• Molly Gallant

The fight against food waste should take place in the kitchen

Updated: Aug 12, 2019


Growing concerns about the environmental, economic and social impacts of food waste have resulted in this topic making headlines almost daily.

Although there remains significant discussion, some estimates suggest that here in Canada, we waste $31 billion worth of food annually with about 50% of that waste being attributed to the household. With food more abundantly available and convenience taking priority, evidence suggests that food waste is a contemporary problem. Looking for proof? Talk to your grandparents, food waste did not exist in times of food scarcity.


When it comes to addressing this issue, responsibility falls on everyone from farmers, food processors, restauranteurs and retailers to consumers and policy makers. As these various groups begin to discuss solutions, there is one industry that seems to be ahead of the game.


The restaurant industry has historically been based on efforts to reduce food waste. It is no secret that restaurants have narrow profit margins and face never-ending competition. For this reason, restaurants and chefs have been quick to prevent food waste in their domains. The implications of food waste in this case could not be more obvious: wasting food is equivalent to wasting money, shrinking profits and a reduced competitive edge. From this culture of thrift, we see the emergence of creative and tasty dishes featuring ingredients recreated in novel and surprising ways. And to think, we pay good money for these food scraps!


To a greater extent, regional and now national cuisines have long served to absorb and re-imagine by-products from the food chain. Many great cuisines are built on using leftovers, eating with the seasons, saving money and cooking with scraps. Thriftiness, it seems, has traditionally been the foundation of many great cuisines.


Recognizing the importance of restaurants in shaping our food choices, a panel was recently held in Guelph, ON to discuss restaurants' role in preventing and managing food waste.


Panelists Jeff Crump, Pam Fanjoy and Mike Von Massow. (Tony Saxon/GuelphToday)

Panel members included Shea Robinson, Executive Chef at the Neighbourhood Group of Companies (Borealis, Miijidaa, Park Grocery and The Wooly); Jeff Crump, executive at Pearle Hospitality and director of Bread Bar and author: Earth to Table Every Day; Pam Fanjoy, owner and executive chef of FanJoy Restaurant & Bar in Hillsburgh and our very own fearless Food Focus leader, Mike von Massow.



The panel discussion kicked off with each panelist sharing tidbits of their philosophy on food as well as some food waste management strategies. Shea Robinson described some of the many innovative ways him and his team are tackling food waste from using vegetable peels to make a flavourful vegetable ash to repurposing coffee grinds in a coffee custard dessert.


However, panelists recognized that they could only do so much to address this issue before handing responsibility off to individual consumers. As the conversation shifted to what consumers could do at home to reduce food waste, one thing was made immediately clear; we need to learn how to cook.


A seemingly simple and definitely old-school solution. This traditional approach suggests that by addressing the atrophy of cooking and food preparation skills observed in recent years, we might simultaneously improve diet quality, food insecurity and food waste.


Mike suggested that children today are second generation “food illiterate” – they never learned how to cook because their parents didn’t learn how. Although there are always exceptions, over the past several decades experts have indeed observed significant changes in cooking and food preparation skills. Pre-prepared, packaged and convenience foods (requiring minimal food preparation skills) have soared in popularity, family priorities and values continue to shift, and time and financial realities have made the family meal a distant memory for many. Several of these environmental and social factors have resulted in fewer opportunities for cooking skill acquisition both within homes and in public education environments.

So, how does cooking relate to food waste? Research shows in many ways.

Without basic cooking and food preparation skills, people may struggle at each phase of food acquisition, consumption and disposal. Planning and shopping can become challenging, properly storing food is another story and having the confidence to throw together a meal from odds and ends can be a barrier for many.


For centuries, out of both necessity and sometimes desperation, our ancestors have come up with creative ways to re-imagine food. Today, we give these cooking techniques catchy names like “nose-to-tail” or “root-to-fruit” cooking. However, historically these methods have been simply known as “cooking” and were taught and practiced everywhere, not just in restaurants.


It seems that when addressing food waste in our homes, we must look backwards to move forwards. Go back to basics, pick up a spatula whenever you get the chance and trust that although elaborate and complicated dishes may yet be far away, you don’t need to be a celebrity chef to prepare a healthy and delicious meal for your family.


The event Let's Talk About Food, was held in conjunction with the City of Guelph’s Smart Cities competition entry titled Food Future. Guelph-Wellington has been listed as one of 10 finalists to win $10 million for its plan to create a circular food economy, reduce food insecurity and better manage food waste.



Recommended citation format: Gallant, M. “The fight against food waste should take place in the kitchen”. Food Focus Guelph (17), Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Guelph, March 25th, 2019.


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