Most of us have a nagging sense of guilt when we throw some well-intentioned but uneaten vegetables in the bin. And we should: wasting food doesn’t just harm your conscience and your pocket, it is one of the single biggest contributors to climate change.
That’s the message not-for-profit social enterprise FoodCloud is spreading as it urges people to think of reducing food waste as a tangible action they can take to help combat climate change on a personal level. With more than 1.3 billion tonnes of food wasted each year – a third of all food produced globally – a little careful meal planning can go a long way to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
FoodCloud has been battling food waste at all levels for more than eight years. Established back in 2013, when it connected one Tesco store to a local community group, the social enterprise now has solutions for surplus food at every step of the supply chain, from retail right back to the farm.
At the retail level, FoodCloud has developed an innovative technology platform that cleverly links supermarkets and other retailers with local community groups to ensure that surplus – but perfectly edible – food is redistributed every day.
“For example, a retailer might have surplus at the end of the day,” explains Aoibheann O’Brien, FoodCloud co-founder and partnership director. “They upload the details to our platform and that generates a notification for a local community group, who can then go to the store and pick up what’s there. It would have been for sale at five minutes to eight and then it is donated at eight.”
This important work was highlighted in a fun way via FoodCloud’s recent food sustainability awareness campaign. “All Taste Zero Waste” stirred up some healthy competition by pitting celebrity chefs against their counterparts from some of the local community groups that FoodCloud works within a Ready Steady Cook-style cookoff.
All Taste, Zero Waste saw well-known names such as Jess Murphy, Mark Moriarty and Donal Skehan compete with chefs from community groups across the country, including the Novas Initiative in Limerick, The Rainbow Club in Cork and Cheeverstown in Dublin. The chefs raced against the clock to make the tastiest dishes using samples of surplus ingredients that had been generously donated to FoodCloud,from wonky veg to stale bread. Guest judges were invited to “blind taste” the dishes before choosing the winner.
The series helps highlight the positive impact that food can have on communities all over Ireland.
Both types of chefs were passionate about food in different ways but also keen to avoid food wastage and promote food sustainability, O’Brien says. “We are delighted that so many celebrity chefs and charity chefs took up the challenge. It was great to see that community connection and how our charity partners are using food in different ways, even though their core mission is not necessarily around food.
“For example, The Rainbow Club is all about making services more accessible to people with intellectual disability and autism. But by working with FoodCloud they get access to all types of different food and reduce their food costs significantly. And they are also passionate about being part of a network trying to reduce food waste.”
The goal of the campaign is to highlight what can be done in the home to avoid food wastage by thinking outside the box when it comes to meal planning and cooking. For example, Donal Skehan rustled up a chicken and halloumi sandwich with lettuce, peppers and caramelised onion. It’s a great way to use up leftover roast chicken or do something with the last onion in the bag.
“All Taste, Zero Waste was amazing on so many levels,” says O’Brien. “Even just in terms of showcasing what you can do with an oversized turnip or surplus veg or surplus bread, but also by bringing the food heroes together from very different parts of the food industry. It was great to bring them together to discuss the differences and similarities in how they work and hopefully it will inspire people to take action at home.” People tend to think of food waste from an economic perspective, but it is so much more than that, she says.
“They consider it a waste of money, but as important as that is, there is also the environmental impact. When you are throwing away that last carrot, you don’t tend to think of all the resources, such as the time, the labour, the water, that went into getting that carrot to a shop and into your fridge.” Food is wasted at every step of the supply chain, for different reasons, she says, “right through from farm to processing, manufacturing, distribution, retail and service but some 30 per cent of food is wasted in the home”.
And while we may not put it in the same basket as car or aviation emissions, decomposing food is a huge emitter of methane.
“Food waste is considered one of the key things we have to reduce in order to limit the impact of climate change – a lot of the climate issues are so complex, but eating food is something that we all do. With a small bit of effort, it’s one of the areas of climate action that you can take three times a day from the comfort of your own homes.”
This action can take a number of forms. O’Brien outlines the “food waste hierarchy”: “Prevention is the best thing you can do, and the next best thing you can do is simply eat it and use food for what it is designated for.”
Planning meals in advance will avoid the majority of food wastage; buy what you need and plan what you are going to cook in advance, she advises. “Experiment a little with recipes. If you don’t have a sweet potato but you do have a carrot, then use that. Use what you have rather than being rigidly stuck to the recipe requirements.”
Leftovers can be reimagined and reheated. And don’t forget your freezer: even a half-eaten banana can be chopped up and frozen and can later become a smoothie.
“It can be really satisfying to look at all the bits and pieces you have left in your fridge at the end of the week and try and produce something delicious from them.”
Making people conscious of the connection between food waste and the environment is key, O’Brien adds. “There is a power in taking action in your own home – it has real global consequences.”
This Food Waste Reduction Project has been supported by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine's Rural Innovation and Development Fund (RIDF).