EVERY year, in Ireland alone, 200,000 tonnes of food waste in created in the food and hospitality sector.
Not only is this the equivalent of throwing €300 million a year in the bin, but it also is a significant emissions contributor.
Maybe getting the perspective on just how big a deal this is might help if I tell you that, between 2013 to 2020, Food Hub redistributed 58,900 tonnes of unwanted and unused food to the charity sector. Maths was never my strong point, but by my reckoning that potentially means restaurants, cafes, takeaways, and hotels may have wasted the equivalent of 1.4 million tonnes of food in the same seven-year period. That’s just crazy talk!
So yes, food waste in the hospitality sector is an urgent problem.
I can’t help but ask myself: What is broken in the way culinary arts are taught in Ireland that the industry wastes so much food?
There is a shortage of good, basic, food education, in schools and at home, where a lack of time and resources means the kind of hybrid apron-strings and educational learning that home economics enabled is largely lost in time. Unless a child grows up in an environment where food is encouraged as an exciting learning experience, how do younger generations even get to a point considering culinary arts as a possible future career opportunity.
If they do, it’s hard to believe an entire three-year degree course in Culinary Arts wouldn’t cover basic skills and knowledge to actively reduce waste in professional kitchen. But this is the experience of some chefs who said it was simply never discussed, or if it was it was in the context of cost savings.
However, Catherine O’ Mahony, Lecturer, Tourism and Hospitality Department at MTU, says that food waste is central to their culinary arts programmes.
“Sustainability and food waste management is embedded within the culinary modules throughout the Culinary/Hospitality programmes in MTU Cork. Capstone modules are:
- Food Futures: The complex and dynamic national and global environmental issues concerning future food sustainability, food planning, waste management, the environment, and future food goals.
- Culinary Innovation: Looking at the food cycle from farm to plate, this module provides the skillset to become creators in a more mindful environment. Focusing on what ingredients are available within season, how to use leftover foods, how to be innovators present and future.
- Introduction to Volume Cookery: This module showcases the needs and requirements to manage, plan and implement a menu with a range of foods that are already on site. It allows for discussions on food sustainability, waste management issues - how the students will control and management the food cycle within their environment.”
Preventing food waste isn’t just about saving money. For every kilogramme of food waste saved, 3.2 tonnes of CO2 emissions are avoided. That’s across multiple industry sector activities: agriculture, transportation, packaging, cookery - even in the elimination of food waste by incineration or landfill. This is only for Ireland - equivalent to 400 million meals a year. So, when you hear people say we need to produce more food, not less, they’re wrong. We produce plenty of food, but we waste far too much of it.
We can’t say that food waste is a culturally acceptable thing. Ireland’s food culture is predicated on zero waste.
From black pudding to smoked bacon; salted fish to the many ways in which we consume milk, they all form the foundation of a traditional diet with methods devised for making use of and preserving everything.
It may be trendy to talk about kimchi, pickles, and ferments now, but these foundation skills have been on this island forever. Good home economy was essential because means were limited, and people appreciated the intrinsic value of food: what it takes to produce food – the human effort.
Zero waste is embedded into classical cookery, too. Bones and offcuts of vegetables were never thrown away but, at minimum, used to make stocks – the building blocks of flavour.
In Cork, a handful of food businesses truly understand the value in using everything one way or another.
Good Day Deli created their business with sustainability and conscious consumerism at its very core. Their solution to dealing with their food waste is to work with a local grower to compost waste into soil used for growing more vegetables which come back into the café as fresh produce.
Goldie is Ireland’s pioneering fin to gill, whole-catch fish restaurant. Fish scales, skins, bones, and offal are reimagined as snacks, seasonings, and flavour bombs such as bottarga - dried cod livers.
Elbow Lane, known for over the fire cookery, has never shied away from putting offal on its menu.
Cork Urban Soil Project (CUSP) working in conjunction with My Goodness takes would-be food waste from Mahon Farmer’s Market and their own production, processes it through a biodigester to create new soil in which more locally grown, chemical-free vegetables are grown.
I recently went to a dining experience in Wexford where Pig’s Head Porchetta stuffed with pig’s tongue and snout, was served up to forty guests who gobbled it down with glee.
We’re told Ireland is the food island, but if we didn’t waste any bit of our food, imagine how even more diverse our cuisine would be; how well we would eat.
It’s not by accident the cheapest cuts of meat provide the best flavour, or that classic dishes use simple ingredients. ‘Peasant’ dishes, rustic cuisine, lovely leftovers – there’s a reason we love them and why they never go away. Waste is tasty!
MORE ABOUT WASTED
GIY has joined forces with some of Ireland’stop chefs to launch ‘WASTED’ a national, peer-to-peer education programme for chefs to reduce food waste in the foodservice industry.
The free 8 lesson ‘WASTED’ course is delivered online and is now open for sign up at https://giy.ie/programmes/wasted/
The WASTED educational programme is a mix of food learning and action, with a free 8-lesson online course that explores ways to reduce the amount of food waste leaving the kitchen.
Anyone working in the foodservice industry that is interested in learning about how to reduce, or even eliminate, food waste is encouraged to take part.
At the end of the programme participating chefs will be invited to host their own Wasted Supper Club.