Our volunteers serving delicious meals from rescued food at the National Selection Conference © Anna von Flüe
Earlier this month on a Saturday morning, our events coordinator along with our zealous volunteers were busy chopping and cooking rescued food to feed the 150 attendees of the National Selection Conference. The event was organised here in Amsterdam by the European Youth Parliament the Netherlands, together with the United Nations Environmental Programme.
The National Selection Conference brings together 100 Dutch and international delegates who would have passed through the four preliminary rounds open for high school students all over the Netherlands. This 19th edition of the conference ‘Bending without breaking: A modern union in a changing Europe’ brought together youths to discuss and debate the challenges the European Union is facing within the broader topics of sustainability, climate change and other related environmental issues. The lead event organiser from the European Youth Parliament the Netherlands explained the intentions as ‘Aiming to provide a platform whereby youth can discuss the changes needed in the movement towards a more sustainable future for Europe’. The conference highlights the importance of involving young people in political processes and decision making in order to create active and critical citizens.
How do TBYW and the National Selection conference come together?
TBYW gets plenty of catering requests, however as an organisation we always make sure that the aim of the event and purpose of those organising it align with our mission. Since the programme at the National Selection Conference focused on activating young people towards sustainability and adaptability, we sought to support and to take the opportunity to introduce people to our mission. As an organisation the European Youth Parliament Netherlands (EYP) wanted to put into practice that which it preaches, and send a message that tackling global issues can be done through simple measures, as cooperating with local initiatives.
“ … a great part of it comes through the values we share: the idea that young people should take responsibility to make the change they want to see in the world; the sustainable interaction with our neighbourhood, the environment and our food; and the idea that you can make a change and the realisation that, if you aren’t afraid to reach out to those around you, you will find more people willing to support your cause than you had originally expected.”
– Thanos Theofanakis, Head Organiser of the National Selection Conference, European Youth Parliament
How did TBYW get ready for the catering?
The same format as for our weekly dinners was followed, but with the challenge of preparing enough food for almost double the amount of people. Our volunteers collected unwanted food from grocery shops and catering companies, filled the bakfiets and rode towards our kitchen. There they met the volunteers where they proceeded to cook and prepare the food. A second group of volunteers then helped to set up and serve the food at the location.
“The most essential preparation was ensuring we had enough volunteers. Without them it would nothave been possible, and I was so impressed by how dedicated and helpful everyone was. They really made it possible – and fun!” – TBYW events coordinator, Jenny
The response from the conference attendees was truly positive as many people asked questions about the organisation and complimented the food. Everyone was open minded about trying ‘waste’ food, and it inspired them to consider how they consume food more carefully.
What is the extent of food waste in the food service sector?
Presently, the food service sector is responsible for 14% of the total amount of food waste within the EU 27, at an average of 25kg per capita. Here the food service sector refers to the; “production sector involved in the preparation of ready-to-eat food for sale to individuals and communities; includes catering and restauration activities in the hospitality industry, schools, hospitals and businesses (European Commission, 2010).” This sector is the third largest food waste source in the EU 27, after households (42%), and manufacturing (39%). It still presents opportunities to address inefficiencies in the supply chain and reduce the environmental and financial costs.
Wastage mostly occurs due to spoilage,preparation, plate wastage, and food which is prepared but not served. In its preparatory study on food waste across EU 27, the European Commission identified a number of causes for wastage which include lack of awareness and cultural attitudes, inefficient stock management, cooking and serving practices, and marketing strategies and standards (European Commission, 2010). For example, the simple action of taking leftovers home tends to be frowned upon which results in food being thrown out rather than consumed later. Portion sizes prove to be tricky, as already-set portions might be too much for personal appetites, however a buffet style also leads to wastage as individuals might help themselves to more than what they actually will consume.
Financially, this food waste represents a huge loss for the food service sector, as perfectly edible food is being thrown out. This now ex-food, accounts for costs for the providers, as they buy ingredients, store them, and then pay employees to make the necessary preparations for consumption (Kreienberg, 2018). Such ineffectiveness in the present food service system makes providers spend money on products which will never be consumed.
Environmentally, this wastage of food is a double loss, at pre-consumption and the post-consumption stages (Lipinski , O’Connor, & Hanson, 2016). The initial stage consumes natural resources such as land, water to grow produce, then energy sources for transportation and production which account for GHGs emissions. In the post-consumption stage food waste needs to be collected and treated which again require energy and land resources. This process results in greenhouse gasses and methane emissions as waste decomposes in landfills.
Socially, this has negative implications on the global issue of food scarcity, where one in nine people is still malnourished. Food waste, especially in the food service sector highlights the global social inequalities, as certain parts of the world don’t have a constant reliable food source, while other parts of the world are wasting edible food (Oliveira, Pinto de Moura, & Cunha, 2016). Especially, in the food service sectors, consumers seem to lose their responsibility and ownership of food because they are detached from its production and preparation. This culture of abundance which is assumed for an enjoyable dining out experience devalues food and generates waste, however this does not have to be so.
What can be done?
Let’s not give up on the food service sector just yet, as it is still a sector ripe with opportunity to reduce food waste. Simple but effective changes can be made in the kitchen, during service, and at consumption. Technology can provide means to prolong the shelf life of produce broadening the time frame within which produce can be used in kitchens. Together with the right tools and attitude kitchen staff can be equipped with more creative thinking when using their produce to minimize losses. Food operators take on a role in educating both staff and consumers on the implications of the food waste. In turn customers can reward providers which are reducing their food waste and finding more sustainable means to provide their service without diminishing the overall experience or satisfaction.
Luckily HOTREC, the umbrella Association of hotels, restaurants, bars and cafes and similar establishments in Europe provides guidelines to reduce food waste and recommendations to manage food donations. These are step by step changes which providers can make to reduce food waste, right from constructing the menu to recycling and reusing food leftovers (HOTREC, 2017). Such changes would eventually improve the competitiveness of these food service providers, as it cuts their financial costs and also offer better prices for consumers.
Some of the suggested improvements include:
- Favour flavours over quantities
- Involve your customers in your efforts to reduce food waste/losses: encourage them to act responsibly and sustainably
- When possible, favour advance bookings to have a better view on the quantity of products to be ordered and stored
- Have a responsible person in charge of food donations. This will avoid mismanagement of food surplus, and therefore prevent avoidable losses
Source: European Hospitality industry guidelines to reduce food waste and recommendations to manage food donations, HOTREC, Hospitality Europe (2017)
So, what does this mean?
Our collaboration with the European Youth Parliament Netherlands, and involvement at the National selection conference, stand as an example how a localised initiative can provide a solution to environmental issues which can seem overwhelming to tackle. This catering contributed to reducing food waste and the environmental impact, while providing attendees with nutritious delicious food , and insight to practical way of addressing food waste. We have shown how, with the right changes the food service sector has the potential to contribute to a more sustainable food system This catering event also reaffirms the role that youths play in societal change, which should never be underestimated. Both organisations Taste Before You Waste and the European Youth parliament the Netherlands are youth led and committing their efforts towards a positive impact. With such small steps, we continue on the mission to minimize food waste and maximize the food value, along with all those offering their support.
Special thanks to the Thanos Theofanakis, Head organiser at the 19th National Selection Conference, Amsterdam, and TBYW Events coordinator Jenny Willcock for their contribution.