Waste not, want not: making the most of discarded food

Elsa Anderling on a growing movement that aims to end the issue of food waste

“If you don’t finish your dinner, you won’t get any dessert”. A sentence many of us recall hearing at the dinner table as a kid. A sentence that most of the time meant empty threats – the unfinished stew ended up in the bin eventually anyway, and we got our dessert. Back then it was an issue that had more to do with table manners, and showing your parents respect, than anything else.

A decade or two later, the issues of global warming and climate change have never been as urgent – with sea levels rising, hurricanes growing in strength – and a new president of the United States who won’t acknowledge that any of it is real.

Although the phenomenon has been known for quite some time already, today the matter is hotter than ever – literally – with 16-year-olds suing the US government for failing to prevent climate change, stars like Leonardo DiCaprio spending the last three years of his career making a global warming documentary – and with global temperatures hitting a record high for the third year straight in 2016.

There are many ways to attack the issue – cuts in the meat industry, electrical cars and supporting or not supporting the right companies, are just a few examples. Another approach, however, is the idea of waste food cooking – a phenomenon that has been booming during the last year.


One third of all food produced for human consumption, or in more exact numbers – 1.3 billion tons – ends up in the bin every year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Except the moral and economic issues relating to food waste, it is also a big environmental concern. When food decomposes in landfills, methane is released – a green house gas that is 27 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research revealed in 2016 that if food was distributed and used efficiently, around 14 % of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture could be prevented.

Chefs, restaurants and organizations worldwide have put their foot down and started collecting the foods that otherwise would have been going to trash, to make an attempt to get creative with it instead. And the menu is diverse - you could be served anything from bull’s testicles, to flatbread made out of coffee grounds, to paella made of expired sardines. The most common kind of food to go to waste, however, is vegetables and fruit.

Food waste restaurants have opened in countries all over the world during the last couple of years – Denmark, Scotland, England and the US are just some of them, according to ‘Eat The Globe’, a “foodie” platform online.

According to ‘Foodtank’ - a non-profit organization working with sustainable solutions - at least 58 establishments spread out in countries like Australia, Italy, Germany, Canada, the US and Switzerland – are currently working with the specific, mutual, goal to reduce food waste world wide.

Making use of the food waste will not only help control the over production of food and the increasing consuming of it, it will also help fight poverty and hunger. Last year the senate in France voted in a law banning French supermarkets from throwing away or spoiling unsold food, now they are instead legally bound to donate it to charities and food banks. If they fail to do so, a fine of up to €3750 will be enforced.

Only in Ireland, five million tons of food is being wasted from businesses and homes each year – all while 10 per cent of the population are facing poverty everyday, according to Voice - an Irish environmental charity.

One of the world’s leading chefs, Italian Massimo Bottura and his volunteers, were providing 108 free dinners made from food waste during last year’s Olympics, for the homeless of Rio de Janeiro. Bottura, whose restaurant Modena was recently named the world’s best eatery, told The New York Times that he wanted to give hope to people who have lost all hope: “I thought, this is an opportunity to do something that can make a difference.”

A good example was also set during a United Nations conference, when 30 world leaders at the United Nations were served a lunch made from vegetable scraps, rejected fruit and other food waste, after announcing its Sustainable Development Goals for 2015.

The waste cooking movement kicked off with a bang this year, when awarded chef Dan Barber announced his new project – a popup restaurant in London called WastED, converting food waste into affordable sharing dishes. Some of the big names recruited to work alongside Barber, to raise awareness of food waste, are Gordon Ramsey and Clare Smyth. “I am in favour of expanding the definition of what is waste food,” Barber said.

In a few years, when it’s time for the next generation to take over the dinner cooking for their kids,  the same exchange of empty dessert threats might not be tossed around the dinner table anymore. They might, by then, have been replaced with newly discovered ways of collecting and sharing waste food instead of throwing it away.

According to chef Massimo Bottura, social responsibility is on the cards for the upcoming year, and a culinary scene where chefs become leaders in their community: “The food trend for 2017 is not an ingredient but an attitude”.