No Lettuce Left Behind: How Amsterdam Battles Food Waste

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In 2013, Dam Food Waste organized a mega-lunch from salvaged food on Museumplein.

For years, environmentally conscious Dutchies have been eating to save the planet. More recently, many also have been helping others follow their lead through Amsterdam-based initiatives like Taste Before You Waste and Guerilla Kitchenboth focused on stopping the vicious cycle of food waste that challenges a sustainable future.

Turning Food Waste Back Into Food

Since 2012, Taste Before You Waste has given new life to some 250kg of fruit and veggies weekly that would otherwise land in the trash bin because they’re not pretty enough to be sold. Several times each week, volunteers on carrier bikes collect food destined to be tossed from small, independent grocers and organic farmers. Much is distributed to local charities and homeless shelters. Some is given away at Friday evening mini-street markets where fruits and vegetables are offered FREE to anyone who promises to reduce food waste at home. A bike-load is delivered to people on the streets in a different neighborhood each Saturday, along with tips on how to save money by saving food.

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Taste Before You Waste salvages 250kg of wonky produce weekly. Photo credit: http://www.maartenbrante.com

Taste Before You Waste also hosts debates and documentary screenings on sustainable practices. No-food-waste dinners are offered several evenings a week for a small contribution at De Meevaart in Amsterdam Oost. Excess veggies and bread are up for grabs after the meal, so you can leave with ingredients for your next one if you’re in the right place at the right time. If you’re so inspired, you can also sign up as a Taste Before You Waste volunteer.

GuerillaKitchenThrough similar local partnerships and support from Foodlogica—a CITIES Foundation program that fights pollution and urban congestion while providing sustainable food—Guerilla Kitchen peacefully protests food waste by salvaging edibles from local markets and restaurants. In exchange for use of Foodlogica’s solar-powered e-trikes, team members deliver food that would otherwise go to waste to CITIES’ offices. Through this innovation form of food reclamation, an abundance of bread, yogurt, cheese, meat, fruits and vegetables is reclaimed from local food suppliers.

Eating to Save the Planet in Amsterdam

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Dine on an outdoor terrace at Instock, where salvaged food is turned into delicious meals.
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Instock is the brainchild of four Albert Heijn/Ahold employees who met on the job and won an in-house “best idea” contest. Now they manage their own restaurant in Amsterdam Oost.

Numerous local restaurants have joined the food revolution, hoping to reverse a single global irony: while of the world’s food goes to waste, ⅓ of its population doesn’t have enough to eat. Among the first to put potential waste on diners’ plates is Instock, a casual bistro in Amsterdam Oost that transforms surplus (but NOT expired) bread, fruit and vegetables from Albert Heijn stores in Amsterdam, plus meat and fish from different suppliers, into delicious meals.

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What to do with surplus potatoes? Brew beer, of course. Taste it at Instock.

The brainchild of four Albert Heijn/Ahold employees who met working at the supermarket chain and won an in-house “best idea” contest, the restaurant prides itself on creative menus that make use of surplus edibles that would otherwise be tossed in the trash bin.

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Instock’s beef with red pepper sauce and veggies, made with surplus from local markets.

Also riding high on Amsterdam’s environmental bandwagon is De Ceuvel, an urban experiment on a former shipyard in Amsterdam-Noord. The model for self-sufficient cities has transformed 17 old houseboats on polluted soil into a sustainable planned work and cultural center along a winding jetty planted with flora that cleans the soil. Integrated clean-tech systems allow for renewable electricity and heating, circular water and wastewater management, nutrient recovery and food production. The former industrial plot is now a thriving community of entrepreneurs and artists that sets a new standard for sustainable urban development. Events ranging from small workshops to big festivals are held throughout the year.

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A playground for clean technologies, De Ceuvel has turned a former shipyard into a model sustainable community, workplace and cultural center. Photo credit: http://www.wethecity.nl

Self-dubbed “an experiment in which we make sustainability creative, accessible and fun,” De Ceuvel aims to be as energy self-sufficient as possible and to process its own waste in innovative ways that don’t harm the planet. The community embraces a resilient food system that preserves and restores natural ecosystems through the use of products and ingredients that support environmental protection.

That’s the mantra behind the menus at Café De Ceuval, a funky restaurant within De Ceuvel that serves creative cuisine that’s also good for the planet. An environmentally-conscious kitchen staff uses fresh local and organic products for multi-course farm-to-table meals. Every day, a “Dumpster Dish” features market veggies saved before going in the dumpster. Other sustainable practices include a restaurant recycling program, near zero-waste kitchen and an experimental digester that will turn fermented kitchen waste into cooking gas.

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Eco-cafe De Ceuvel in Amsterdam Noord serves a daily “Dumpster Dish” featuring produce that might have gone in the trash bin. Photo credit: http://www.leonieproeft.nl

Wonky Veggies Revival

Beyond commercial establishments and volunteer organizations, local products are being developed to combat food waste. After two Rotterdam Business Economics students learned about the estimated 510% of produce from local markets and restaurants that gets wasted because of imperfect looks (partly due to past EU legislation that restricted the sale of wonky veggies), they decided to help weirdly shaped yet perfectly edibles find their place on your plate or in your bowl. After all, does it matter how a tomato looks once it’s tranformed into a hearty soup?

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Who cares if a carrot is crooked if it’s turned into yummy soup by Komkommer (a wordplay on crooked cucumber), a new Dutch brand? Photo credit: http://www.kromkommer.com

Thus, Kromkommer (a wordplay of the words crooked and cucumber) was born to salvage two-legged carrots, wobbly tomatoes and other food destined to be tossed or used for animal feed due to overproduction or its weird size or shape. Thanks to a successful 2014 crowdfunding campaign, the wonky veggies have been brought back to consumers through the new Kromkommer product line, now on the market at 50 stores in the Netherlands, including Waar in Amsterdam, which sells the line’s carrot, tomato and beet soup. The founders are now busy thinking of new recipes and products that will bring wonky veggies and fruits into healthy meals.

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