“Don’t waste cucumber skin and seeds—turn them into a cooling summer drink”.
“How to make the most of ripe tomatoes”.
“Is it safe to eat mouldy jam? Theresa May thinks so”.
These are just some of the titles of the many food waste articles that have recently been flooding the media (with some interesting articles, and others less so). In the U.K., brands and people have all been pledging to reduce their food waste. Even the Victoria and Albert Museum has an exhibition about food and our relationship to it called FOOD: Bigger than the Plate.
So why all the fuss? Because not only is food waste morally unethical, but also our food consumption habits must undergo huge transformations in order to stop the planet from crumbling down or burning up. To lift the mood on that heavy but urgent topic, I wanted to have a more careful look at what’s happening around food waste, who are the people actually changing the game, and what’s next technology-wise.
The first step toward a world where food waste is not an issue is changing our attitude and approach to it. This concept is not recent (during wartime wasting food was out of the question), but today, the urgency surrounding that matter is added on top. We’re not going to transform the problem of the huge quantity of food wasted only by drinking beer made from surplus bread or by learning how to properly peel off the trickiest aliments. But what these ideas are about is exactly what needs to become common thinking: approaching food with a different mentality and being aware of how much food we waste for no justifiable reason at all.
In London, the Brixton Pound Cafe is doing just that and more. This pay-what-you-can surplus food cafe is a radical space with radical ideas where anyone can enjoy veggie and vegan food. Screen Shot talked to environmentalist and the cafe’s chef Sean Roy Parker about food waste and why making surplus food look sexy is the way to go. “The issue is that food waste is shrouded in secrecy because supermarkets’ habits are criminal, why would they want you to know how much food they throw away every day?” Parker notes, adding that “By turning surplus food into affordable meals, we are solving two problems simultaneously: reducing food waste and tackling income inequality. The bonus is that the food is fantastically healthy and tasty”. This attitude is one that local communities should adopt concerning food waste, because every little helps (even Tesco’s ‘reduced’ items).
But what about the rest of the U.K.? The rest of the world? Too Good To Go is an app operating in twelve countries, with its main goal being to save some food—food that is ‘too good to go’. The app allows you to see what food you can pick up in your vicinity before it gets thrown away at the end of the day from restaurants and food shops. This way, you can support your local businesses while contributing to a better environment. Simultaneously, the businesses get to reduce their waste and get potential new customers to try out their food. Still feeling sceptical? Too Good To Go’s website states that since 2016, the company saved over 746,760 meals in the U.K. alone.
Talking to Screen Shot about Too Good To Go’s early days, marketing manager Anoushka Grover said, “When we first started, the concept of food waste wasn’t really understood. Once you show people the consequences of their actions, everyone is a lot quicker to take a stand and make a change. Conscious consumerism has been on the rise for a number of years, but we’ve definitely seen it snowballing over the last few years”. So what’s next for Too Good To Go? “We have set some goals for 2020 which include inspiring 50 million people to take action against food waste, partnering with 75,000 food businesses, impacting legislation in 5 countries and supporting 500 schools in educating about food waste, ultimately saving 100 million meals from landfill”, Anoushka told us.
The last element that could make a big change in this food waste cycle is technology. We frequently use it to solve other problems, so why not try implementing it here as well? IKEA is attempting to cut food waste in its kitchens (think about all those meatballs) with an AI bin designed to recognise and monitor what gets thrown away. This ‘intelligent’ bin was made by U.K. technology startup Winnow Vision and uses a camera and smart scales to keep track of what types of food end up in the rubbish bin. Winnow estimates that it has saved almost $30 million worth of food so far.
Awareness of food waste is definitely there and on the rise, but the global response it has received so far is inadequate considering the size of the problem. We need to understand that food waste is not only happening on our tables, it’s also happening with farms and food companies, meaning that all the resources that went into making your food go to waste as well.
There is currently a lack of data and research that are needed in order to accurately estimate the full social, economic, and environmental benefits of food waste reduction. That said, let us be mindful of the bigger picture and make a change—whether it’s by scraping off mould on your jam like Theresa, contributing to the Brixton Pound Cafe, or using apps like Too Good To Go.
This article is a result of our Screen Shot workshop held at the V&A on Friday 28 June during the FOOD: Bigger than the Plate exhibition. In this participatory installation and therapy session, participants gave us the ingredients for the perfect food waste article.
OK, it’s time to address the lab-grown meat in the room. Raise your hand if you’ve heard of or have already engaged in a full-blown discussion about meat (and possibly dairy) that has been grown inside a Petri dish. It seems as though this imminent industry has forever lurked around the corner, but as far as consumers are concerned, has anyone ever even seen a Petri dish steak—let alone nabbed a bite out of one?
Back in 2013, food critics gathered around the world’s first lab-grown burger in a long-anticipated press conference—the burger was paid for by none other than Google co-founder Sergey Brin and cost £215,000 to produce. The reaction to the faux meat was underwhelming to say the least. The food critics reported that the burger tasted “Close to meat, but not that juicy”. And the world’s own fascination with this bizarre concept of a lab-grown slab of meat soon faded too.
But while climate change advocates who had turned to full-blown veganism, sourcing meat locally, or simply limiting their meat consumption to but a few times a month in a bit to reduce their environmental impact, scientists have not ceased to tweak their meat creation.
The technology used to grow food out of Petri dishes is called cellular agriculture. It works by reproducing and multiplying “muscle tissue from a handful of cells taken from an animal. These cells are then nurtured on a scaffold in a bioreactor and fed with a special nutrient broth”, as reported by MIT Technology Review. In theory, meat grown under these conditions is ‘real’ meat on every level—its flesh is red and blood bloody. The only real difference is that it never was a part of an animal, and that’s the truly strange concept to get our heads around.
Many food production industries have a high negative impact on the environment, but few are as palpable as the meat and dairy industries. A recent study shows that the production of meat and dairy takes up 83 percent of global farmland and produces 60 percent of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, opting out of consuming products from these industries could be the single most effective way of reducing our environmental impact on a personal and global scale, across both pollution and farmland.
So with that in mind—if meat floats your boat that is—wouldn’t a lab-grown steak which produces 19 percent of Carbon Monoxide for every 20 grams as opposed to its animal meat counterpart at 24 percent make more sense to consume? According to Impossible Foods, a faux meat company using only plant-based ingredients, the 4 percent reduction from real meat to lab meat isn’t good enough.
The company is one of many who entered the scene in recent years as part of a growing group who are trying to reduce the environmental impact of meat even further. According to Impossible Foods and its peers, products that mimic all things meat need only combine a delicate combination of plant-based ingredients and a bit of science to tie them all together in a neat hamburger, bolognese or salami.
Whether it’s plant-based or lab-grown, it’s becoming apparent that in order to seriously reduce our greenhouse emissions and impact on the environment, our consumption relationship with meat (and dairy) will need to change. And fast. What needs to follow is not only alternatives that are truly sustainable but that are healthy and, well, equally delicious.