It’s as though the old adage ‘it’s what’s inside that counts’ somehow missed the food service industry. Blemishes of any description render an otherwise delicious ingredient to the scrap pile, adding to the 250,000 tonnes of food waste from restaurants and cafes that ends up in landfill every year in Australia.

However, in recent years, a new movement is underway: the ‘Ugly Food Movement’. Tackling the issue of wastage and sustainability head on, the ugly food movement looks to switch up the view of what food should look like, for both the chef and the consumer.

In this blog, we’ll look at the major players in the fight against food wastage, the impact on the modern hospitality industry, and how you can get involved.

 

It all begun in 2014: the official ‘Year Against Food Waste’

In 2014, the European Union set about scrapping the rules that prevented the sale of oddly-sized or misshapen fruit and vegetables. Supermarkets across Europe were quick to respond, with various companies going viral for their embrace of ‘ugly’ produce. The movement was embraced by chains across the world: Tesco, Walmart, Loblaws, and even Jamie Oliver have jumped on board.

Here in Australia, we were also among the first to get involved. In 2014, Australia’s largest supermarket retailer, Woolworths released its ‘Odd Bunch’ campaign. At the same time NSW food retailer Harris Farms launched its ‘imperfect picks’ range.

It was a different story in our restaurants

Whilst consumers were enthusiastic in buying wonky food for their home cooking, the expectation for perfect food from a restaurant still existed. In the kitchen, chefs and venue managers were yet to be convinced that imperfect produce was acceptable – after all, that’s exactly what they were primed to look for from their suppliers.

Wastage in the kitchen extends beyond just rejecting blemished food; it also comes down to lack of imagination to make good use of the whole ingredient – even the ugly parts.

“[Hospitality] is an incredibly wasteful industry,” said Tom Kime, executive chef of Goodtime Hospitality Group.

“It’s of the highest, in terms of the energy produced to produce the food – and then the fact that chefs are busy, and they’re just going to throw things away; they don’t reuse and they don’t recycle.”

Outside of the professional foodservice industry, lesser-used ingredient like fruit skins, stalks, seeds, cores, and other parts usually considered garbage are being used in new and imaginative ways. This is yet to take off in commercial kitchens.

“While the movement is unquestionably gaining ground, getting the mainstream on board remains a serious challenge,” writes Time magazine.

“We have been conditioned over decades to expect perfect-looking produce (generally, ‘perfect’ means ‘uniform’, and free of blemishes – ‘ugly’ foods are just as tasty and nutritious as their prettier counterparts). It might take a long time to move people off those expectations. After all, the organic-food movement began in earnest more than 40 years ago, but only in recent years has it started affecting the food business in a big way.”

This isn’t a fad, this is a crucial shift in behaviours

It is estimated that a third of all the food produced in the world is never consumed, with the total cost of food waste being as high as US$400 billion a year! ‘Dumpster diving’ has become a key indication of the perfectly usable produce that is thrown away daily by our local restaurants and supermarkets. So much so, that a new dietary preference has been coined: ‘freegan’, where you source all of your food from the commercial bins out the back of restaurants.

This is simply not sustainable. If our local hospitality industry made a concerted effort to embrace the ugly food movement, the ripple effects could be dramatic.

“Being able to provide lower priced fresh fruit and vegetables to low socio-economic consumer groups, while promoting healthy eating, is also a positive outcome for both retailers and shoppers,” writes The Conversation, “Ultimately, an ‘ugly food’ program is a win-win for all those in the supply chain – growers, retailers and consumers.”

Reduced costs, reduced overheads, and reduced wastage

The ugly food movement has more benefits than you may consider at first glance. Given that ‘ugly’ produce would usually be rejected by you as the business owner, it would normally then be transported back to either a market or on to a disposal unit.

These transport costs would be cut, as ugly produce can be accepted and either used or sold at a lower price point. These savings will be passed on to you, as the owner, and eventually onto your customers as well.

Getting involved is easy – it’s just about making better choices

How can you get involved with improving wastage in your kitchen? Get on board with the ugly food movement! A simple place to start is having a meeting with your supplier. They will be only too happy to discuss a discount to supply you with ‘ugly’ produce – after all, they are wanting to get rid of it too!

Sit down with your chef, and review your menu. What items can you remove that require ‘perfect’ produce? Or, what items can you create that will make use of the ugly items? You will be surprised with a little thought and creativity what kind of savings you can make.

The ugly food movement may seem kitsch and cute, but beneath the marketing campaigns lies a far more serious message. The amount of food being wasted from our country’s commercial kitchens is an epidemic that needs to be stopped. With climate change dramatically affecting our farming capacity, we must all learn to be resourceful with how we cook, and how we eat.