Bigger is Not Always Better

A bulldozer and garbage truck on a landfill waste site

Long Beach restaurants aim for food waste reduction.

Feb. 13, 2017

Reduce, reuse, and recycle. The environmental friendly mantra has influenced many to reconsider their purchases, lifestyles, and also the way to eat.

A city known for its culinary innovation, Long Beach attracts people from all over Southern California to try some of its mouthwatering restaurants.   

An estimated 30 to 40 percent of the current food supply represents food waste, and is the main component of landfills, according to the National Restaurant Association (NRA) the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA also cites that food waste is the third largest source of methane in the country.

With some restaurants trying to follow the farm-to-table trend and attempting to use fresh, local ingredients, food reuse may be more challenging to adapt to.

Mario Nasab, owner of Italian restaurant La Traviata on 3rd Street, mentions there is an underlying problem that is the direct result of most food waste – portion control.

“The biggest area of concern is the big portions,” Nasab says. “If we could control the portions of food, the waste would be less.”

At La Traviata, Nasab says the only food the restaurant recycles is bread.

“Recycle the bread in the means of cutting it into pieces when it is no longer the beautiful roll you put in front of the guests,” Nasab explains. “We cut it, slice it, and use it as crostini, bread crumbs, and things like that. We never throw our breads away.”

Food ending up in the garbage due to untouched large portions is a bigger concern that is not addressed as much, due to society’s “bigger is better” mentality which has proven to be difficult to re-write.  

Although portion control has been acknowledged in most eateries, attention has been directed towards the concern of obesity issues rather than the waste itself.

Based on estimates from the USDA Economic Research Service, there is a 31 percent food loss at the retail and consumer levels, in correlation to approximately 133 billion pounds of food waste in 2010. Not only is perfectly good food wasted but so are the resources invested into growing and maintaining the products.

Dana Robertson, owner of Restauration, mentions food reuse could greatly benefit the environment, not only by reducing its carbon footprint, but by also reducing the amount of purchasing and packaging supplies.

Having worked in the restaurant industry for several years, Robertson says restaurants she has worked for have always been conscious of food waste.

“I don’t know a single restaurant, except the top 1 percent fine dining restaurants that may change their menus daily, that do not use prepped food from the previous day,” Robertson says.

Reusing food in the restaurant industry caught on long ago and isn’t as new as most claim it to be, mention both Robertson and Nasab.

Although Restauration uses limited food reuse, as Chef Philip Pretty aims towards plate individualization, the restaurant only purchases produce intended to last them a few days to ensure product quality.

“You only pick up what you can go through,” Robertson says, noting that the restaurant also composts its food.

Photo by Gabriela Mungarro 

Long Beach also acknowledges the benefits of composting, as the city continued its Food Service Waste Reduction & Prevention Program as mentioned in their 2015-2016 Sustainable City Commission Work Plan. The restaurant compost pick-up project, a pilot, is associated with local restaurants participating to promote composting and food waste reduction. The work plan serves as a guide for the commission and city staff to promote green projects and policies for the city.

In 2014, Californian’s produced more than 5 million tons of food waste, as the highest category of waste, according to CalRecycle’s 2014 Disposal-Facility-Based Characterization of Solid Waste in California.

Chef Gordon Ramsay has shined light on the issue by being part of pop-up restaurant wastED in London, serving dishes deriving from food waste and leftovers from the previous day.

Although restaurants like Restauration that take part in composting, and others like La Traviata that reuses food — the reduce, reuse, and recycle mantra is slowly, but surely stepping into the spotlight for restaurants in Long Beach.

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  1. Dana Buchanan

    Nice article. Our business, Primal Alchemy Catering, was founded on seasonal, sustainable, local. We have been walking the talk from the beginning, about 14+ years now. We source from local farms and ranches, even culling from our urban orchard. We follow nose to tail practices with our meats and utilize as much of our produce as possible in our cuisine. Whatever is not usable goes into our compost. After events, our leftover food goes to places like Food Finders. We buy close to the source, so we don’t have a lot of packaging (unless you call the peels from produce packaging, nature’s packaging). You won’t see the Sysco truck pulling up to our kitchen, instead you will see my husband and business partner, Chef Paul Buchanan’s station wagon pull up full of produce from local farms and farmer’s markets, fish fresh from the Dory Fleet in Newport Beach and whole animals direct from ranches. We use strictly compostible disposables in our events that don’t use real dishware. Walking the talk hasn’t always been easy or profitable, but it has allowed us to follow our hearts and hold our heads high with the knowing of doing the right thing while remaining congruent with our philosophy. While we are aware, first hand, of some greenwashing out there, we love having fellow Long Beach businesses that are following the same sustainable path with integrity.

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