How to stop wasting food: These Aucklanders show us how

by Leisha Jones / 26 July, 2017

Waste not, want not

Meet some of the Auckland champs turning food destined for the bin into three-course dinners and inventive dishes.

What would your nana say if she found out the average New Zealand family throws away three shopping trolley’s worth of edible food per year? Or that as a nation, we throw away 20 million loaves of bread, and over $8,000,000 worth of bananas?* She’d likely sit you down for a lengthy lecture on the benefits of composting, pickling and preserving, give you her recipe for banana bread made using blackened bananas, and tell you how, back in her day, they would repurpose stale bread into soup thickener, breadcrumbs and pudding. 

According to Auckland Council, the average kerbside bin is almost half-filled with discarded food. The financial and environmental impact of such colossal waste is grim. When we throw away food, all of the resources that went into producing it – time, money, water, fuel, land – also go to waste, and when not treated properly, food scraps pile up in landfill, releasing harmful greenhouse gases. In an attempt to combat this waste, the council plans to introduce a three-bin kerbside waste collection service with separate bins for food waste, refuse and recycling, to be rolled out to almost all urban areas of Auckland by 2020.

Low-waste crusaders
Three outfits making the most of food waste

Scarecrow’s head chef Ben Barton and a cauliflower rice dish.

Scarecrow’s head chef Ben Barton and a cauliflower rice dish.

Much to every nana’s relief, old-fashioned techniques and a waste not, want not approach to cooking have been experiencing a culinary renaissance for some time now, with more and more chefs proudly labelling their restaurants as low- or no-waste establishments. At inner-city cafe and grocery store Scarecrow (33 Victoria Street East), the entire business model is built around minimising waste. Head chef Ben Barton says about half their waste is collected by We Compost, while the rest gets reinvented: as produce loses its cosmetic appeal in the store’s grocery section, it becomes part of the daily seasonal menu offerings, repurposed into galettes, bruschetta, soups and salads.

Barton says stalks and stems, which are so often discarded, hold good nutritional value and offer interesting textures and flavour to dishes. Animal fat is kept in jars along with other sauces in the freezer, and fermenting, pickling and preserving is a huge part of the process. “I like to start with what needs eating and create a meal around that. Rather than asking myself ‘what do I feel like eating’, I try to ask, ‘what makes sense to eat first?’”

The Cult Project’s William Cook and Carlo Buenaventura and maltagliati with crispy pig’s head, cured yolk and fermented chilli;

The Cult Project’s William Cook and Carlo Buenaventura and maltagliati with crispy pig’s head, cured yolk and fermented chilli;

Will Bowman and Jane Lyons started their blog The Next Meal (and subsequent pop-ups) based on a similar ethos, following the realisation that people throw away a “sickening amount of food”. Lyons says they were always cooking – reimagining leftovers and revisiting old-fashioned techniques – and having the blog has made them more accountable for their own habits. “We realised that we were not living up to what we believed in. Once you start thinking about food waste and what you are throwing out, it becomes an obsession. It flows on to other areas of your life, like packaging and waste in general.”

Founders of The Next Meal, Will Bowman and Jane Lyons and a zucchini noodle dish.

Founders of The Next Meal, Will Bowman and Jane Lyons and a zucchini noodle dish.

At their pop-up events, Bowman and Lyons attempt to use commonly wasted ingredients – and things that are supposedly past their use-by dates – in imaginative ways, like onion skins turned into flavoured salt, stale bread turned into aioli and breadcrumbs, and “forgotten greens” into vinaigrette. They say they have always been really interested in preserving, and their pantry and fridge is “a bit scary” with a variety of ferments, pickles, kraut, shrubs and kombucha bubbling away in all corners of their house. “It was simply how people did it before refrigeration,” says Lyons. “I feel like it skipped a generation, but it’s more prolific now. Everyone is now looking back to those techniques.”

From trash to treasure
A weekly three-course dinner 

Everybody Eats founder Nicholas Loosley

Everybody Eats founder Nicholas Loosley

The premise behind Everybody Eats – a weekly, not-for-profit dinner held at Karangahape Road’s Gemmayze St – is simple: unwanted food destined for the trash is used to cook dinner for those in need, meaning they can eat for free, while those who can afford to contribute pay by donation. But founder of the event, Nicholas Loosley, says the benefits of dining together run deeper than simply filling stomachs.

The Monday night dinner, prepared by volunteers, is a three-course meal for around 150 people, and is made entirely from rescued food. So far, around 80 percent of the diners are homeless or in need, while the remaining 20 contribute on a ‘Pay As You Feel’ basis. “We want everybody to feel comfortable regardless of whether they are paying or not. So, people simply come up to a tin and put money in it, nobody is watching or needs to facilitate this. The idea is that everybody gets exactly the same meal whether you’ve got lots of money to give, or no money. It makes people realise that we are all the same.

Left: Indian spiced kumara and carrot soup. Right: banana cake, caramel sauce and ice cream

Left: Indian spiced kumara and carrot soup. Right: banana cake, caramel sauce and ice cream

With most of the food rescued from a supermarket, and the rest coming from KiwiHarvest (see opposite page), costs are kept very low. Any profit made from paying customers goes back towards the project for power and water at the venue; petrol for picking up stock; kitchen equipment; and a few supplemental ingredients.

Each week, a different local business mans the kitchen – Gemmayze St, Bird on a Wire and Mudbrick have cooked so far, with The Cult Project cooking next week – designing a menu based on the food that comes in. Diners receive table service, starting with a soup, followed by a hearty main course, and dessert. So far, dishes have included Indian-spiced kumara and carrot soup; spaghetti Bolognese; beef ratatouille; and mango, apricot and coconut slice with meringue and a lemon curd cream.

Education is key
A woman on a mission

Josephine Rawstorne. Photo/ Rebekah Robinson

Josephine Rawstorne. Photo/ Rebekah Robinson

Josephine Rawstorne, responsible for sales and sustainability at Method Recycling, says she “geeks out” on waste minimisation. She believes humans naturally want to do good, but sometimes they just don’t know how or find it too hard. She says education is key to getting people to understand how to reduce their waste to landfill, and the council’s kerbside collection initiative is great way to get people thinking about how to separate their waste. “It makes me very happy. Food waste, waste full stop, is a resource, and by diverting it from landfills we are reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of methane going into the atmosphere.”

While Rawstorne is already very mindful of her own food waste – hot composting all her food scraps, and strictly using up leftovers and limp vegetables to make big pots of soup – she’s taken a step further in the month of July, aiming to live entirely waste-free for the month, and documenting her journey on social media to educate and inspire others (@josephinerawstorne). She is avoiding packaging that is not commercially compostable or recyclable and anything wrapped in plastic, making the most of bulk buying by filling up her own glass jars. She even has a stainless-steel straw for drinks.

She is a firm believer in simplifying systems to effect change, and cites the work of We Compost and KiwiHarvest as great initiatives. “Commercial composting service providers such as We Compost, and compostable packaging solutions such as Innocent Packaging and Ecoware, provide an alternative to plastic and polystyrene packaging that doesn’t break down and isn’t recycled because of food contamination. Supplying compostable packaging and providing a commercial composting service gets us closer to a closed loop economy.”

 

Food waste as resource

KiwiHarvest rescues perfectly good food that would otherwise be thrown out

KiwiHarvest workers with donated produce.

KiwiHarvest workers with donated produce.

Using food waste as a resource is at the heart of KiwiHarvest’s model. The food rescue organisation works with donors such as Countdown, SKYCITY, Fonterra and Loaf, distributing their excess stock to over 100 charities. “We kind of say we are like Tinder for food, matching a good food donor to a suitable charity,” says manager Marie Madill. “I hate this term ‘food waste’. What we are collecting is good, edible food for human consumption.” She says anyone who works with food doesn’t want to see it going in the bin and most companies want to do the right thing. “We start seeing trends with food donors over time that the amount of food waste they are producing is decreasing. Once companies put a spotlight on it, they change their processes to waste less.”

Veges are sorted into bags to go into food parcels.

Veges are sorted into bags to go into food parcels.

She says in an ideal world, we would be heeding advice from an older generation, learning how to make the most of our food before throwing it away in the first place. “People are saying, ‘wow, this is really innovative’, but the innovation is just the realisation of how much we are wasting, and what we need to do about that. My grandmother would laugh, or cry, to think that we even need a service like this because she never wasted a thing.”

DON’T BE A WASTER  

Start with one of these simple ideas to reduce your food waste at home and see where it takes you.

 

Freeze it: You can freeze almost anything – milk, grated cheese, animal fat, chopped vegetables, citrus juice and bread. Portion it out first so it’s easy to defrost and use.

Get baked: The best kind of bananas for baking are the ones that are no good for eating; black on the outside and pulpy in the middle. Carrots, zucchini, pumpkin and kūmara can also be used to bake bread and cakes – no matter how past their prime they look.

Love your leftovers: You don’t have to eat the same thing twice. Get inventive with your leftovers and turn them into something completely new. Pizza, toasted sandwiches, fritters, frittatas and pasta sauces are all great ways to reinvent last night’s dinner.

Give limp some love: Nobody loves the idea of noshing on limp vegetables, but once they are hidden in curries, stews or soups, nobody is going to know the difference. Blend limp lettuces and herbs with olive oil and lemon to make a dressing or sauce for pasta.

Bones, stalks and leaves: Before throwing anything away, ask yourself if you can use it. Leafy vegetable tops and herb stems make great pesto; the stalks, hearts and tough outer leaves of vegetables are great braised or roasted; and you can chuck almost any vegetable peelings and bones in a bag in the freezer and make a big pot of stock when it’s full.

Save stale: Stale bread is a wonderful resource that should never be thrown away. Blend it into crumbs or toast to make croutons, and they will keep in an airtight container for weeks.

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