBC Radio 5 live as part of a half hour discussion. Tom was on hand to pass on top tips for listeners to help them reduce the amount they throw away. You can listen here from two hours 40 minutes in.

Ever since we launched five years ago, we’ve been working flat out to shrink the contents of the hospitality sector’s bin. The most recent figures suggest it weighed in just shy of a staggering 1m tonnes. The equivalent of one in six of the eight billion meals we eat out is wasted. Ouch! That’s not acceptable in any way – socially, environmentally or economically.

And we’re really pleased to say that there are fantastic examples of restaurants, pubs, cafés and hotels up and down the country that share the view that all food is too good to waste. Between them they’ve reconfigured their menus, changed the way they run their kitchens, developed new recipes and bought into some brilliantly innovative ways of using up things that genuinely could not be used for human consumption.

Take coffee for example. Millions can’t start the day without one, but who gives any thought to the 500,000 tonnes of granules that all those lovely cappuccinos and lattes produce.

Just as Hugh amazed a group of recycling sceptics with the many uses of old plastic bottles and tin cans, we never cease to be bowled over by the range of incredible uses to which seemingly defunct food can be put. What can you do with old coffee grounds – beyond popping them on your plants?

Well how about using them to grow mushrooms? That’s what Food Made Good Three Star group Boston Tea Party, has been doing – sending its grounds to Dartmoor Prison where inmates carefully nurture their mushroom crop, before sending them back to Bristol for BTP customers to enjoy.

The coffee making process only uses a fraction of the bean’s natural oil. So hey presto, some clever ex-architecture students happened on the idea of collecting coffee waste and turning it into biofuel and biomass pellets. A whole new meaning to the country being powered by coffee. Congratulations bio-bean.

After a couple of coffees you’re probably up and about and on your feet. But if you’re moved to sit down, it could be a on a chair – yes you guessed it – made out of coffee grounds. Arbor Restaurant in Bournemouth sent its grounds to be made into furniture – rather than see them wasted.

And that’s not the end of it, by any means. No chef worth their salt would want to see anything wasted – certainly not a Food Made Good chef. And of those that really stand out for their creativity, look no further than the team at The Roebuck in South London where customers can feast on potato peel soup, mebrillo made from trimmings produced in the making of their apple crumble and jams created using pectin from rescued lemon pips.

And what better way to use up a croissant that would otherwise end up in the bin, that to turn it into bread and butter pudding as the team at The Imperial in West London discovered.

But the responsibility doesn’t all lie in the hands of the chef. With a third of all restaurant food waste coming from diners’ plates, have a think about how you can make a difference too – ordering a little less, asking for a smaller portion, or requesting a doggy bag – especially if you’re one of the 35% of us considering eating out on Christmas Day.

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