My Summer Studying Food Waste

jan 2013 003

By Emily Martin


Food waste is an overlooked but crucial piece of the sustainable food movement. Food waste is rarely considered or included in conversations about sustainable eating. I spent this past summer working as an undergraduate research assistant on a project exploring both residential and restaurant industry food waste in a Canadian context. This project has been working with a local restaurant to explore how much waste they are producing in different areas of their operation (Prep waste, line waste, plate waste and spoilage). Watching edible food fall into the trash for a variety of reasons has stimulated my thinking about the practices and attitudes that allow waste to happen.

One concept that was new to me is the practice of “Auto-ketchuping”. How I have been supplied with ketchup at restaurants never crossed my mind until I found myself scraping scoop after scoop of untouched ketchup (and other sauces) into the trash. This particular restaurant provides small ramekins of ketchup with any d ish involving French fries and on a few other plates. The wait staff was divided, some

ask customers whether or not they would like ketchup with their meal, only when they remember or have time, while others bring it automatically. When thinking about possible service methods (bottles on table, bottles upon request etc.) ramekins seem like the most wasteful option. Understandably some restaurateurs don’t like the aesthetic of ketchup bottles sitting out on tables. A happy medium between waste and aesthetic would be for servers to bring bottles of ketchup to tables after guests have ordered associated dishes. Bottles also allow guests to portion how much they need, further limiting wastage. Similarly we noted that tartar sauce is highly divisive and therefore highly wasted item at this establishment. Ramekins of tartar sauce seem to come back either completely empty or entirely untouched.

Other high waste areas include romaine lettuce prep due to the removal of exterior leaves for cosmetic reasons as well as the removal of fish skin. There also seems to be a pervasive disdain for leftovers that increases plate waste enormously. Servers say that people often can’t be bothered to have their food packed up, “don’t eat leftovers” as a rule, or forget their packed food when they leave (which one server says often happens at this restaurant). The SRA creatively conveys the importance of saving leftovers through their “Too Good to Waste” campaign, printing the common sense slogan on UK restaurant take out boxes.

It should be noted that at this point the research is exploratory, with hopes to identify further areas of study. After participating in several weeks of research, o ne piece began to emerge for me: the causes of waste production differs greatly between residential and industry settings. Residential waste is often prompted by spoilage (or the fear of) while my experience in the restaurant industry showed very low rates of spoilage with most waste coming from service practices (auto- ketchuping) or consumer habits (leaving leftovers behind).

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