thisislocallondon– Their is 1.3 billion tons of food wasted every year. According to the UN about a third of the food the world produces every year, about 1.3 billion tons, is wasted. North Americans, for example, throw out the most food per capita with the average American wasting enough food to feed another person for 19 days. I interviewed professional chef and food waste advocate Iulia Nonu. Iulia works at a school in London currently and is a volunteer at the Felix Project providing meals for the homeless using donated ‘food waste’.
How big of an issue do you think food waste is both in the culinary industry as well as schools and what steps do you take at work to reduce this?
“Food waste is probably our biggest issue right now in a lot of industries, brought to light more from COVID as we realised both at home as well as in our businesses what we do not get to use just goes to the bin. Now more specifically in schools, the schools all work on the principle that you have a certain amount of portions you produce per day and any excess needs to somehow be reused for the next day. You can only reuse it for the next day though so if you can’t find a way to reuse it, it must be thrown out. We also try and buy second choice vegetables and fruit, that would otherwise be thrown out and try and use those.”
Outside of donating excess food are their other steps that the food industry can take to mitigate waste, and what do you think would help reduce waste in schools, such as smaller portions?
“The government has portion guidelines so we can not give smaller portions in order to reduce food waste, most schools have an organic food waste bin so it is disposed in a better way, however it is still wasted. However many kids consistently do not eat their food. For example there is one kid in my school who only eats a piece of bread every day but you still have to serve him the full portion to give him the option to eat more. Even though I know every day he just eats bread. So this is why when you serve them you ask them what do you want and you give them the responsibility that way they will tell you if they’re just going to throw something out because they don’t like it. However in many instances we must still serve them certain things in order for them to get a well rounded meal. The food from the day that we’re not going to reuse and hasn’t been eating will be given to places like soup kitchens or given out to staff. Even the thing with donating food is a little complicated though, because you have to think about things like packaging, how you are transporting it and when you’re going to get the food to the people (do they have space to store it). There is a lot of really complicated issues. I think that the best option is that if food is still leftover at the end of the week you just give it out to students and staff because in a way that’s probably better. Unfortunately, in terms of food waste (as in producing too much food) I believe that it will always be a problem.”
In percentage terms how much food do you think goes to waste in a day at your school, and how does that compare to the restaurant industry?
“It’s a lot easier in restaurants to control food waste, because of course it’s all about a profit and losing food is losing money. One of the reasons it is easier is because in a restaurant you work on plating and you know in a day if you’re estimated to have for example 300 covers you will buy the exact amount of food for that amount of covers and by doing this you can know exactly the amount of every ingredient that you need. Then if you’re going to serve 300 dishes all those dishes will be served and you will not have leftover ingredients. One thing that the restaurants are not good at is that you cannot control what is sent back to the kitchen, in terms of percentages you’re still looking at about 10% sent back. This is something that you cannot really fix and you just have to let go because you cannot force everyone to eat the same amount. Also in restaurants sometimes there’s quite a lot of waste in prepping as people will for example only need one part of the vegetable like the centre and then will just throw out the rest of it. This is something less common in schools as you realise that you really need to utilise every last bit as they usually have a smaller budget. So in schools I would say on average about 20% of the food from a kids lunch gets thrown away. But of course there are lots of different factors like the age of the kids the different backgrounds they come from and many other things. It is really difficult because so much of it is about food education I get lots of young teenagers just wanting to eat chips and chocolate and it’s really difficult to get them to eat well balanced meals and they end up just throwing away a lot of it because they don’t like and they don’t know that they should eat it or have to eat it.”
As you can see from this article food waste is still a huge problem and we have to be looking into more ways that we can solve this, whether this will come from giving away food or food education or something else entirely. The fact that there is so much food wasted yet so many people starving just doesn’t make sense. The mass production of food and the amount of food wasted is hurting the environment hugely and we need to stop it.