Nearly one-third of the food produced the world over goes to waste every year, according to Food and Agriculture Organization. The number is estimated at a staggering 1.3 billion tonnes. In a bid to curtail this squandering of food resources, chef Justine Horne set up a pop-up in London called Tiny Leaf, and then Sativa, with the aim to reshape life cycles of produce.
Horne was in the Capital to participate in the recently-concluded Tasting India symposium, where he spoke about his zero-waste philosophy and his restaurants that further it. Excerpts:
How did you tilt towards the zero-waste philosophy?
At a restaurant I was working with, we were peeling artichokes and throwing the leaves away. I wondered why we were doing that when I ate them as a child. And since then, the idea of throwing so much food didn’t sit right with me. Then I went to the Burning Man festival and I was to produce a dinner for a hundred people and there was no waste. There was a collective consciousness about making a difference. I went back to the UK and worked in refugee camps, and Syrians told me how they never wasted food. My passion was for food and all these experience made me want to work in a way that didn’t produce any waste.
How did you go about building a zero waste restaurant?
The idea behind it was to work with those working in policy change, supermarkets, wholesalers, retailers and farmers — who produce huge amounts of waste because they receive orders that are changed last minute after they’ve already grown the produce, and they are contractually bound to not sell it to anyone else so they end up wasting it. There’s nothing wrong with it, I mean some of it might be oddly shaped or something but it’s perfectly edible.
What food did you realise was most wasted?
Bread is the most wasted food, traditionally, but even some vegetables like tomatoes and lettuce. We saw a pattern emerging in the very first month of the kind of produce we would get on a daily or weekly basis. We design the menu accordingly.
What are the challenges of creating such a menu?
Initially, it was perceptions and terminology. Because waste is a negative word, we use the word surplus instead. Then there was the supply chain. We weren’t ordering food, it had to be collected. There was also the challenge to ensure diversity on the plate.
How does your approach extend to drinks?
Some of the ingredients in the kitchen are used in the bar as well. We make lemoncello (Italian lemon liqueur) out of lemon peels in our kitchen. We dehydrate the skins of foods and turn them into bar snacks. They’re also really good for flavouring.
Tell us about Sativa, your new restaurant.
Our test kitchen opened about three months ago. We’re focusing more on circular thinking. I’m working with the Helen McCarthy Foundation and am on the board of Cities and Circular Economy for Food, which is a global initiative. We’ve created a vertical farm restaurant, which not only grows its own produce but creates its own energy by recycling the waste produced. We are producing fertilisers on the side which will be sent out to farms, and we’re investing in farms growing heritage grains. We also have partners to create a food chain, like an app with big logistics behind it. So, if I have suppliers, I can chat with the farmer and buy directly through the app.
How can food tech enable sustainability in India?
Technology like biodigesters and hydro fuel technology can help. Then, demudifiers take water out of the air, which can be used for farming. I’m speaking to some partners here to initiate that kind of food tech en masse.