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A zero waste, zero emissions menu: it can be done!

Producing food often involves activities that cause waste and pollution. But there are great things happening…

by Livia Formisani
06 February 2020
7 min read
byLivia Formisani
06 February 2020
7 min read

It's a fact, the global cost of food waste has repercussions that go far beyond our own rubbish bins, impacting negatively on both mankind and the environment through the excessive consumption of resources, particularly water, increased CO2 emissions, high production and development costs, as well as widespread, unnecessary food shortages. According to the UN a third of food produced for human consumption is either lost or wasted. We are talking about 1.3 billion tonnes per year.

Supermarket employees witness food waste on a large scale, largely as a result of strict regulations and aesthetic considerations, i.e. product display strategies, that influence consumer decision making. However, from within the industry itself, changes are afoot. A good example is the Dutch supermarket chain Albert Heijn where, in 2014, four employees decided to take matters into their own hands. 

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Instock is a Dutch restaurant chain with outlets in Amsterdam, Utrecht and The Hague, its aim is.

The Instock example

They started by collecting unsold food from a large number of supermarkets in Amsterdam, and opened a restaurant there in 2015, Instock. One year later and they were in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. During the following three years they expanded their activities to other cities, namely Utrecht and The Hague.

Instock plays a genuinely unique role in the circular economy. The menu in each of the restaurants changes depending on the food that's available locally and at least 80% of the ingredients come from “recovered food” — products that are fully compliant with safety regulations but are off-cuts, unsold or discarded due to approaching use-by dates, imperfections, or issues related to their size.
“Initially we were changing the menu daily, but now we change it every quarter on account of the fact that we are now able to collect more food, we are also now able to forecast better”, explains Freke van Nimwegen, one of the founders of Instock. And it's exactly there, on the menu, where the real magic happens: one-day-old bread, leftover potatoes and Amsterdam rainwater are turned into beer; the leftover malt from the brewing becomes muesli for breakfast. The leftover milk from the cappuccino foam is used to make ricotta, which in turn is used to top the gnocchi that are made using surplus potatoes. Other main dishes are created from fish and meat unwanted due to their aesthetic imperfections, size or because they were off-cuts; these are accompanied with wines that remained unsold due to wrongly positioned labels or imperfect, but perfectly safe, corking. And the praline coating for the dessert is made from a mixture containing coffee grounds.


In addition to the supermarkets that Instock relies on for its supplies, the company has widened its network of suppliers to include farmers and packaging companies.
The company says that a four-course meal in an Instock restaurant saves 3.836 lbs (1.74 kg) of CO2 which is equivalent to 50 showers or 652 gallons (2,470 litres) of water. The foundation has also recently released its second cook book, “Circular Chefs”, with contributions from a number of popular Dutch chefs, the focus of which is on “how to reduce our overall impact on the planet”, explains van Nimwegen. The company is now in the process of expanding its wholesale business to other local catering companies.

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Delicious beer made using one-day-old bread, leftover potatoes and Amsterdam rainwater.

Anthony Myint, the chef that became… a movement!

In 2008, with the recession in full swing, Myint and his wife, Karen Leibowitz, established Mission Street Food, a business project that triggered the proliferation of food trucks and pop-up restaurants in the Bay Area. The initiative — set up to help chefs and restaurateurs get through difficult times — was so successful that it enabled the couple to open their first restaurant, Mission Chinese Food, eventually becoming one of the most successful Chinese restaurants in town. Some years later, Myint and his brilliant mind were at it again, this time looking to solve a more global problem, the fight against climate change, which became the bedrock of the Zero FoodPrint project. The initiative won him the Basque Culinary World Prize, a prestigious award that recognises chefs who, through cooking, look to make a positive impact in fields such as culinary innovation, health, nutrition, education and the environment.


Myint started the project in 2014 together with Peter Freed, Facebook's renewable energy manager, and Chris Ying, former editor-in-chief at Lucky Peach magazine. The idea behind it was to educate chefs and restaurateurs on ways to lower their carbon footprint and to improve the environmental sustainability of the restaurant industry. “Seven years ago, when our daughter was born, we started thinking more seriously about the future, but above all about the consequences of climate change. We came to the conclusion that there wasn't one chef that was diligently tackling this problem, or making some sort of contribution, so we decided to do something about it ourselves”, explains Myint. Zero FoodPrint provides restaurants with a series of guidelines which they can follow to create a renewable food system by funding agricultural practices that respect the environment. The objective is to improve the health of the soil and therefore produce better ingredients. According to Myint, the ingredients used in the kitchen also have a significant impact on the environment.
This innovative approach to farming, known as carbon farming, promotes the use of less invasive methods of soil cultivation, including harvesting techniques, composting processes and other measures that “capture” carbon dioxide from the air to be absorbed by the soil or stored in the ground: the application of this technique is known as “biochar”. The transition to carbon farming has become something of a mission for Myint, one that goes way beyond the bounds of his own activities, and in which he is looking to involve his colleagues and other restaurateurs.

In addition to Zero FoodPrint, Myint is working on the Restore California Renewable Restaurant project in partnership with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the California Air Resources Board and the Perennial Farming Initiative. The latter is a non-profit organisation established by the chef and his wife to support sustainable farming, with a particular focus on food production that not only respects the environment but is also equitably productive.

Through this project, restaurants will have the option of charging customers an additional 1% on their bill to support California’s Healthy Soil Program, an initiative that looks to facilitate changes to farming practices through storing carbon in the soil. It's a win-win situation: a healthier meal and a healthier planet.

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The chef Anthony Myint.