Chefs and restaurants have long been attuned to the issues of hunger and food insecurity. It’s only recently that the parallel issue of food waste has come into focus. The Wasted! documentary, and the work of a number of NGOs from ReFED to Natural Resources Defense Council have raised awareness of the staggering numbers around food waste.
40% of all food produced in the United States is never eaten.
1 in 8 Americans is food insecure.
Cropland, water, fertilizer, and labor – all precious resources – all went into growing what became that food waste. Chefs and restaurants have seen this impact up close for decades, with the costs impacting their bottom line in waste hauling and food costs.
Ready for the good news? There are lots of ways to start attacking the problem of food waste at a restaurant level. Hopefully you’re already composting and recycling cooking oil. For more ideas, ReFED’s restaurant guide is a good place to start. We’re also seeing more and more innovative solutions pop up at industry conferences and in the trade media. Here are a few thought starters that jump out to us:
Waste Tracking & Analytics
This is one of the hardest to do, but one of the most effective and with high profit potential. Simply measuring the amount of waste not only gives you a yardstick for tracking progress, but also creates awareness among back-of-house staff about how much is wasted every day. And if you’re in a campus or B&I dining hall venue, showing guests how much they’re wasting can be effective, too. Creative solutions for using vegetable and protein trim tend to arise when it’s piling up in front of you!
This is arguably the smartest solution – designing menus to reuse and repurpose as much as possible of every product that comes in the back door. Most large restaurants do this already with SKU rationalization, and this is just taking the concept a little further. If I’m making a dish with broccoli florets, where on the menu can I use the stems? Where can I use the tomatoes that don’t make perfect slices for burgers?
There’s been more and more call for this from foodservice circles of late – asking produce suppliers to give them access to seconds or #2 grade produce. Since most of what ends up on the plate is fully cooked and processed, foodservice doesn’t need the perfect-looking produce you see at Whole Foods. It can be high quality and most of all flavorful, but cosmetic appearance is meaningless. Especially since imperfect produce usually costs less, this is a win-win for everyone.
Our Chef Yury Krasilovsky, created a “zero-waste” chowder as an idea for using vegetable scraps in something elevated and delicious. More on that here!