Loving our leftovers

Since 2016, Leftover Lovers has been holding public workshops to educate Australian businesses on how to reduce their food waste.

More than 5.3 million tonnes of food intended for human consumption is wasted from households and the commercial and industrial sector each year, according to the National Food Waste Strategy.

Likewise, FoodWise estimates Australian households turf $8 billion worth of edible food each year.

The figures drove Jessica Allice, a cook, to investigate a wiser way of making a difference to lower these volumes, educating the hospitality industry in the process, and establishing her business, Leftover Lovers.

Since 2016, Jessica has been purchasing leftover food waste to use in public workshops at a range of Melbourne organisations, including the Melbourne Farmers Markets, South Melbourne Market, Queen Victoria Market and City of Monash.

Jessica says it’s food that is still fit for consumption, but either doesn’t pass the cosmetics standards of the facility, or where an oversupply of food is leftover from the day.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that 20 to 40 per cent of fresh product in the market is excluded due to high cosmetic standards in the retail industry – a figure regularly quoted in an Australian context.

“My experiences working in a food waste kitchen and seeing the impact of unnecessary waste on the farmer inspired me to show its true value and start a new conversation about what we are actually throwing out,” Jessica says.

She adds that much of the cosmetic standards in the retail industry are devaluing the hard work of farmers.

When establishing the workshop, Jessica decided to partner with another chef, Lynton Tapp, who had an understanding of rural life and the ability to achieve more with less. Lynton’s skills as a media personality and chef from the remote Northern Territory Roper River region also helped him communicate the values of improving food security and reducing waste.

Leftover Lovers works with stallholders to identify what produce they will have to bin if it’s not sold on the day. Jessica says these usually comprise seasonal items that are bought to excess, but can also be those that fall below cosmetic standards, including undersized and oversized eggs and broken carrots.

Leftover Lovers then takes these items back to the outdoor kitchen and in a public display, shows two meals that can be made at home with tastings throughout. It also displays messages to customers about how they can reduce their food waste at home.

She says food audits at the South Melbourne Market have had an impact. Since 2017, based on South Melbourne foot traffic, one per cent of the 5000 people that visit the market daily are taking on board the Leftover Lovers message of purchasing seasonal produce, and choosing food that would otherwise be thrown away. If the opportunities continue to be realised, up to 10 tonnes of food waste per month could be saved at the South Melbourne Market alone.

“A person taking on our message is going to purchase on average four kilos of food that would otherwise go to waste,” Jessica says.

“If 50 people take on this message, purchasing four kilograms of food each, that is 200 kilograms per market as a direct impact. If each person tells 10 more people, then this impact could be as much as 2000 kilograms per market.”

She says there are often three simple tips households can follow when it comes to reducing waste: buy less, as we often purchase more than we need to, exercise portion control, which will in turn benefit our health, and don’t be scared to experiment with recipes.

The ideas align with Sustainability Victoria’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign, which focuses on raising awareness about avoidable food waste in households.

The campaign quotes figures which estimate that 25 per cent of the contents of the garbage bin is made up of avoidable food waste.

Leftover Lovers is now taking its work a step further in working with a Melbourne not-for-profit social enterprise to assist a café in Brunswick to reduce its food waste. It is currently developing a three-year circular economy plan for the café after spending a few months auditing its waste operations, including its packaging suppliers and use of plastic bags.

“We will then come back with services and preserving food targets for them. We’ve also encouraged them to look at plastic-free Tuesdays,” she says.

The work of Leftover Lovers is an ongoing process, and one which involves changing people’s perceptions of what is classified as “real food”.