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As we say good bye to 2016’s obsession for avocados and freakshakes, it is time to welcome the latest trend; Zero-Waste food. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has been at the forefront of the fight against food waste and launched his campaign ‘waste not’ in a bid to raise awareness of the issue affecting our planet and its future. More recently, this philosophy of using all the leftovers has been developed by Dan Barber who set up wastED, based on the philosophy of making something delicious out of ignored or typically disregarded food with absolutely no leftovers. This critically acclaimed restaurant based in New York has recently launched a pop-up in Selfridges, bringing their resourceful manifesto along with them. Here, Barber shares the stove with Michelin-starred chefs including Gordon Ramsay, Tom Kerridge and Clare Smyth, collaborating on waste-based dishes. In this spirit, the campaign ‘love food, hate waste’ has been set up and many restaurants including Tiny Leaf and Silo in Brighton among others have also embraced the philosophy. Another initiative has been the set-up of Community Fridges in Somerset and more recently in Brixton, designed so that waste food can reach those in need.

Driving this move towards food resourcefulness was the publication of shocking statistics by the UK waste and recycling advisory body (WRAP). They have demonstrated the extent of the issue in the UK with households binning increasing amounts of food, costing £19 billion annually. Shockingly, they have illustrated that we live in a country where one third of the food we produce simply does not get eaten. They further indicate that 4.2 million tonnes of food waste thrown away by UK households is actually avoidable. There’s hope that 2017 will be the year this all changes.

We live in a country where one third of the food we produce simply does not get eaten

Yet, the biggest culprits for food waste are the millennials. The millennials (or the generation aged 18 to 34) have already received a bad reputation for our obsession with social media. Now, to put the cherry on top, a recent study by Sainsbury’s has labelled us the most wasteful generation too; whilst only 5% of over-55s threw away leftovers three or more times a week, millennials have been estimated at wasting four times as much. Perhaps this is a reflection of the fact that our grandparents were brought up with war-time rationing, a concept foreign to most of us. When you think about it, this recent ‘waste not, want not’ mentality is hardly new, but rather harks back to the spirit of war-time. In fact, traditional British cuisine is partly based on the waste-not attitude, finding ways to celebrate lesser cuts of meat through black pudding and steak-kidney pies and making dishes out of leftovers such as bubble and squeak. Despite this, food-waste is on the rise.

We are all used to perfect images of dishes on Instagram, but this has had a negative impact on our expectations of the food we eat. Now, we expect food to be unblemished and in pristine condition, when – let’s face it – fruit does get bruised and carrots aren’t all the same length. When you consider that up to 40% of a vegetable crop can be disregarded because they do not meet the aesthetic requirements of supermarkets, it really emphasises the extent of the issue. Instead, Dan Barber suggests that ‘unsightly’ items including split tomatoes and bruised berries are often literally bursting with flavour and encourages the use of them in cooking. Similarly, food-blogger Saskia Gregson-Williams promotes planning for meals in advance and only buying what you need as the key to reducing waste, so those vegetables or pot of yoghurt at the back of your fridge don’t get forgotten.

Let’s face it – fruit does get bruised and carrots aren’t all the same length

Whilst these attempts place the spotlight on encouraging consumers to reduce their waste, it diverts attention away from the real problem, supermarkets. Although we all have a responsibility to make sure we only buy what we will eat, perhaps the main focus of attention should actually be on the big supermarkets like Sainsbury’s and Tesco who have remained remarkably reluctant to publish their own data on their discarded food. Furthermore, more needs to be done to raise awareness of the issue of food waste and to find sustainable solutions to combat the problem. Let’s make this more than just a trend.

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