Thursday, March 26, 2009

Food Waste is a Blight - for Producers and Users

A while back I published a blog about food waste and the enormous lost cost of all that waste [February 26, 2009].

Lo and behold, figures for Australia have come to light today. This waste is $5.3 billion per year. Holy Toledo.........that is a big bucket of $$. What do you waste? Do you compost your organic waste? Use the leftovers? If not why not?


Australians bin $5.3 billion of food each year

Australians love their food. Strangely enough, we also love throwing it out. According to a 2005 study by the Australia Institute, Australians bin a staggering $5.3 billion of food a year, including $630 million of uneaten takeaway, $876 million of leftovers and $241 million of frozen food.
In my mother's day, that would have made an awful lot of bubble'n'squeak.

It seems in the 21st century, though, we can imagine no better use for this food than as landfill.

"When people or restaurants throw away their food, they also waste all the resources, fuel and energy that went into getting that food from paddock to plate," chef Kylie Kwong says. "I use a lot of rice in my cooking but I need to be careful with how much I cook, because if I throw out a kilo of white rice, I'm also wasting the 2385 litres of water that it took to grow that rice."

If it makes you feel any better, Australians are hardly alone.

The British chuck out 15.7 million tonnes of food annually while, in the US, more than $100 billion of food goes to landfill every year. US food blogger Jonathan Bloom describes this as a double disaster, since food rotting in landfill is a major producer of methane, a greenhouse gas scientists estimate to be 20 times more damaging than carbon dioxide.

So what to do? In the US, food chain TGI Friday's has responded with the unthinkable - cutting back on portion sizes. New York's Hayashi Ya Japanese restaurant has even introduced a gluttony surcharge, with customers paying 3pc extra for not finishing their food.

Australian restaurants have yet to be so bold but the local industry has nevertheless made great leaps since the 1980s, when greenwaste recycling was unheard of. "Back then, only the very biggest businesses recycled anything," says John Hart, chief executive of Restaurants and Catering Australia. "And even then, it was just the basic stuff like paper and glass." Last year, Hart unveiled Green Table Australia, a nationwide scheme intended to help restaurants and catering businesses lower their environmental footprints by, among other things, a smarter approach to food waste. "Where there are clusters of food businesses, say, in a mall, we are trying to get them to share greenwaste disposal by putting their scraps into a Biobin that turns it all into compost," Hart says.

Some chefs, though, such as Detlef Haupt, are attacking the problem from the other end. As the executive chef at the Sydney Convention Centre, Haupt oversees the production of 1.3 million meals a year. Now, food wastage is a fraction of what it was when he arrived 10 years ago, thanks, in the first instance, to accurate ordering. "We order by grammage per person," Haupt says. "If you have lunch for 1000 people, you don't order for 1100 or 1200 - you order for 1000. "But to do this you must be confident in your capabilities: you have to make sure you have the talent in the kitchen to deliver 1000 portions, which means not overcooking or undercooking a single steak."

Haupt takes a different approach in the convention centre's freestanding restaurant, Bayside Lounge, where it's harder to predict numbers. Here, all protein items - fish, poultry and meat - are individually Cryovaced upon their arrival, then labelled and dated, thereby extending the food's life span by up to a week. Such measures require considerable capital outlay - Cryovac machines don't come cheap - not to mention a certain Teutonic gift for precision. "It helps that I am a complete control freak," Haupt says. Yet even Haupt has waste, mainly in the form of deli products such as packaged sandwiches. In this instance he makes a call to the good people at OzHarvest.

Launched four years ago, OzHarvest is a food charity that acts like a kind of culinary SWAT team, rescuing meals that would otherwise be chucked out and delivering them to people in need. "My background is in hospitality, I have my own events company," OzHarvest founder Ronni Kahn explains.
"I put on special events and through all my years there was always food going to waste, gorgeous food that cost lots of money to produce, like smoked salmon, chocolate mousse, canapes, it would all be thrown out at the end of the day. "And so I decided to do something about it."

OzHarvest now operates five vehicles that pick up leftover food from all over Sydney every day and deliver it to 148 charities. "So far, we have delivered 3.3 million meals to charity in the last four years," Kahn says. There is a particular pleasure, Kahn says, in seeing a homeless man eating a plate of stuffed mushrooms and lemon tarts. "It's like Christmas when our van turns up," he says.

Most of the food is donated by corporations, big city law and accountancy firms, plus a smattering of restaurants. For legal reasons, private homes can't contribute. So, what should you and I do with that bunch of wilted fennel and bowl of old rice? "Get creative!" Kwong says. "Cooking with leftovers is the most original form of recycling and you shouldn't always feel you have to cook to a specific recipe." Kwong recommends cutting up leftover vegetables and throwing them in a salad or a pasta dish, or cooking them in a stir-fry, sauteing, or even braising or blanching them.

Fruit that is spoiling makes great smoothies. Leftover rice is perfect for fried rice: "All you need is onion, eggs, some bacon and soy."

When it comes to food, revisiting old values such as moderation and thrift won't just save you money: it will also make a real difference to the environment. "In today's world, there has become a real disconnect between the food we buy and the impact it has on the environment when we waste it," Kwong says. "We need to change that."

How to avoid leftovers

When shopping, make a list and stick to it. Never shop hungry.
Apart from eggs, many things can be eaten after their "best before" date.
Freeze leftovers rather than let them go off in the fridge.
Get creative: soft avocados become guacamole, while old fruit becomes jam, juice or smoothies. For recipe ideas, see
Cook in bulk. Cook twice as much as you need and freeze the extra portions. This will use ingredients that might otherwise be left over.
Learn what a portion is so you don't unintentionally overcook: an average portion of rice for an adult is 50g (or a quarter of a mug); for pasta it is 100g.


Even the most efficient kitchen will produce some waste, particularly if you use lots of fresh produce.
However, plate scrapings and leftovers that are beyond rescue should not be thrown in the bin; instead, start a compost heap. Virtually anything can be composted, from fruit and vegies to bread and tea bags. Meat, dairy, fat, grease, oil or lard should be avoided.

After a couple of months, your food scraps become a fantastic soil dressing.

[partially sourced from Qld Country Life]

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