The food industry has long been a major player in the annual wastage of perfectly edible foods. According to this WRAP report, a total of 3,415,000 tonnes of waste is disposed by the food sector every year in the UK alone...

The food industry has long been a major player in the annual wastage of perfectly edible foods. According to this WRAP report, a total of 3,415,000 tonnes of waste is disposed by the food sector every year in the UK alone; 600,000 tonnes of which is food waste. The sector produces an astronomical 0.4 million tonnes of avoidable food waste per year. That’s a third of all food produced in the UK currently going to waste.

Globally, 1.3 million tons of food are lost or wasted each year; that’s several times more food than would be needed to make sure every hungry person on the planet is fed.

Not only is this profoundly wasteful, it is also costing the sector big bucks. From a £100 spend, £20 is going straight into the bin. That’s not sound economics. Food waste costs 50p per cover, which equates to £20,000 of lost earnings per year for the average business, and a whopping £2.5 billion being lost to the UK hospitality industry collectively each year, according to The Caterer.


A change of tack

High-end restaurants can be some of the most prolific wasters, as each specimen has to be considered perfect. According to this Big Hospitality article, for every meal eaten in a restaurant, a mammoth 500g of waste is produced, through food diners leave on the plate, preparation, and spoilage. But some of the world’s biggest names in the kitchen are rewriting our approach to the value of food, in order to tackle food waste, to encourage food sustainability and, importantly, to pioneer food diversity and innovation.


The big names changing the game

Big culinary superstars like Modena’s Massimo Bottura, founder of the three Michelin starred Osteria Francescana, New York proprietor of Blue Hills Farm Dan Barber, and the UK’s own Skye Gyngell, of Spring, Somerset House, are just three in a wealth of chefs committing to making great food without a heavy environmental impact. Bottura’s Food for Soul, to feed the poor and cut food waste, has now spread from Refettorio Ambrosiano in Milan to London’s Earl’s Court.

At Skye Gyngell’s beautiful restaurant Spring, a feat of elegance, light and beauty, she pioneered a menu called Scratch. This pre-theatre menu costs £20 for three courses, and utilises kitchen ‘waste’ to create wholesome, satisfying dishes, which are not at odds but stand up proud in these beautiful surroundings.

As Dan Barber of Blue Hill, NYC told WWF, in an interview, we need to change our language. If it’s labelled as ‘junk’, or ‘waste’ food, we are never going to get to a stage where it commands respect. So often, this ‘waste’ is perfectly good food, whether slightly oddly shaped fresh fruit and vegetables, unlikely cuts of meat or leftovers from the preparation of another dish. “Many of the items that we consider “waste” are culinary staples in other cultures”, because people have found a way to make them delicious through good cooking”, he told WWF. “Take something like coq au vin, originally made from a rooster that tastes like wood unless it’s cooked down for hours in oxidized wine. You’ll notice they don’t call it “waste chicken”—instead they turned it into a coveted dish.”

Dan also suggests the food industry working collectively, to see the opportunity provided in other areas – one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, as the saying goes. “We need to “stop thinking of our food system in silos”, he went on, and “start looking at the byproducts of one industry as the ingredients for another” – spent brewer’s grain going to bakeries, and yeast coming back, for example.


Leeds’ part to play

Leeds was the proud pioneer of The Real Junk Food Project network, a not for profit Community Interest Company who address the waste in food production, distribution and sale.

They deliver food to 15,000 children and their families around Leeds and Bradford, and support Fuel for School to provide education about food and sustainability in school. They also operate Sharehouse, a friendly, pay-as-you-feel supermarket, support holiday hunger programmes across Leeds, supply other Real Junk Food PRojects and Pay-as-you-Feel cafes across Leeds, run environmentally friendly catering, and operate a weekly Freegan Box Project, providing varied food boxes catering to four people.

Leeds Indie Food Festival has long been aware of the issues around food waste in the industry, and has supported pioneering events aiming to be zero-waste, or highlighting food sustainability issues to foodies around the city. The launch of a Patrons programme this year will continue to support pioneering innovators, year-round, with sustainability initiatives.

The city’s independent scene has generally bought-in to the importance of sustainability. As well as staff, customers see the importance of waste management, food chain transparency, and minimising carelessness. When consumers insist upon it, it becomes important for big suppliers – and that is still the way to effect large-scale change. But whilst the independents work towards sustainability and consciously consider their environmental impact, Leeds will be working towards being a positive force in the fight against prolific wastefulness in the hospitality sector.