Food waste is a huge and growing concern in society these days. “40% of everything we grow and produce gets thrown away” (Re(Purpose), Oct. 2020), this isn’t just referring to the obvious waste experienced from throwing out the food we don’t eat off our plates, or food that we toss from our fridge. This statistic is referring from start to finish in our food supply; from the food wasted at the farmers level, food lost in transportation, food that doesn’t meet the “standards” to make it to a store/ outlet, food lost in preparation, all the way to the food wasted by us; the consumers. Looking at this from a quantitative perspective, The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that roughly ⅓ of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, this is roughly 1.3 billion tons per year. (FAO, 2011) When food is thrown away you aren’t just wasting the actual food product itself, but are also wasting all the resources, water, energy, land, and labour required to grow, harvest, transport, store, process, and cook our food.
All this wasted food runs at a big cost, not only in a economical sense, but environmentally and socially as well. In total, using a full-costing accounting system, The FAO has determined the true magnitude of the economic, environmental, and social costs of food waste is approximately $2.6 trillion USD; $1 trillion USD economic costs, $700 billion USD environmental costs, $900 billion USD social costs (FAO, 2014). One of the major environmental concerns of food waste is its GHG emissions. Based on figures from the Food Balance Sheets and emission factors from Life Cycle Assessment studies the Food and Agricultural Organization was able to estimate that food waste has a carbon footprint of 3.3 GtCO2 eq (Gigatonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide) (Food wastage Footprint & Climate Change., n.d.). If we were to compare this carbon footprint of food wastage as a whole, with the carbon footprint of countries as a whole, food wastage would be considered the 3rd largest GHG emitting “country” in the world (Food wastage Footprint & Climate Change., n.d.). Not only are these costs extremely concerning, but the health and resilience of our food systems is of growing concern as our population continues to grow.
The world population is expected to grow to 9 billion by 2050. In order to meet the demands for this population, global food production must increase 60% by 2050 (FAO, 2014). There will be absolutely no room, socially, environmentally, and economically for food waste in the future. Food waste is a huge issue that we will soon face the consequences of if we don’t change the focus of our food systems and society to one that is concerned with the impacts of this waste. I believe now is a better time than ever to rethink and redevelop our food systems into one with sustainability at the heart of operations. Although this pandemic is devastating in many ways, it has provided us with a rare time where everything has slowed down. This lul in time allows us to take a step back and look at food systems as a whole; see what challenges we must address now, challenges we will face in the future, then develop and install the necessary initiatives, programs, and practices to develop a sustainable system that allows us to meet our current needs and the needs of future generations. One of these practices that allow for the development of sustainable food systems is the concept of a circular food economy. A circular food economy changes our current food system by enhancing access to nutritious food and finding ways to turn food “waste” into valuable resources and new opportunities (Guelph-Wellington, 2020). This is an amazing concept that could provide us with the solutions concerning issues of food waste but has yet to be implemented at large, until now…
I now introduce to you the “Our Food Future” initiative. Our Food Future is a Guelph-Wellington initiative with the bold vision to address issues of food waste by becoming Canada’s first circular food economy. They aim at reinventing this “take-make-dispose” system we currently operate within into a system where nothing is wasted, everyone can access nutritious food, and the impact on the environment is minimal. With their vision in mind, they operate with their 50x50x50 initiative, in which they aim to achieve by 2025. This initiative has 3 bold goals:
- 50% increase in access to affordable, nutritious food;
- 50 new circular food businesses, collaborations and social enterprises; and
- 50% increase in economic revenues by reducing and reimagining our food waste
The vision of this initiative was awarded a $10 million prize in the federal government’s smart cities challenge. This provided them with the necessary funds to work with local expertise and implement the necessary data and technology to open up the conversation to all researchers, social innovators, farmers, and entrepreneurs in the community to communicate and collaborate in order to solve the complex food problems we face in our food system. In order to achieve 50x50x50 by 2025 they have highlighted 9 initial projects they will undertake and in the process of, will create a roadmap to circular food economies that they can share across the country and around the world to help bring food systems and communities into a healthy balance. The 9 initial projects include:
- mapping regional food assets and behaviours
- creating a circular action plan
- establishing a circular food economy lab
- coordinating an impact fund
- fostering new food economy skills and training
- developing and sharing circular business tools and services
- launching a “re-imagine food” awareness campaign
- increasing the circularity of carbon offsets
- mapping the value of food by-products
They recently tackled a couple of these projects through the collaboration and creation of Re(Purpose); a project dedicated to fighting the issue of food waste in the food and beverage industry. The vision of Re(Purpose) is to prevent the waste we usually experience in food systems by creating opportunities for these by-products. On October 15th, 2020 Re(Purpose) did exactly that; creating a circular food economy lab by launching the first ever circular menu experience. This experience entails a completely wasteless, from start to finish, gourmet circular food experience created from unavoidable food waste. Provision Coalition, the creators of Re(purpose), in collaboration with many innovative partners in the community, was able to develop and implement this experience into 3 different restaurants from the Neighbourhood Group in Guelph, ON: Miijidaa Cafe + Bistro, Park Grocery Deli & Bar and The Wooly Pub. Provision Coalition is a team of food industry experts who work closely with food and beverage companies of all sizes in order to help reduce their environmental impacts and improve their sustainability. They know in order to improve sustainability and build these resilient food systems in the food and beverage industry, they must work closely with passionate companies in order to transform their business strategy into one that is circular. One of these companies being Wellington Brewery; the starting block of the circular menu. To read more about this directly from Re(Purpose) visit the website: https://www.repurposebyprovision.ca/
There were 2 initial steps in Provisions work with Wellington: (1) work with the leadership team developing their strategy to become a circular business (2) do a deep investigation into the operations of the brewery to see where they can prevent waste from happening and ensure everything used in the brewing process is consumed by humans. During this process they recognized the unavoidable waste of spent grain that results from the brewing process. In the past Wellington would send this spent grain to local farmers to feed livestock but in collaboration with Provision, they realized they should determine where this could be reused to feed humans. Using their extensive knowledge and connections, they were able to connect the spent grain to a black soldier fly farm in Cambridge called Oreka Solutions. Provision and Wellington then had an open conversation with Oreka solutions allowing them to discover they could, in fact, feed this spent grain to the flies. Once this connection was established they needed to find a livestock outlet to supply these harvested, nutrient packed flies too. That’s when Izumi Aquaculture steps in. Izumi acquires the harvested black soldier flies, then incorporates this nutrient packed supplement into the feed of their Ontario grown trout. This trout then becomes the first ingredient of the circular menu experience.
During my interview with Cher Mereweather, CEO of Provision Coalition, I discovered their original intention working with Wellington brewery was to discover more efficient and sustainable opportunities for their spent grain, not necessarily to develop this whole circular menu experience. It was during the process of determining what to do with this spent grain that Cher and her team at Provision Coalition stumbled upon the question “what if we could actually create a whole meal from this spent grain?”. That is when they opened up this conversation to Court Desautels, CEO of the Neighbourhood Group. Court and the Neighbourhood Group are leaders in the food and beverage industry, changing the way we view success in the industry. He and his companies have shifted the traditional view of a restaurant from somewhere as a place to serve food and beverages to a place that serves the community they operate in, the environment, and their employees. The Neighbourhood Group of Companies is a group of 4 restaurants: Miijidaa Cafe + Bistro, Borealis Grille & Bar, The Wooly Pub, Park Grocery, that all focus on the creation and promotion of locally crafted, natural foods, with a huge emphasis on sustainability at the heart of their operations. They operate as a B certified corporation and yet they are constantly looking for new ways to improve their sustainability and minimize their impacts, so when Cher reached out to Court with this crazy idea, he was eager to give it a whirl… Once Court was on board they looked at what other ingredients they would need to complete this dish. They already had the rich, cold, delicious beer of Wellington brewery to begin this amazing dish, accompanied by the beautiful, locally sourced, sustainable Ontario grown trout, but this was not enough to complete a dish.
As we all know a good potato dish compliments fish exquisitely, with this in mind Provision knew that the fish detritus (feces) made a great fertilizer and reached out to a local potato farmer- Smoyd Potato Farm. The detritus collected from the trout at Azumi Aqualculture was then sent to Smoyd Potato Farm, where it acts as a nutrient packed fertilizer for their potatoes. Once the potatoes are harvested they are then sent to the Neighbourhood Group as a 3rd component of their dish. But what else could they add to their dish? Some of the extra spent grain from Wellington brewery that was not utilzed by the blacksoldier flies was then sent to Grain Revolution, a bakery, and Escarpemt Labs, a team of yeast specialists. These two companies used their expertise to work together and create magic; a spectatcular spent grain sourdough used as the last component in the circular menu experience.
It is from there the amazing and dedicated chefs at the 3 restaurants created a circular menu experience reflecting their restaurant. At The Wooly Pub they had created a sourdough breaded trout and fries, at Park Grocery they had created a hot smoked trout sandwich and chips, and at Miijidaa they created a cured steelhead trout with potato and horseradish cream and a sourdough crostini. These menus made their official debut on October 15th, 2020 and received appraisal from numerous government agents, industry experts and the members of the community. As a part of my research I had to try one of the meals to really get the full experience… I went to the Wooly Pub where I tried their circular menu dish; a sourdough breaded trout and fries. All I can say about the dish: truly amazing. Even if you did not know all of the effort and coordination that went behind the creation of this menu item you would be amazed. You could truly taste the quality and freshness of the dish in each bite, and to go with the theme of no waste there was not one thing left on my plate.
As a part of my internship with UGSRP I was given the amazing opportunity to interview two of the amazing leaders a part of this circular menu experience; Cher Mereweather, CEO of Provision Coalition and Court Desautels, CEO of the Neighbourhood Group. The goal of these interviews was to gain some insight into the process and implementation of this circular menu experience. My first interview was with Cher Merewether where we discuss the process of creating this experience, the concept of circular food economies, and challenges we must overcome in the food and beverage industry as a whole in order to see this concept become more mainstream.
My next interview was with Court Desautels where we discuss the operations of the Neighbourhood Group, the implementation of the circular menu experience, and the perceptions of consumers.
Food waste has been a huge and pressing concern of mine ever since being introduced to the issue, so when I was first introduced to this idea of the circular menu I was absolutely amazed… I personally had never heard of such a system and was immediately intrigued… I’m so excited to have experienced this outstanding development in the food and beverage industry, to have learned more and developed a better understanding about these systems. This menu represents an amazing moment in time and I am so proud to be a part of a community that is so passionate about creating the necessary changes for a sustainable future.
FAO. (2011). Global food losses and food waste – Extent, causes and prevention. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/3/mb060e/mb060e.pdf
Our Food Future: The Circular Food Experience. (2020, October). Re(PURPOSE) By Provision. Retrieved from https://www.repurposebyprovision.ca/
FAO. (2014). Food Wastage Footprint- Full cost Accounting. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/3/a-i3991e.pdf
FAO. (2014). Food Wastage Footprint. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/nr/sustainability/food-loss-and-waste/en/
Guelph-Wellington. (2020). Creating Canada’s first Circular food Economy. Retrieved from https://guelph.ca/wp-content/uploads/SmartCities_Booklet.pdf