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Fighting food waste one plate at a time

Up to 50 per cent of food produced in the world is wasted. Three Whistler companies fight back



Sensitivity to the environment is taken seriously in Whistler. The resort's record for composting is well known and everyone seems to like it; it's not unusual to see a liftie on the bus carrying a small bag of organic waste to one of the composting stations around town.  

But how did the waste get to be waste in the first place? Clean the fridge, throw out food. Go to the store without planning the week and overbuy, throw out food. Don't know how to use the lemon rind, the chicken carcass, and the extra slices of vegetables? Throw them out. Don't like the black spots on the banana skin? Throw it out.

Britain's Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE ) measured what this kind of wastage means on a worldwide scale. They called the results "staggering."

The report, called "Global Food; Waste Not, Want Not," came out last month. It said 1.2 billion to two billion tonnes of food produced around the world each year is never eaten, 30 to 50 per cent of all food produced.

The reasons, according to IMechE, include "poor engineering and agricultural practices", infrastructure problems, poor storage, and the West's buy-one-get-one-free consumer mentality for cosmetically attractive food.

And as bad as that is, there is more to consider. IMechE reports that 550bn cubic metres of water is used growing wasted crops, more to produce uneaten meat; it can take 30 times more water to produce one kilogram of meat compared to a kilogram of vegetables.

IMechE believes 60 to 100 per cent more food could be available to use simply by stopping this disaster.

Faced with such statistics what can be done? Some Whistler food producers tell their stories of forward food practices.

Alta Bistro's owner Edward Dangerfield said their approach involves making intelligent planning central to their operations.

"If you have something that is highly volatile, like scallops, and you put it on your menu and price it aggressively, it's going to move. But if you put that item on there and it's too expensive, you've got to change a couple of things otherwise it won't sell and then you have wastage," Dangerfield said.

Menu design is therefore crucial.

"Then above this is the actual kitchen management, how you implement it. That spans ordering. We came out of Christmas and you have to shift thinking — then the restaurant was full every night. You have to remember in January not to keep ordering like that," he said.

"Next is stock rotation, which is so important. It's as simple as putting fresh produce away behind older produce. It sounds simple but when you've got eight guys working for you, they've all got to be on the same page."

Dangerfield goes on to state the importance of storage. Packing fish on ice in a refrigerator, for example, prolongs its life by keeping its temperature lower; Alta Bistro also uses a vacuum sealer to reduce the oxidization of meat, even root vegetable can prolonged this way.  

"Even simple things like baking will enable people to understand food aging. It's incredible that so many places, they're not dating stuff. When was something made?" he said.

Other ideas they implement include making their own in-house pickled vegetables and jams.

"In the end, only vegetable peels and egg shells go in the garbage. Even shellfish, the shells and heads are used for stock. Everything can be eaten," Dangerfield said.

"This approach is the way of the future. With limited resources you have to get more efficient. That's all there is to it."

Richard Samaniego, the executive sous chef at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler Resort, tries to implement efficiencies with food planning at the other end of the scale. During the Christmas period the hotel can serve up to 1,500 meals a day through their banquets and restaurants.

"And our employee cafeteria is probably our busiest restaurant in the hotel," he said, feeding up to 400 per day.

"For plated banquets we almost have zero waste, and when it comes to buffets there will be a little bit of waste, but what we do with what we have left over is it goes down to our employee cafeteria."  

The Fairmont standard policy is for five per cent overage in food, and the fact that it is a big operation makes it simpler, Samaniego said.

"Probably the most important thing that we do is order appropriately. We know what our banquet business is going to be several days before it actually happens, so we calculate and weigh things and know what the portions are when we do the production of meals," he added.

"It helps with us when we're doing the preparations that we're not spending too much labour on peeling potatoes, for example. I have all these calculations in my head. For 100 people I need 40 pounds of potatoes if I am making mashed potatoes. That's pretty darned close to the exact amount."

The hotel's bartenders juice limes, lemons and oranges for fresh juice to make cocktails and rinds from the citrus fruit go to make the hotel's marmalade.

"We try as much as possible to use everything up. It really comes down to our bottom line. If we're throwing food away it affects our business," he said.

Lana Martin of Sea to Sky Organics said any leftover fresh produce from their deliveries goes to the Helping Hands Society in Squamish, which feeds the homeless.

"This week we had some chard with outside leaves that had brown running up the stem, but the green is still really nice. We have a whole orange box full of fresh chard to go to them," Martin said. "I just sent six cardboard boxes of food to Helping Hands last week. We have them come and pick up every Saturday."

Planning is simpler for the company as their deliveries are based on weekly orders placed online or by phone.  They deliver baskets at various prices to between 80 and 100 customers from Lions Bay to Pemberton.

"It's not like a grocery store or a restaurant that can't predict what their orders are going to be. That's a big part of what we do, and it really cuts the waste," Martin said.

Preventing food waste at home

• Pinpoint what you toss out — For a week, note what you throw out. Analyze why it's there. Should you buy less or smaller boxes? Should you cook less in order to avoid leftovers that aren't eaten?

• Organize the fridge — What's in the back? Clean out the fridge weekly to see what needs using up.

• Cook smaller amounts for meals — Only put on your plate what you will eat.

• Use-it-up meals — Cut off the bruised bits and prepare what is left. Have a meal a week that can use up food that is ripe or wilted. Spaghetti sauces, bakes, frittatas and soups are all good options.

• Fridge settings — Thirty-nine degrees will keep your food safe and avoid spoilage.

• Freeze leftovers — Put a container in the freezer for excess veggies that can be mixed together and saved for soups. Even cooked rice, broth and tomato paste can be frozen.

• Shop frequently — Purchase what you need as you need it. Bulk buying means bulk storage and what is the point of getting that extra deal if you throw the extra food out?

• Plan ahead — Look at the calendar and decide when you have more time to cook, which would be better for leftovers. Make a weekly menu around your schedule.

• Label language —"Sell-by" and "Best-before" dates do not mean you must throw them out the day after the one on the jar. But bad odours, colours, mean it might not be a good idea. Never use baby formula past its date.

Source: Whole Living Magazine

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