By Winifred Adeyemi, Africa Seen & Heard
The third annual Food Waste Action Week takes place from 6th – 12th March 2023.
Year on year, the campaign which aims to halve food waste by 2030 is growing internationally. It’s 2023 theme ‘Win. Don’t Bin.’ struck a culturally resonant chord with AFRICA: Seen & Heard’s growing focus on sustainability, cultural diplomacy and food security.
Food waste takes place throughout all the processes of food production from cultivation to consumption. Across the global foodservice industry, the reasons for food waste can vary from inadequate climate control, mold and pests to overbuying stock, overfilling plates and the intentional discarding of imperfect vegetables and daily-baked bread.
Wasted food too often ends up in landfills. It decomposes slowly, without oxygen and releases harmful greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that contribute to global warming. Globally, around one third of the food we produce is discarded uneaten.
Our food waste generates around 8-10% of greenhouse gas emissions.
If it were a nation in its own right, global food waste’s carbon footprint would rank third behind the USA and China.
With this in mind, Food Waste Action Week provides foodservice providers around the world with a unique opportunity to integrate environmental responsibility, culinary innovation and social value into their business models.
Championing action on food waste can also add value to the world’s 15 official government-sponsored gastrodiplomacy programmes and serve as a cornerstone for future national programmes.
Around the world, government ministries, tourist boards and travelers agree that “the easiest way to win hearts and minds is through the stomach”.
Thailand is perhaps the most successful flag-bearer of gastrodiplomacy, a tool of cultural diplomacy that uses food and cuisine to develop economic opportunities and intangible heritage. Gastrodiplomacy programming also supports partnerships for chefs, food products, culture and community.
Since the Royal Thai Government launched the “Global Thai” campaign in 2002, it has exceeded its objective to increase the number of Thai restaurants worldwide. The Department of International Trade Promotion’s public relations campaign ensured traditional Thai dishes such as Pad Thai, Tom Yum Goong and Gaeng Deng became recognisable internationally.
The global advance of Thai restaurants has created national brand identity, cultural appreciation and promoted international tourism to Thailand.
Market Thai, a local dining institution in Notting Hill, West London, since 1998 is committed to tackling food waste.
The chef cooks each dish to order to minimise food waste. Cancelled orders are given to staff to take home rather than thrown away. Thai culture is innately anti food-waste. Rice is considered sacred with each grain having a divine element within it, so grains aren’t left on a Thai diner’s plate.
Over the delectable Slow Cooked Beef Massaman Curry and Sticky Rice, I discussed sustainability and the medicinal properties of Thai spices with owner Jittinee Sakphattanakul and a respected Elder picking up her off-menu treat.
Jittinee said: “If we have any leftover vegetables, we keep it to make soup. We keep the onion skins and cook with the slow-cooked beef for three or four hours and then with coconut. Peeled ginger we keep and use to slow cook beef and pork.”
Our cultural understanding and culinary exchange continued as I drew a comparison between the use of coconut milk and the similar flavour profile between Thai kaeng curries and some of the Aguda dishes of Lagos Island, Nigeria.
Jittinee added: “We have a lot of Nigerian customers. From Nigeria and Ghana, a lot of them live around and eat here.”
Across town in Peckham, sisters Jess and Jo Edun live and work by the motto: “Chop life, before life chops you.” They are flamboyantly flying the flag for Nigerian cuisine with a uniquely British twist at their restaurant The Flygerians, within The Peckham Palms, London’s first Black women-led business hub.
In Nigeria, to “chop life” is to squeeze every last drop of joy out of life’s pleasure. As a fellow British-Nigerian, I can attest that chopping life is at its best when eating jollof rice. Jo agreed, particularly when asked if food waste inspired the innovation of new dishes:
“It actually has, as a lot of our menu crosses over and we change a lot of food. In terms of food waste, we tried to cook just one type of rice. We looked at the best sellers and jollof rice was always the best seller. Fried rice was on the menu before, but it wasn’t our biggest seller.
“So, you know what, let’s just focus on one rice dish and master it, add the toppings on – spinach, suya, chicken, beef whatever you like. We’ve got a small tailored menu to minimise food waste but also, we’ve just chosen the finest of the finest and stuff that’s less perishable and will last a bit longer.”
I enlightened Jo on the potential of overripe plantain skins when developing new menu items and production processes. In the ASH Lab, I have transformed them to develop a variety of concepts from a fragrant vinaigrette to a crispy vegan ‘bacon’. “That’s really quite cool, I’ve never actually seen that,” said Jo. When the plantain gets too ripe to fry for the serving plate, we make them into fritters. We’ve made waffles before in the past.”
Whilst managing food waste can spark forward-thinking restaurant concepts and menu items, purchasing only as much as is needed is best as restaurant disposal costs will be significantly reduced.
REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE – The Flygerians are committed to reducing food waste and package their take-away food in biodegradable containers. Image © The Flygerians.
The Flygerians are food waste action champions and keen to achieve the Food Made Good Standard.
“We don’t really waste food. We’ve got a Zero Waste policy really. We cook until we sell out. We kind of gauge how much we roughly sell. If we’ve got a big event booked in, we normally prepare a plan for that. Our waste is quite minimal to be honest. No food goes to waste. We have a big family of eight as well. Whatever we don’t sell we give it to the staff. There are also a lot of homeless people around the Peckham area who we give food to. On a Saturday when we’re closed until Tuesday, we normally just give the food away.”
Tourists from as far afield as the Czech Republic and a large local Korean community make the effort to seek out a taste of Nigeria.
When it comes to visiting the motherland of the dishes they enjoy, Jo says: “They’re a bit apprehensive because we haven’t really opened the [tourism] market. Some of them have already been. There are a lot of developers and engineers that come along. Some of them have worked there, some of them are interested in going to Nigeria. They want to know more about Nigerian culture. They’re really keen.”
Food Waste Action Week is the perfect time for nations to begin working more closely with their foodservice providers in a collaborative strategy that can promote nation brand, develop their hospitality and tourism sectors and also tackle issues including hunger and food security.
The week also provides scope for chefs and restaurateurs of different heritages to exchange food waste hacks, recipes and co-design smart menu planning principles. They can collectively champion the diversity of national cuisines and innovate global fusion cuisines that combine and celebrate elements of different culinary traditions, while keeping food on the plate and out of the bin.
There are many fresh strategies that can support activity to realise UN Sustainable Development Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production such as:
- Facilitating foodservice provider donations of excess food to organisations and sites that provide hunger relief including soup kitchens, food banks and refugee centres
- Supporting local authority collection of restaurant food waste, processing to compost, fertilizer or animal feed for the agricultural sector
- Planning long term facilities that convert food waste to industrial use including bioenergy and bioplastics.
We have heard first-hand how simple it is for every global foodservice provider with a commitment to food waste action to play their part.
No matter where a restaurant is in the world or the roots of its culinary culture, it is possible to employ traditional and modern methods to tackle food waste.
As well as acting as ambassadors for their food cultures and translating them to new market bases, restaurateurs can play an integral role in educating customers on food waste. A restaurant’s ingenuity will inspire other chefs and businesses to develop new ideas, share solutions and implement change.
Rather than feed global warming, why not let your food waste fuel culinary innovation? Forward-thinking foodservice providers make sustainable decisions that develop new tastes, set trends and preserve our planet one plate at a time, every week of the year.
Are you ready to take your first steps towards a better and less wasteful future?
THE MARKET THAI – First Floor, Entrance is on, 240 Portobello Rd, Lancaster Rd, London W11 1LL. Website: https://themarketthai.com/
THE FLYGERIANS – Peckham Palms, 14 Bournemouth Close, London SE15 4PB. Website: https://www.theflygerians.com/ @theflygerians