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Joi Sears headshot

Food Waste is the New Haute Cuisine

Words by Joi Sears

Almost half of the world’s food is thrown away every year, while over 800 million people go hungry. In America, our trash cans eat better than 25 percent of the world’s children. Food waste is one of the most pressing social and environmental justice issues of our time, and more than just dumpster-divers are jumping on the bandwagon.

All across the world, food waste experiments are emerging. From pop-up restaurants like INSTOCK in Amsterdam to WastED in New York, food waste is being rescued from local grocery stores and given the celebrity treatment. Even newspapers are serving up food waste recipes to the masses. Food waste is the cause du jour, and a growing number of restaurants and food-preneurs are following the trend.

Rude Food

One catering service in Malmö, Sweden, is taking it one step further. Rude Food is an all-volunteer, mostly vegan, food waste pop-up kitchen and catering service. Instead of just using leftovers, Rude Food focuses on all kinds of food waste. They intervene at the farming, production, wholesale and retail levels. They identify food wastage points and actively recirculate the excess through upscale pop-up dining events and catering.

Rude Food Malmö was conceived by Swedish restaurant, Tapori Tiffins. The service started with a weekend brunch for mostly friends and local dumpster-divers, but it wasn’t long before its eclectic menu got the attention of a growing community of foodies. Once the food waste brunches proved to be a success, the service expanded to catering for outside organizations like city agencies and nonprofits.

Not only is cooking with food waste kind to the planet, but it's also kind to the pockets. Unlike most restaurants that spent upwards of 25 percent of their budget on food, Rude Food spends a mere 5 percent. In addition to the brunch, pop-up restaurant and catering service, Rude Food also offers workshops and a collection of products made from organic food waste.

Why waste?

Over 1.5 billion tons of food produced for consumption gets lost or wasted globally every year. With simultaneous global food shortages and the wasteful overproduction of crops, it is clear that the entire food system is in need of a drastic overhaul. Due to excessive food control laws and the inaccessibility to food that is being thrown away, food waste occurs along the entire spectrum.

Food waste begins at the initial point of agricultural production and spans all the way to final household consumption. While in low-income countries food is mostly lost during production, in industrialized countries food gets lost when supply exceeds the demand. Agricultural food loss is often due to the safety measures farmers take to ensure there will be no shortage of crops in case of unforeseen weather or pest attacks. However, this precaution often leads to a surplus of crops in which the majority goes to waste.

Many times, it is purely the aesthetic or physical defects of the produce that cause it to be thrown away. This focus on the physical appearance of food, regardless of quality, begins at the farm. On some farms, produce is run through a photographic sensor machine that can detect
if a carrot is orange enough or straight enough, and if not -- immediately discards it. The link between quality and appearance continues at the supermarket. Customers choose the most attractive produce, and the more blemished produce gets thrown away.

Consumer attitudes and food innovations

Our obsession with fully-stocked shelves and having an endlessly diverse array of products is the reason for much food waste. Consumers expect store shelves to be well filled, and food products close to their expiration date are often ignored. According to a report by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, “abundance and consumer attitudes lead to high food waste in industrialized countries" but "perhaps one of the most important reasons for food waste at the consumption level in rich countries is that people simply can afford to waste food.”

We are in dire need of a shift in attitude and policy when it comes to food waste. This means creating community-based initiatives which combat food waste, developing markets for products which have been labeled as “sub-standard,” and arranging for the collection, sale and use of food that is still safe for consumption on a commercial scale.

A great example of this is PareUp, an app which connects retailers that are throwing away food with customers who may want to buy that food at a discounted rate. By offering an incentive for both retailers and customers, it provides businesses with a more profitable alternative to throwing food away, reduces food waste and creates a positive impact on the environment.

CropMobster leverages social media to spread the word about local food excess and surplus from any supplier in the food chain. It then allows community members to access the excess goods through an online marketplace. From pop-up restaurants and apps to catering, we are likely to see an influx of innovative initiatives which combat food waste in the coming years.

Good food is a terrible thing to waste.

Image credit: INSTOCKRude Food, PareUp

Joi Sears headshotJoi Sears

Joi M. Sears is the Founder and Creative Director of Free People International, a social enterprise which specializes in offering creative solutions to the world's biggest social, environmental and economic challenges through the arts, design thinking and social innovation.

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