food waste

HOW TO EAT AND BE GOOD TO THE EARTH AT THE SAME TIME

What kind of choices should I make if I want to support environmental sustainability in my food choices? I try to be sustainable when it comes to eating but I also like many edible things that have to travel from far away to reach me. I have often tried to choose differently – more local and more seasonal – but it can be hard when you crave for grapes or mandarins. With food, sustainability and environment in mind, I decided to write down a few things that I myself try to follow in my eating habits.

CHOOSE ORGANIC, LOCAL AND SEASONAL

The easiest way for me to eat sustainably is to choose organic, local and seasonal foods. If can’t have all of them in one package, I try to choose products that have at least one of these traits. It isn’t always easy to stick to this. Sometimes you want those grapes or mandarins.

When you grow fruits, vegetables and grains organically you are being good to the Earth. Natural Resources Institute Finland states that the basic principle of organic farming “is to secure the well-being of nature, humans and animals”. Organic farming uses practices that are designed to minimise the human impact on the environment and at the same time makes sure that the agricultural system works as naturally as possible. Some of these practises are, e.g. strict limits on synthetic fertiliser use and wide crop rotation to use on-site resources efficiently. (EU Agriculture and rural development: Organic Farming).

Organic farming is carefully regulated so you can rest assured that it is good for the soil and good for the body. I prefer to choose products that are both organic and local. When I choose local, I know that my food is transported across short distances which means that the transportation has less effect on the environment.

I also prefer seasonal food, i.e. fresh food that hasn’t been stored for long periods in certain temperatures or grown in greenhouses which consume a lot of energy. Here in the north the growing period for fruits and vegetables is quite short. If you want to eat foods that do not grow in your country, you can choose foods that are imported at their harvest time. The large harvest time quantities are transported by ships, and this mode of transportation causes less emissions than airfreight. Despite being able to choose seasonal veggies from abroad, my favourites are still local and seasonal berries, cabbages, tomatoes, rhubarb, potatoes, kale and salads.

EAT EVERYTHING

Organic cashews and organic sunflower and pumpkin seeds. The photo was taken with solar powered camera. Photo: Tiina Junno

When I am at a grocery store I try to pick foods that are in danger of being labelled food waste, i.e. getting thrown into the trash. Food waste is edible food that might have passed its best-before date, is a funny-looking vegetable, a little darkened fruit, or ingredient that consumers do no want. Finnish grocery stores throw away more than 65 million kilos of food yearly and the whole food chain produces 400-500 million kilos of food waste. Add the environmental resources invested in food production and the emissions caused by food waste to that, and it makes the burden on the environment quite staggering. I try to keep that in mind when I’m choosing my fruits and veggies.

My own sustainability compass has deemed a shopping list to be a perfect way to avoid creating food waste. When you write down what you need, you don’t buy extra food on impulse. If I have bad-looking fruits or flour that is nearing its best-before date, I try to use them in one way or another. Even though I recycle biowaste, I can be fairly conscience-stricken when I have to throw food into my biowaste container.

GO VEGETARIAN OR VEGAN

I have been a vegetarian for 20 years. I have eaten some meat during that time but nowadays I lean towards a vegan diet. If you want to be very kind to the environment, going vegetarian or vegan is a good way to do that. From the environmental point of view, plant-based diets are better for the environment than meat-based. Growing fruits, vegetables and grains require less land and water than meat production. They also cause less greenhouse gases than livestock production, including meat, milk and eggs.

The world’s largest user of agricultural land is the livestock sector which also has “a major role in climate change, management of land and water, and biodiversity” as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations points out. In an ideal world, the land and water that is used for the livestock, would be used for growing food that is directly fed to human beings. I have always thought that this way everyone would get enough to eat. But this view also poses the question if it is applicable everywhere in the world. It is easy to say “go vegetarian or vegan” but it would be interesting to know if it really is that easy in a different social or environmental setting.

FAIR TRADE

The photo was taken with solar powered camera. Photo: Tiina Junno

At first glance, the idea of fair trade seems to clash with sustainable eating. To reach us in Europe, fair trade goods have to travel long distances. But if I enjoy grapes and mandarins, I have to consider fair trade as a part of my sustainable eating puzzle. Fair trade is environmentally friendly. One of the 10 fair trade principles is respect for the environment meaning that fair trade producers are committed to use materials from sustainably managed sources, to reduce energy consumption, to use renewable energy if possible, to minimise the impact of waste and to use organic or low pesticide production methods. (World Fair Trade Organization) Abiding by these principles makes fair trade fall into a suitable slot in my sustainable eating map.

I try to balance my eating habits between local and fair trade. What doesn’t grow in my own country, I buy fair trade if it’s possible. Some people say that fruits that do not grow in our northern latitudes should not be bought at all if you want to be completely sustainable. I could choose not to buy a banana at all since it is shipped from the other side of the world. But if I really want a banana, I buy it fair trade and organic.

MIXING AND COMBINING

As I wrote down my thoughts, I decided to see if I could whip up a breakfast following my own ideas. The result is in the pictures. I have found the above guidelines to be good signposts for myself. I want to be kind to our environment and I have spent quite some time figuring out how to do it. Mixing and combining local, fair trade, seasonal, organic and vegetarian or vegan foods and not throwing anything to waste is working for me. I don’t know if being a completely sustainable eater is possible but you can get very close to it at least.

Written for Global Senses
Text by Tiina junno

Sources: Natural Resources Institute Finland, EU Agriculture and rural Development: Organic Farming, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, World Fair Trade Organization.

DELICIOUS FOOD WITH GOOD CONSCIENCE

Chili sin carne with spicy bulgur and cucumber strips. The photo was taken with solar powered camera. Photo: Tiina Junno

Can you make gourmet meals out of food waste? Eating at a restaurant where lunch is made of surplus food is a new experience to many. I explored this uncharted territory at Loop, the first food waste restaurant in Finland. If you are a person who lives sustainably but hasn’t really thought about the effects of food waste, you might be in for a surprise – and guilty conscience – when you find out that there is more food in the world than ever before but massive amounts of it still go to waste, overload our environment and accelerate climate change.

Food waste or surplus food is perfectly good edible food that ends up in trash. In grocery stores, it is not just food that has passed best-before dates but also weird-shaped and funny-looking vegetables, a little darkened fruits, or ingredients that consumers do no want. In Helsinki, these unpopular foods are turned into delicious restaurant meals at food waste restaurant Loop.

Loop is located in the idyllic, parklike surroundings of the former Lapinlahti Hospital in Helsinki. It came about as a part of a circular economy project, From Waste to Taste, that fights against climate change and food waste. The restaurant was created with the help of a crowdfunding campaign and it opened its doors in 2016. Since then it has turned surplus food into gourmet lunches, dinners and brunches.

Every morning From Waste to Taste project’s Food Resque car makes rounds at grocery stores in the neighbourhood and collects surplus food for Loop restaurant. Approximately 70-80% of the saved food is delivered to food charities. The meals at Loop are prepared by professional cooks, but following the aims of From Waste to Taste project, the restaurant also provides job opportunities for young people, refugees and others with difficulties in finding a job.

The restaurant offers lunch on weekdays, dinner on Friday nights and brunch on weekends. Some of the brunches are theme brunches. And here’s some good news to vegans: A vegan brunch has a permanent spot on the first and the third weekends of the month.

When I visited Loop, I chose a lunch called Waste du Jour. It includes a soup, a salad buffet, a warm main course and a dessert with coffee or tea. The other lunch choice is Soup du Jour which is the same except it does not include the warm main course. After paying for lunch and getting my food reservation number, I sat down and started with the salad buffet and soup.

The buffet had several choices. You could choose to have purely green salad, cabbage and cauliflower salad or pasta salad with tomatoes and pepper. Or you could have it all. This was my first food waste lunch so I decided to taste everything and have some bread on the side. All the salads as well as the bread were delicious. The pureed carrot soup brought the desired warmth with its gentle taste free of spice overload. I would guess that pureed soups are easier to make when you have limited amount of ingredients but I am hoping to get a chance to taste different kinds of soups on my next visits to Loop.

The main course for the day was chili sin carne with spicy bulgur. The food was beautifully laid out with bulgur on the bottom and cucumber strips resembling fettucine with basil leaves on top. It was fantastic. Onions, tomatoes and black beans infused with spices together with mild cucumber strips were a lovely balanced combination. Before the main course was delivered to the table, the waitress asked me if I was ready for it to be brought to me from the kitchen. Being taken care of in such a way was a nice touch to my lunch experience.

After indulging myself with my chili sin carne, I was curious to find out what was next. The dessert of the day was a pear pie, small croissants with jam, and a collection of fruits that could be enjoyed with tea or coffee. The pie and croissants were delightful and the fruits were fresh and not at all something that might be considered food waste. For beverage I chose tea since I am an afternoon tea and a morning coffee kind of person. On my visit, the tea served was black tea. There might be different sort of teas on different dates depending on the ingredients available. I hope one of my future visits to Loop will include green tea which is my favourite of all teas.

While eating my lunch at Loop, I thought about food waste. In Finland, grocery stores throw away more than 65 million kilos of food per year and the whole food chain produces as much as 400-500 million kilos of food waste. These numbers are rather breathtaking. And the burden on the environment is huge since a lot of resources throughout the production chain have already been invested in making food that now goes to waste.

Food waste has an impact on climate change which isn’t necessarily thought about often. Natural Resources Institute Finland reveals that yearly food wastage of Finnish households corresponds to the emissions of approximately 100 000 passenger cars. That is one massive carbon footprint made of food.

One could argue that all the food that is destined to go to waste should be transported to the countries that suffer from famine. The thought is wonderful, of course, but the reality is not as simple as that. A recent article on the Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail, points out that it is often countries facing war that suffer from famine. When countries are not at peace, it may be impossible to produce food amidst fighting or food aid may be blocked or sold by someone who benefits from it monetarily.

It is not easy to reduce food waste when more food than can be consumed is produced every year. Some food waste is inevitable but there are still heaps of food being unnecessarily thrown away. The connection between climate change and food waste should also be more clear. On a smaller scale, using surplus food to create new kinds of restaurant experiences and going on in an adventure as a customer to those restaurants are a couple of ways to make a difference.

On my daily life I often buy food that is in danger of getting thrown to the trash and use everything in my kitchen as best as I can. I know what I am eating and how old my food is. But eating in a food waste restaurant was a different experience. Before my lunch at Loop I got asked by a friend if I was sure I wasn’t going to get sick. It’s food waste after all. And I haven’t selected the ingredients myself as I do at home. I was not worried: I was thrilled! Yes, finally I am going to see and taste what Loop is all about. I am probably more adventurous with foods that have passed best-before dates all by myself than any restaurant so I was just happy to go and discover what Loop had to offer. And what I’ve learned from From Waste to Taste, only the ingredients that are suitable for eating will be used in Loop which is the same for any restaurant.

The food was delicious. I was completely taken by my lunch and woved to return. I hope Loop will attract new customers and just by its existence encourage people to rethink the way they see food waste and its significance for climate change. And did the food help me to have a better conscience compared to other lunches I’ve had? Well, yes it did. I also found myself thinking about my next grocery store run and how I would raid the store of red-labelled foods that are about to go to waste.

Ps. The newest from From Waste to Taste project is a crowdfunding campaign for Wasted beer that will be made from surplus bread. Check it out!

Written for Global  Senses
Text by Tiina Junno

Sources: Loop restaurant, From Waste to Taste, The Globe and Mail, Natural Resources Institute Finland