Sandeep [00:00:53] I could not believe it when I read this, that there are 19,000 towns and cities in the United States. Only 326 of them have composting programs. That's only two percent. Everybody else throws their food scraps in the trash. After living in Berkeley and now Oakland, California, for the last seven years and learning the ways of composting, this broke my brain.
Sandeep [00:01:18] And it's not just this country. Food waste is one of the biggest challenges humanity faces. About a third of the world's food is never eaten. It doesn't matter if you're from a culture that shows love with their food and makes way too much of it. Hi, Mom! Or if you live in a lower income country that isn't able to get all of its food from farms to its people, or if you're in a rich country where people refuse to eat bruised or quote unquote ugly produce, there are food waste issues all over the world.
Sandeep [00:01:46] What we need to remember is that our rich country food system isn't broken. It was designed this way, designed for abundance and surplus and designed without considering how all of the waste would be responsible for eight percent of our global emissions. That's right. Food waste is a climate challenge, too.
[00:02:06] Honestly, food waste seems like one of those obvious regressive problems that should have been solved by now. You know, unlike CO2 emissions, which are invisible, you can see and smell your food waste. Is it even possible to substitute this linear approach to food that take make waste approach with a more circular approach designed to encourage, reuse and minimize waste? How hard would it be to find alternative food sources that may challenge our cultural norms but ultimately be better for the globe today? How chefs, brewers, and bartenders are finding ways to use everything we have to the fullest. By looking at their businesses through new lenses in a warming world, they show us how we can better use the food that's already available and how that might have positive impacts on our climate.
Sandeep [00:03:02] Chef Bun Lai and his mother had never been afraid of taking risks when she opened Miya's Sushi in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1984. It was the first sushi restaurant in the entire state. Years later, when Bun took over the restaurant, he started questioning the sushi status quo. And that cost some heads to turn.
Bun [00:03:21] I think we got the biggest reactions from people because we were already used to people looking at our menu and walking out, you know, because it wasn't traditional as they knew it. Like California rolls and rainbow rolls (laughs).
Sandeep [00:03:36] Bun wasn't formally trained as a sushi chef so he thought critically about the craft and ingredients that went into making sushi. We often see this in the design and innovation world. A person who brings a different perspective is often able to challenge the dogma of an industry. Bun wasn't beholden to the rules, so he asked questions like: Why use fish whose numbers are declining? Why use unhealthy ingredients when there are so many other options?
Bun [00:04:06] It didn't make sense to me that we were putting massive quantities of sugar into white rice. And why was it that we were only using white rice when there are other grains that tastes that fantastic and we're healthier for you to eat? And why was it that it was only seafood centered when there is this entire world of healthy plants to eat to?
Sandeep [00:04:31] Over time, Bun took items off of the menu like octopus and tuna because they were fished unsustainably. Then one day in 2001, he and a friend were foraging on the coast. They made a discovery that changed everything.
Bun [00:04:46] We noticed all these crabs. We had not seen growing up. And it turned out that they were invasive species and I had not thought about invasive species until then in the context of an untapped resource.
Sandeep [00:05:03] If a plant or animal is not native to an area, if it didn't evolve there, naturally it can throw off the balance of an entire ecosystem and surrounding habitats. Bun says in North America alone, there are 50,000 invasive species from Asian carp to zebra mussels.
Bun [00:05:19] Many of them are edible. Not only are they edible, but they seem to be endlessly abundant. You're talking about a plant that has evolved to stay exponentially more nutritious than anything that you grow on an organic farm.
Sandeep [00:05:36] As our planet warms, invasive species are moving into new territories to survive. Bun realized that including invasive species in our diets could alleviate the pressure they put on our habitats, especially in a food landscape that will.
Sandeep [00:05:51] He dramatically transformed by climate change today, a bowl of Miya's Miso Wild soup - get it? - includes invasive and native plants.
Bun [00:06:03] In the soup there is a plant called plantain. There's dandelion. There's mugwort. There's stinging nettle. There's clover.
Sandeep [00:06:10] Bun puts these invasive plants on the plate together with sustainable seafood and native plants from his garden. It's not just about the flavor or how the food looks, but the story it evokes. Every item on his menu has a story to tell.
Bun [00:06:27] Like, for example, the dream catcher sushi mug in it, which is an invasive plant brought over by English colonists who themselves were an invasive species and brings that together with a bunch of species that are native and somehow makes it taste good and become beautiful, because then it becomes about hope. It's about acknowledging the problems of the past and the present and trying to figure it out.
Sandeep [00:06:58] The Hill Country Bluefin role is made from the sered heart of invasive wild boar. Instead of using tuna and their Catfish Blues, roll is a tempora of invasive Chesapeake Bay catfish made with beer and Old Bay spice. Shout out to the seven of you that love Old Bay and are thrilled. I just mentioned it. Also on the dinner menu is an experience called the future sushi voyage. It imagines with sushi will be like in the year 2150. It's full of invasive species, weeds, insects and plant based sushi. And as they say on the menu at Miya's, "through these recipes from the year 2150, you'll experience a kinder and more caring future where sushi has evolved, become a way of eating that honors all life on Earth."
Bun [00:07:42] The hardest thing for human beings to do is to live and consume in a way that's different than what we're accustomed to and we're wired to eat in a specific way.
Sandeep [00:07:58] The future of eating in a warming climate will ask us to open our minds to food alternatives that are just as nutritious and Bun is showing us that one way to tackle the environmental impacts of climate change and the spread of invasive species is to just eat them, invasive crab by invasive crab.
Sandeep [00:08:18] The future of eating might also mean finding ways to tap the full potential of the food we already enjoy. Enter Rob Wilson, Chief Toaster at Toast Ale, a UK based company that is saving surplus bread from going into the trash.
Rob [00:08:32] We don't want to be preachy. We don't want to be righteous. We're big company at the end of the day, but we want to use a toast to lubricate some conversations down the pub and see if people will then talk about what is a really important issue.
Sandeep [00:08:46] Toast Ale began when Rob's co-founder and a leading food waste activist, Tristram Stewart, suggested that they start a beer company.
Rob [00:08:53] My advice to him was I think I should run that beer company so terrible, terrible shameless advice that he foolishly accepted while on a trip to Brussels.
Sandeep [00:09:03] Tristram discovered a beer that had been brewed with bread that sent him down a historical rabbit hole where he discovered that this wasn't a new practice. In fact, that's how ancient Mesopotamians and many other cultures made beer.
Rob [00:09:16] The first ever beer recipe that has ever been discovered from about three and a half thousand years ago was brewed with surplus bread. And that's how beer was made for millennia.
Sandeep [00:09:25] For Rob, there was a certain kind of logic to resurrecting that history.
Rob [00:09:29] We're addicted to sandwiches in this country, eat them for lunch every single day. But the end sliced the heel of a loaf of bread, is surplus to requirements. And will always just end up in a sandwich factory being chucked straight into a bin bag. That's going to end up going in the bin and very probably ending up in landfill. Absolute crazy. Really good. Fresh bread. The crust, often the best bit.
Sandeep [00:09:50] So here's all this excess bread. And then the fact that beer is the third most consumed drink in the world after water and tea. So why not make beer from that surplus bread?
Rob [00:10:00] Ultimately, the bread is a really useful source of carbohydrate for the beer production and the starch. Yeah, that's it. It's a pretty straightforward process.
Sandeep [00:10:10] The food we waste doesn't just go away when it makes it to a landfill. It can take years to decompose. And while it molders there without oxygen, it emits methane. Remember those cow burps? Methane is an extremely damaging greenhouse gas. And you might remember that it traps 84 times more heat than carbon dioxide, even though it lasts half as long. And bread contributes to the food waste crisis in a big way. About a third of bread in the U.S. goes to waste. In the UK, it's up to 44 percent. Toast stales attempted to curb this waste one slice at a time. To get their main ingredient, they partner with various sandwich manufacturers.
Rob [00:10:51] It's cheaper for the sandwich manufacturers to give us that bread free of charge than it is to pay to dispose of it as commercial waste. So there's this commercial no brainer in there as well. So they'll deliver it to the door of the brewery, will then use the bread to replace about one third of the malted barley in the brewing process. There's a slice of bread and every bottle, a little can or pint of beer.
Sandeep [00:11:11] At the time of this recording, they've used nearly two million slices that would have been otherwise thrown away by using surplus bread instead of virgin barley. They can save water and reduce emissions. They're serious about showing everyone from home brewers to the biggest beer companies in the world that we all can reduce waste. Their recipes available on their web site. If you want to try brewing it yourself. And you might be wondering why would they give away their recipe for free? Isn't this their secret sauce? Well, for some companies, purpose and profit aren't mutually exclusive. The thing that makes toast unique is that their purpose is so important that they don't care who uses their process, just as long as we're reducing waste. Anything they can do to support the movement, they'll do it.
Rob [00:11:58] We're very, very aware as environmentalists that a product based solution to a environmental problem in some ways is a contradiction, where it's consumerism that is causing a massive part of the degradation to our environment and to the world. Toast is a much, much better beer for the planet than your average beer. But, you know, there's still big issues with this. Yeah, we really want people to go and homebrew if they if they want to.
Sandeep [00:12:26] You can use whatever bread you have at your disposal for your home brew. But Rob says there's one kind of read that makes the best brew.
Rob [00:12:34] The reality is that you actually get the best brew from some of your white sliced bread while Toast Ale is using ancient methods of beer production to reduce food waste.
Sandeep [00:12:47] Another leader in the industry is sustainably turning the luxury cocktail bar on its head.
Mr. Lyan [00:12:52] There was no ice. There was no citrus. There was no perishables. There was nothing discernable to a normal cocktail bar.
Sandeep [00:12:59] That's Mr Lyan, a mixologist and bar owner based in London. He was crowned world's best bartender in 2015. In his bar, Dandelyan was named the world's best bar in 2018. I love cocktails, so hanging out with Mr Lyan was easily the biggest. O.M.G. moment for me in the entire series. But Mr Lyan is just the professional moniker for Ryan Chetiyawardana. My name gets butchered all the time, so getting his last name wrong in the first minute of our conversation was really embarrassing.
Sandeep [00:13:28] Okay. Ryan Chetiyawardana.
Mr. Lyan [00:13:32] Close. Very much close. It's a, I mean it's a difficult surname. I think that's partly where the whole Mr. Lyan thing came from and even I still got tobe told off by my sister. I'm not saying it properly anyway. Chetiyawardana. Yeah. The T I and the D soften
Sandeep [00:13:51] Back in 2013, he opened his first bar White Lyan. It became infamous for completely redesigning what it means to be a cocktail bar. Reimagining an industry like this means questioning all of its norms and standards in order to find a different and better way of operating.
Mr. Lyan [00:14:06] You know, if you'd gone into a cocktail bar at the time, you know, all of the bars had a huge sea of products behind them. People were squeezing lemons, there would be big blocks of ice. And we took away all of it. No brands. There was no shakers, no mixing equipment. There was two big fridges behind us. And things were in in bottles.
[00:14:25] At White Lyan, all of the cocktails were pre mixed and bottled on site. Instead of using perishable citrus, they used homemade bottled syrups made with organic and inorganic acids. All told, they eliminated up to 80 percent of their waste. According to Mr. Lyan, the only thing they threw away were vacuum bags and bottle caps. But unless you were a true cocktail nerd, it seemed like any other bar and that was the beauty of the place. They remade everything behind the scenes, lower costs with less waste, faster serving times and more delicious cocktails. And that made it an even better experience for guests.
Mr. Lyan [00:15:04] You know, a cocktail bar doesn't need to be just about what's in the glass. We don't need to also make a load of waste. And we can also kind of really change the dialog for our guests.
Sandeep [00:15:16] Mr. Lyan has experimented for years with what he calls 'closed loop cocktails'. Any waste from the production of these drinks would then be fashioned into ingredients for future drinks. Mint stems in the syrup's coffee infused oils and tinctures made from teabags. As an example, let's go deep with Mr. Lyan on one of his ingredients, citrus. In the years he'd been working in bars, he'd watched countless bartenders squeeze lemons or limes in the drinks. Or maybe they just used part of the appeal and then they throw the rest away.
Mr. Lyan [00:15:50] Why do we use things once and then throw it away? We're buying limes that have had to travel halfway across the world. They're expensive. They are fascinating. And we are either taking the peel or was squeezing them out. And then we're throwing it away and we are taking giant bin bags out at the end of the night and throwing away our money. And we are not considering about what is left.
Sandeep [00:16:13] There's a lot you can do with leftover limes. You can use the oils from the skin. The pectin from the heart of the fruit or even the pith for syrups and garnishes. One way to see your world differently is to bring in different points of view, or if you can't try to put yourself in an entirely new role. In this case, Mr. Lyan talks about breaking down and using the citrus fruit... Like a butcher.
Mr. Lyan [00:16:37] So what we ended up doing was using them like bones. You take your prime cuts of the meat and you left with some of the sinew in the skin and then the bones, which is full of kind of deeper flavors you need to draw out. And we did the same thing. We did a pressure cook on on the old exhausted lemon husks. We'd done another state to take out some of the other flavors from them. So it already kind of used them two or three times.
Sandeep [00:17:02] Then they create a stock from the bones of the citrus fruits and turn it into a bite sized treat.
Mr. Lyan [00:17:07] We took these bones. We boiled it down using a pressure cooker. That is amazing. Extraction of them. The pectin is in there. We sweeten it up, we set them into little jellies and dipped them in a very dark chocolate. And then we garnished it with a mint salt and that salt would temper some of that bitterness that was in the that the jelly. And you'd end up with this lovely little pop of a pettifor on the end of it. That's meant that we've totally exhausted the citrus fruit by the end of it.
Sandeep [00:17:35] And it doesn't stop with fruit. He's even gone so far as to use cardboard from delivery boxes in a cocktail. They boil them down with lemongrass, camomile sugar and water. Then it's strained and turned into a server. Side note: that cocktail was delicious.
Sandeep [00:17:55] When the word got out about White Lyan from an article in The Guardian, the low waste concept was initially thought by some to be just a gimmick.
Mr. Lyan [00:18:03] There was suddenly a huge number of people that wanted to see us fail. We even had a very famous restaurant critic coming sit at the bar, didn't say anything for a while. Drank some drinks and took us aside and went "I wanted to hate this bar" and he's like, "well, I just thought it was going to be pretentious. But these are the best drinks I've ever had in the city."
Sandeep [00:18:22] Even though they were drawing praise for their cocktails, the industry had a really hard time with the low waste concept.
Mr. Lyan [00:18:28] People saw it as an affront. People saw it as a dangerous thing for the industry. So much of what we faced was this idea that the world that we were inhabiting, you know, luxury food and drink, was at odds with the idea of sustainability.
Sandeep [00:18:43] White Lyan closed at the height of its popularity in 2017. But it was an intentional and planned ending. It's something that Mr. Lyan likes to do to challenge both himself and his teams, to stay at their creative peak and never settle for what's possible right now versus what might be. Mr. Lyan currently has other bars like Lyaness, formerly Dandelyan, which continue to push the conversation around food and drink forward.
Mr. Lyan [00:19:07] We're trying to show that there are alternatives. There is a different way we can do this in the world of cocktails can be much wider than what we're saying it is at the moment. You know, there is something beautiful that can be embraced that that doesn't need to have then devastated everything around it.
Sandeep [00:19:27] There's no question that climate change will alter the way we eat. The question is whether or not we'll change the way we eat now. To start tackling this reality head on or wait to be confronted with changes once abundance turns into scarcity. You might be thinking these stories I shared today are really on the fringe and they're a bit fancy. It's true. Drinking at the world's best bar isn't exactly cheap. But Bun and Mr. Lyan are trying to show that luxury doesn't have to be wasteful. Sustainability doesn't need to be about sacrifice. Redefining luxury as the most sustainable option is a wonderful flip, and I love it. And then there's Toast Ale, which is really affordable. At the time of this recording it was on sale, three cans for five pounds. Even if you aren't in the UK, you can download the recipe for free. All three of these stories proved to the industry that there are alternative ways to operate and that has an impact when others start to follow their lead.
Sandeep [00:20:23] It all points to the ways that we might rethink our food consumption now and give us a sense of what the future might taste like. Our collective challenge is to redefine what waste is and give second life to what some may think of as nothing but trash. And while I personally haven't yet boiled down my Amazon boxes into a syrup for whiskey sours, I've taken some smaller steps with my own food waste, making broths out of chicken bones and veggie scraps. I tried to make a broccoli soup out of the stalks and it was what we would call user error. I don't need you to @ me with recipes. But the truth is I didn't try these things before I dug deeper into food waste. And now I'm thinking about how to get more out of my food. Which leads to a question we're going to explore in our next episode. How might we create new markets for untapped food sources that are everywhere but not yet popular? We're going to head to the Atlantic Ocean and dive headfirst into this topic.
Sandeep [00:21:29] So when it comes to food waste, here's the design opportunity: How might we get more out of less?
Sandeep [00:21:36] If this gets your wheels turning and makes you excited to share ideas, thoughts or maybe even better questions? Visit IDEO.com/food and help us keep working to create better food systems for everyone.
Sandeep [00:21:48] Thanks for listening. If you learn something and enjoyed this, please send it to a friend and you can really help by leaving a perfect rating and a review. You know, the algorithms love that.
Sandeep [00:21:59] I'm Sandeep Pahuja. This is Food by Design. The show was created by Sarah Codraro and me. Today's episode is produced by Evan Roberts and edited by Tina Antolini and Julia Scott. Tina also recorded some of our interviews. Mark Henry Phillips composed our original music. Chris Hoff is our engineer. Special thanks to Lynda Deakin, Vivian Barad, Sarah Rich, Andrea Cevenini, Johnny Drain, and Marc Zornes.