Did you know that around 3.1 million tonnes of edible food is thrown away every year by Australian consumers and another 2.2 million tonnes are disposed of by industrial and commercial sectors? According to the federal government, all this waste is estimated to cost our economy roughly $20 billion each year.
This concerning reality has become one of the biggest drivers of sustainable food production and food practices. As the issue of food waste becomes critical and as more Australians become increasingly aware of the environmental impact of their eating habits, many local restaurants are now thinking about how to be more sustainable when it comes to the food they serve.
So what exactly is sustainable food?
Sustainable foods are foods produced or processed in ways that can protect the environment and avoid wasting natural resources, without compromising the taste or quality of the products. According to Anna Lappe, an advocate of sustainable food, the word 'sustainable' gets tossed around a lot, but for her, it's a simple concept.
“I like to say that sustainable agriculture is a production system that's good for the environment and for people, that's humane to animals and to food and farm workers, that supports thriving rural and urban communities," she says. "In other words, it's the production of food, fibre, or other plant or animal products using techniques that protect the environment, public health, human communities, and animal welfare. It's a way of food production that generates abundance while ensuring future generations can do the same.”
Right now, there are three sustainability food practices that Australian restaurants are embracing: nose to tail, no waste, and farm to table.
NOSE TO TAIL
Nose to Tail refers to the preparation, cooking and consumption of all the parts of an animal (including intestines and trotters), not just the more common parts (like fillets and loins). In other words Nose to Tail comes from the slow food movement that promotes a stronger connection with food origins and making use of the whole animal, thus reducing waste.
It was Fergus Henderson who introduced the idea of this practice. In his own Michelin-starred restaurant in London, they have been serving dishes with seasonal meat ingredients like intestines, heart, tongue, bone marrow, and brain.
"The strange thing is that it wasn’t like a gimmick or a theme," Henderson said with regard to the creation of the nose-to-tail eating. "That’s definitely the worst approach to food. But also, it’s not just thrift. Innards and extremities are delicious. The gastronomic possibilities of a pig are way beyond the pork chop or roast pork.”
Here in Australia, the nose-to-tail concept has also grown in popularity and there many restaurants who have embraced the movement. Among them is Four in Hand, a pub in Paddington that has become very popular for their slow-cooked and nose to tail meat dishes.
Many businesses within the food and beverage sector are also acutely aware of the current war on food waste, and many of them are thinking of strategies that they too can employ to help bring Australia a few steps closer to #zerowaste.
Leading the way is Sydney-based catering company Dan the Man, who has teamed up with a group of sustainability advocates to launch the Love Waste Collective. Their startup aims to end food wastage in the catering and hospitality industries. Alongside Dan the Man, there are also several Australian restaurants and cafes supporting the zero waste movement. Three Blue Ducks in Bronte is one of them. Known for their excellent breakfasts, this cafe serves takeaway food in biodegradable containers and even sends all of their organic waste straight to community gardens and local residents.
Surry Hills-based Nomad is also taking on a 'no waste' approach. This water-conscious restaurant uses a Vestal system for filtering, carbonating, and chilling their water to prevent them from wasting thousands of plastic bottles.
FARM TO TABLE
The farm to table concept has been a vibrant fixture within the restaurant industry for years and there is no sign of it slowing down, especially as many consumers are beginning to opt for home-grown food and ethically sourced meats.
In simplest terms, farm to table is a movement where restaurants get their ingredients either from their own farm or directly from a local farmer. Since the ingredients don't need to be shipped long distances, they are fresher and more flavoursome. The Acre Eatery in Camperdown, NSW is one of the local restaurants leading the farm-to-table movement. They aim to educate their customers on food production and consumption, and they achieve that by serving sustainable yet delicious meals that are a healthier alternative to the processed foods we normally see on the market.
“At Acre, we’ve always implemented nose-to-tail eating and waste reduction programs such as composting and water recycling,” says Gareth Howard, the executive chef at Acre Eatery. “We prioritise produce from our on-site garden, reducing food travel miles to eight metres. We consciously partner with small to medium-sized, local (mostly Sydney-based) suppliers who share our vision on sustainability.”
The restaurant gets their produce from their on-site partner, Pocket City Farms.
Sustainable practices are becoming more and more popular within the hospitality sector also because it's becoming a common expectation of Australian consumers. By answering this consumer demand and embracing sustainability restaurants are already reducing their waste, using as much of the animal as possible, and making sure they prioritise produce from their own local farms and suppliers. There are no signs of this trend slowing down, and no doubt we will see more chefs and restaurateurs coming up with new ideas and leading the way toward a more sustainable food industry.
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