Chef Ada Parellada, owner of the Semproniana restaurant in Barcelona, is also one of the strongest voices in the fight against food waste. For her, this has become a personal crusade and forms part of all of her projects, as she thinks even small gestures can change an entire global system.
When did you decide to fight food waste?
Like most people, I was unaware of this serious world problem, but one day a friend invited me to a talk at the Waste Agency. I was reluctant, but it opened my eyes.
I realised the situation was unsustainable, with a very high environmental cost. According to a 2013 Food and Agriculture Organization report, we throw away a third of the food we produce. A third!
And how did you become active?
With dinners I do twice a year that I call gastrorecup, meals for a hundred people prepared with food that was to be thrown away. They are, of course, products still in good condition that we have rescued, provided by my regular suppliers and local shops. They are foods that are not aesthetically attractive, as they are very ripe, or that do not meet established standards, or because there are too many similar products on the market.
And your clients are not reluctant?
They know what they come for, and they’re becoming increasingly more aware, because they see there’s no reason, food-wise, to throw those products away. The participants can’t choose the menu, because the dishes are made depending on the products we recover. We help them lose their fear of food that was meant for the rubbish bin.
Your restaurant also applies daily measures against food waste.
They’re small gestures that work, such as different dish sizes, so diners can choose according to how hungry they are and don’t leave anything on the plate. We don’t put bread on the table unless they ask for it, and we help them to take food home if they don’t finish it. In each action you take to avoid food waste you discover indecent practices that have become dangerously common.
Aren’t we directly responsible?
Consumers do not know how the markets work and no longer have access to those products previously taken out of the chain. They won’t find them in shops, because someone will have already decided they are not good enough. Each and every one of us can help break this perverse chain, because most food is thrown away at home – some 58% of all food that is thrown out.
Where is there most food waste?
There are few studies on where and when it’s wasted. We don’t know what is thrown away in fields, because farmers consider it fertiliser. Technically, it’s wasted because it has no commercial value. Then there’s the food industry, which can throw away a trailer of bread because of a cancelled order.
Do we suffer from full fridge syndrome?
Of course! We’re obsessed with stuffing it with food until there’s no space left, just in case we need it, which mostly doesn’t happen. It’s true that our habits have changed and that people don’t go shopping every day, but with some organisation we could avoid large quantities of food ending up in the bin. It breaks my heart to see how much food fills the rubbish containers every day.
What can be done on a small and large scale?
At home, plan ahead and be organised. Make calendars and plan meals for the week. Prepare the bases of the main courses in advance. On a global scale, we need to look for more efficient food redistribution systems.
So redistribution is not the solution?
Redistribution is fine, but it’s only a part of the picture; it’s not the solution to food waste. In addition, we’re giving out a negative message: that people without resources can only be fed with what the rich do not want. Nor is it a final solution to sell things at half price, just to get rid of them. We need to work on a longer-term solution, with a change of values and mentality.
That as consumers we must accept more social responsibility. People need to ask themselves where the leftovers of a banquet will go, or the bread that’s still for sale in bakeries half an hour before closing time.
We are heirs of the Mediterranean cuisine. Does this mean we eat well?
Well, it’s been generations since most of us have followed the Mediterranean cuisine. Our mothers, who are now grandmothers, accepted and incorporated the Atlantic influence into their food preparation, where meat is an indispensable element and became a symbol of progress and good nutrition. Nowadays, those who claim to cook Mediterranean cuisine usually do vegetarian cuisine. However, that means there is no meat, and so lacking the protein that Mediterranean cuisine demands.