Food Waste Goes Gourmet: Saving the Planet With Discarded Foods

The UN Food and Agricultural Council’s estimates show that almost one-third of food produced globally goes to the dump. So, the question is, what is wrong with all of this discarded food?

Most of us have cut a little mold off of our cheese, sorted through old vegetables in our fridge, or sniffed the milk for freshness. Why doesn’t this happen in the commercial sector? For example, soup stocks can be made from discarded bones and unused vegetable parts saved in the freezer. Croutons, stuffings, bread puddings or French toast can be made from old bread. Oils can be added to compost, made into bird food, or upcycled into biodiesel fuel.

Working hard for change are chef innovators from around the world, bringing decent food destined for the dumpster to the consumer. Here is a short list of restaurants serving second-hand fare:

1. Freegan Pony, Paris

This hip vegetarian restaurant in a squat, decorated in thrift-store chic, on the far outskirts of Paris, was conceived in 2015. Perfectly good foods are collected in the early morning by volunteer freegans (free + vegan people who reject consumerism by dumpster diving) from the famous Rungis whole food market and other organic supermarkets.

Run by volunteers, professional chefs design the three main entrees, and creatively adapt recipes from what is available, preparing food with safety and taste in mind, creating delectable entrees rivaling any Parisian restaurant of note. With a little luck and know-how, reservations can be booked online.

Customers, usually trendy young professionals, can show up at any time from 7:30-11:15 pm, and follow the self-service instructions, including a pay-what-you-can option.  

2. wastED, New York, London

Started by a community of like-minded people from all aspects of the food and restaurant supply chain, this gourmet pop-up brought celebrity chefs together, volunteering to craft delicious meals from unsellable ingredients. The first pop-up lasted three weeks in New York in 2015, running out of the Blue Hill Restaurant in Greenwich Village. The next happened in London in 2017, on the roof of Selfridges on Oxford Street.,

3. Instock Restaurants, Netherlands

Instock collects unsold food from stores, using it to make tasty meals for sale at a variety of locations throughout the Netherlands. The chefs are up for this unique Iron Chef-like challenge, of cooking with food surpluses to make handcrafted meals served all day.

4. Real Junk Food Project, UK

This project began in London as a supermarket stocked with only waste and surplus foods for resale. Through its extensive network, reclaimed foods are served at restaurants, cafes, and schools with more than 50 pay-as-you-feel locations around the UK, including Manchester and Brighton.

5. Saltaire Canteen, Bradford, UK

Found in the World Heritage Site model village of Saltaire, with its two floors and capacity for 40 guests, Saltaire Canteen yearns to better address the needs of the community and asks for payment by donation, with no obligation and no judgement. As part of the Real Junk Food Project, exquisite foods are dished up fortnightly from what would have been food waste.

6. Everybody Eats, Pop-Up, Auckland, New Zealand

Aptly named, diners pay as much as they can. This social experiment brings together people from all walks of life, to partake in a three-course meal, made with ingredients previously doomed for landfill. Professional chefs volunteer to craft their masterpieces out of edible waste. Plans are in place to make this a permanent fixture.

7. Salvage Supperclub, Pop-Up, New York City

Designed to build awareness of food, waste, and hunger; reservations, and $50 USD can buy you a seat in this cleaned-up cushioned dumpster. Once you’re arrived, share a six-course meal of past-prime foods and enjoy a conversation with your fellow guests.

8. Four Apps to Combat Food Waste.

Looking for a bargain on past-prime foods? Check out the following apps:

Too Good To Go was started in Denmark, before it spread to Norway and on to eight other countries, including the UK. The app matches leftovers with bargain hunting customers.

Go MKT is similar to a bulletin board where restaurants, bakeries, and cafes can post unsold food, allowing customers to browse or get notified depending on their preferences.

Buffetgo lets you “rescue a meal” at huge discounts, from participating restaurants in (mostly) Los Angeles and NYC.

The Nofoodwasted app connects supermarket bargains with the customer, aiming to reduce food waste by 50 percent within five years.

The movement from waste-to-table is picking up momentum. If we can’t reduce production at the source, the next best thing is to get creative, much like these volunteer chefs have done, and make what we can with the food available to us. Not everyone is cut out to be a freegan, yet the rest of us can do our part to use what we have or buy no more than we need. Want to get involved? Try the new above apps to find out how to share your surpluses with others who would appreciate it.