Article first published in The Guardian Sustainable Business section, September 2106. Read the original article here.
Situated in the run-down district of Lapa, Rio de Janeiro, Refettorio Gastromotiva is the latest venture from three Michelin-starred Italian chef Massimo Bottura, who has partnered with a social enterprise which trains chefs from disadvantaged neighbourhoods across Brazil.
The restaurant, which opened on 9 August, uses surplus food from the Olympic village to feed hungry locals, aided by a collection of superstar chefs. It’s one of a collection of social businesses across the world that are trying to tackle the food waste problem and change attitudes to waste.
The latest statistics paint a bleak picture. A third of all food produced – 1.3bn tonnes – is wasted every year, while 795 million people do not have enough to eat. Nearly half of this waste comes from homes, with the remainder from food production, food retailers and the hospitality sector.
Refettorio Gastromotiva will follow a similar business model to Bottura’s first project, Refettorio Ambrosiano, which launched last year. Ambrosiano provides paid lunches to the public in order to provide free evening meals to local homeless shelters, using donated food from Milan agricultural market and a network of supermarkets, restaurants and schools. So far it has saved 30 tonnes of food and provided 23,000 meals.
Post-Olympics, Refettorio Gastromotiva will do the same. Opening once a week initially, it will use donated waste food from a supermarket chain, fruit and vegetable wholesaler and local organic farmer to cook paid-for lunches, allowing it to provide 70 free evening meals for vulnerable Lapa residents. The kitchen will be staffed by graduates from the social enterprise Gastromotiva’s chef training scheme, who come from some of Rio’s most underprivileged communities.
Attempting to tackle the issue of food waste from the opposite direction, Silo in Brighton was billed as the first “zero-waste” restaurant in the UK and is primarily concerned with designing out food waste.
With a carefully planned, seasonal menu along with a root-to-tip, nose-to-tail ethos of using every available part of each ingredient, sometimes more than once, what’s left over is poured into the hi-tech composter in the corner of the restaurant, which churns out compost that is distributed to suppliers and locals, as well as used by the restaurant to grow its own mushrooms.
Tom Hunt’s Poco cafe bars in London and Bristol also take a zero-waste approach, weighing all of the food waste produced. The Bristol restaurant creates just 20.83kg of food waste a day, equating to around 0.2kg per diner, less than half that produced by the average restaurant diner according to the Sustainable Restaurant Association.
These kind of ventures are changing perceptions of food waste, says Tom Tanner from the Sustainable Restaurant Association: “Consumers have started to see [food waste] as socially and morally inexcusable and economically, businesses can see that it no longer makes sense.” With the global value of wasted food estimated to be $1tn, there is a financial opportunity.
It’s not just restaurants that are involved. Toast Ale, created by Tristram Stuart, food waste activist and founder of food waste charity Feedback, aims to turn some of this waste back into a product that can be sold. Made using one slice of surplus bread per bottle, the 32,000 bottles of ale brewed since launching in January have saved over a tonne of bread.
“In addition to using surplus, we are also raising awareness,” says Zane. “In the UK, 44% of bread produced is never eaten. To solve this, all we need to do is eat (or drink) it.” Toast Ale’s bread is donated by bakeries and sandwich manufacturers who would otherwise have to pay to dispose of the waste. There are plans to expand production to Yorkshire, Cornwall, Bristol, New York and Iceland.
“There is endless innovation happening in this field now,” says Tanner. “What was once seen as a problem is now seen as an opportunity. Even the supermarkets are catching on to the idea that marketed in the right way, what they used to waste, customers will buy.”
Systemic change is still key to tackling food waste on a global level, says professor Tim Lang, from City University of London’s Centre for Food Policy. “What I like is that these ventures are consciousness-raisers, and they are bringing back proper cooking, using all of the plant and animal,” he says. However, the strategy for some time has been that of a circular economy – recycle or reuse – when really what we need, he argues, is to rethink the whole food system from packaging to how we value food.