from farm to fork and back to farm
You may be all too familiar with the sobering statistics: in America, up to 40% of the food grown, processed and transported is wasted. One in six families in the U.S. are struggling to put food on their tables each night.
Increasingly, restaurateurs are realizing the important role they can play in alleviating the problem, and are leading the charge for change. As Anthony Bourdain said in the recently released documentary Wasted: “Chefs have been at the cutting edge of efforts to contend responsibly with the problem of food waste. They know the cost in dollars, poundage, and just sheer waste of stuff that they know to be good."
The seeds have been planted and efforts are in full bloom around the country as restaurants turn their focus on sustaining both their business and the planet. Laura Abshire, Director of Sustainability for the National Restaurant Association (NRA), points to signs of progress in their most recent research.
“In 2017, 14 percent of restaurants’ food waste was recycled and another 22 percent was donated,” she says. “We also learned that nearly half of restaurant operators say they are tracking food waste, and three in four do so on a daily basis.”
Still, these numbers would be higher if not for the barriers mentioned by many operators — transportation constraints, insufficient storage space, lack of infrastructure for composting, and liability concerns for donated food. Abshire says these concerns can be addressed by implementing an ever-growing list of best practices recommended by the NRA and others dedicated to meeting the USDA’s ambitious goal of cutting food waste in half by 2030. At the core is a three-pronged strategy that includes:
- Reducing food lost within our operations, so it never becomes waste
- Recovering safe and nutritious food and sending it to those in need
- Recycling unavoidable food waste to more productive uses such as animal feed or compost
Abshire urges restaurant operators to take the first steps and “educate themselves on laws regarding donation, local regulations and seek out community partners who can help with transporting waste, such as food banks, composting organizations and local farmers.”
It all starts, she says, with the Food Waste Recovery Hierarchy pyramid, created by the EPA to help organizations prioritize actions to prevent and divert wasted food, and select those most beneficial to the environment, society and the economy. You’ll see the tenets below, starting at the top of the pyramid, along with resources to help transform your mountains of waste into nourishment for the hungry, cost-effective fuel or fodder for flourishing livestock … and a very meaningful message to share with your customers who care not just about what’s on their plate, but the food they leave behind.
Approximately 4 to 10 percent of food purchased by restaurants becomes preconsumer waste due to a variety of causes, including overproduction, trim waste, mishandling and extensive menu choices requiring more ingredients on hand. Tools to gather data on the volumes and types of food that are tossed out during food preparation can run the gamut from sophisticated software solutions and phone apps to basic pen and paper audits. It’s not the medium that matters, however, but the message. “The very act of measurement drives change,” asserts Andrew Shakman, CEO of LeanPath, the food industry’s first fully automated food waste tracking system. “Our research indicates monitoring data on the food you purchase, use and end up throwing away, will ultimately decrease waste and reduce your food costs by up to six percent a year.”
Feed hungry people
“Restaurant owners can feel comfortable about donating food to food banks, soup kitchens and shelters because they are protected from liability via the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act,” assures Abshire. “Although that’s one of operators’ primary concerns, it’s important to emphasize that no restaurant has ever been sued as a result of a donation. In addition, you’ll be eligible for tax benefits for your donations.”
Start by contacting one of these national organizations, or identify a local one in your community:
- Food Donation Connection. Coordinates donations of more than 40 million pounds of surplus perishable food annually by redirecting food from 17,000 restaurants, universities, airports, distribution centers and others to charities serving people in need.
- Feeding America. The nation’s largest domestic hunger relief organization is made up of 200 member food banks engaged in the fight to end hunger in our country.