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The world behind food waste

– Meals made out of food waste? Is that allowed in The Netherlands? 

That is what one of my friends told me after hearing that I went to have lunch at Instock, a restaurant that creates delicious meals out of food waste in Amsterdam. Until I heard his response, I did not acknowledge that the phrase “food waste” could have been associated so negatively, to even doubt if it is allowed to use it in The Netherlands. Not only that but at that moment, I realized how little I knew to understand all the problems hidden behind food waste. According to FAO, one third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, which amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year.

instock1Nevertheless, looking at Instock and the way it operates as a restaurant, a part of the issue of food waste became clearer to me. Imagine you supervise a supermarket, you want to have quality products, it is a must that packages of fruits and vegetables look amazing. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, you realize that several packages contain vegetables or fruits that do not look so fresh anymore, the demand was less than expected; or you realize that for instance, a package of six apples contain one that is rotten. It would be really inefficient that in a vast quantity of apple packages, you break each package, take out the rotten apple, put a new one and give it a new scanning code for selling. This is why; as the supervisor, you chose to remove it from the shelf.

On one hand, this would represent a small economic loss in the business of the supermarket but on the other hand, all the removed packages create food waste. In fact, supermarkets account for 5% of total food waste produced.

In this case, now you realize that food waste is fruits and vegetables which are taken out of the food supply chain because they do not look so fresh, have been spoiled or because the demand was less than expected. Nevertheless, these fruits and vegetables are still in line with the food and safety authority regulation and can thus still be consumed.

Now imagine that you see this every day and one day you decide to do something about it. I mean, you can really see that there are fruits and vegetables in perfect condition, even though some of them are later processed to produce bio-gas, there is still food in perfect conditions to be consumed. This is what happened to four young people who met each other at the Dutch retailer, Albert Heijn. They saw all the waste and decided to create a restaurant where they could use this food.

Furthermore, they enrolled in an innovation competition; presented a business plan, won through the support of Albert Heijn, and later on they started the Foundation ‘Instock‘.

Instock 2Although the business behind this restaurant could sound promising, even though labor costs are higher than in a normal restaurant, their main goal is to reinvest these profits in more projects concerning food waste. In this case, it is a social enterprise not the “business as usual”.

But let’s go on with our story, you start a restaurant which will use food waste. What comes next?

The business operation will be totally different than the one from a normal restaurant, even though Instock has to work with the same strict regulations as a normal restaurant would do.

You will require training the employees of the supermarket so they will put the food in a specific place of the supermarket facilities in order for you to pick it up every morning. The food that is picked up by Instock is still in their original package.

Instock 3Since you are also combating CO2 emissions through rescuing food waste, you want to be as sustainable as possible, so you use an electric van to pick up the food.

Later on, once you have the food, you will need a new process to separate all the products which is very labor intensive. This is exactly what happens with Instock, not only they have an electric van, but they cover more logistic steps comparing to a regular restaurant such as collecting the products, cleaning and splitting them. Although this also implies more time and costs, it is worth it, because Instock is actually taking action against food waste, they are giving back all the value of food itself, paying tribute to all the energy, labor and natural resources used for that food being produced.

Now that you have the food in your kitchen, what would you do? You could have different ingredients per day; food waste varies from day to day. This is why; you would hire a really creative chef. In this case, Instock hired a really cool Australian chef, Lucas Jeffries, who creates awesome meals (you have to go and try it yourself; meals are never the same there).

As a restaurant, you will also need more than fruits and vegetables, how will you get more ingredients? Instock looks at all the possibilities. For instance, they get meat from one of the biggest meat packaging companies in the Netherlands. This company produces every day but when they finish the production line, sometimes surplus occurs because less was sold in the stores than forecasted. The meat is still in perfect conditions so Instock can use it for their menu.

These are really small losses in monetary terms for a profitable business. Nevertheless, if you add all these surplus streams, they represent significant quantities of food just wasted.

Instock 4As you can see, Instock is the perfect example to gain knowledge about the hidden issues behind food waste. The food system works efficiently for the consumer but there is not yet a solid solution for all the food surplus streams that cannot be sold due to quality reasons.

Even though, Instock can be a small initiative comparing to all the food waste that exists, it is a great start. It is the first initiative of its kind in The Netherlands.

While you were reading this article, you became a part of Instock’s story on its daily basis, gaining insights about food waste. In my opinion, that is what we need, be part of a story, observe the situation around us, analyze it and among everything, if something concerns us, take action. Only through actions we can raise awareness and educate not only about food waste but about more issues that our world is facing nowadays. I also invite you to visit Instock and try its awesome menu.

You can also visit its website and find more information.

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