I have been doing something fun lately: volunteering at harvested, which is the pop-up lunch cafe run by OzHarvest in a donated cafe space in Pyrmont, Sydney. The cafe is the first of its kind in Australia, as all the meals are made from food rescued from landfill. As I’ve mentioned before, OzHarvest is a food rescue organisation which collects excess food from restaurants, supermarkets, catered events, farmers etc and brings it to people in need. The purpose of the cafe is to raise awareness of the issues around food waste, and hopefully inspire people to be more mindful when shopping for, using and cooking with their food.
My role at the cafe is the floor manager (photographer and “door bitch”) and I spend a lot of my time talking to people about OzHarvest, the concept behind the cafe and food waste. Some of the facts about food waste in Australia, and globally, are staggering. Australians throw out one in five shopping bags, yet two million people rely on food relief in this country each year. About one third of the food produced globally for human consumption each year is lost or wasted, which has knock-on effects for our limited natural resources and the environment. This costs Australia around $10 billion each year.
I also talk to people about the food used in the meals we serve (which are, by the way, amazing); the ingredients used are not past their use by date or rotten, but are of high quality and have been donated because they are in oversupply, blemished or considered imperfect due to their size or shape. Unlike other cafes, the chef (head chef Trav Harvey with Mirinda Boaz-Cole) doesn’t order in specific food, but relies on what OzHarvest receives each week and develops the menu, usually on a day or two’s notice, around that week’s “harvest”. The menu is largely gluten free and vegetarian, although there is usually at least one meat or seafood dish. When busy, we occasionally run out of menu items, and need to adapt the menu for what we have left in stock. The process is therefore a creative one, and the menu reflects this; whatever the theme or star ingredient, it is delicious, fresh and nourishing. The quality of the meals highlights just how crazy-bad all the waste is.
So far, we’ve had Mexican (we were donated a large amount of tortillas), Middle Eastern (donated burgul, pumpkin & cherries in quantity), Italian (buffalo mozzarella, pears, tomatoes and olive oil), Mediterranean (lemon, green beans), Indian (goat, potatoes, cashews) and Spanish (truffles, fennel, ricotta, orange) themed menus, which are all based on a sharing plate concept. Various pickles, relishes, marinades and dried fruit and/or vegetables, made from rescued produce, are used to finish the meals and create texture and add pops of flavour. For example, some of the most popular menu items so far have been roasted Brussels sprouts with broccoli, crisped onions and toasted almond dressing; goats cheese and smoked zucchini croquette with beetroot aioli; poached chicken with estofado sauce of almonds, olives and capers; pumpkin and handmade ricotta tortellini with burnt butter and amaretti; potato balls with beetroot ketchup; and whipped chocolate ricotta with macaroons, candied orange rind and berry dust.
The cafe has performed well; we have a lot of repeat customers who work nearby, plus other people who have heard the message and have come to check it out. The general reaction to the menu has been very positive; everyone is amazed at the quality of meals (and even more so that it is made out of rescued food). It has been an interesting time for me as well, as one of the reasons I decided to help out at the cafe (in addition to my beliefs on sustainability with food and our environment) was to further explore my lingering fascination with food. The jury is still out on that one, but it is something I will be mulling over the next month or so whilst I am in Amsterdam (yes, I’m heading back over next week for work – excited!). What I have learnt however is how much I am motivated by people: we have a great team of volunteers at harvested, who are all hard working, dedicated and generous people, which makes everything lots of fun (thanks guys!!).
While I’d like to think I’ve always been fairly waste conscious, from both an environmental and cost perspective, talking about food waste has sharpened my focus as of late. I’ve been making my vegetable stock (using all the bits and pieces of vegetables and parmesan rinds), pestos (from wilted herbs, spinach and/or beetroot), and roasting up less than pretty looking veggies and turning them into soup. For this week’s recipe, in the spirit of food waste reduction, I’ve made a dressing out of carrot top greens, an edible part of the vegetable which is often discarded, and used lemon rind to flavour the rice. The greens have been combined with basil, parsley (which can be replaced whatever other herbs you have lying around) and tahini, and are served on top of nutty black rice with sweet roasted, spiced pumpkin and dukkah, and pops of fresh peas. This recipe serves two adults, and you will have plenty of dressing left over – it can be used on pasta, vegetables or the like.
If you’re interested in learning more practical ways to reduce food waste, please have a look at these links:
- Ten tips to avoid food waste
- Ten food scraps you are probably throwing away
- Think Eat Save campaign.
And we’d love it if you stopped by harvested: its open for lunch Tuesdays and Wednesdays until 22 July 2015, 11.30am-2.30pm, and is $15pp for lunch (excl dessert). OzHarvest is also running its annual “ThinkEatSave” event in Martin Place on 27 July 2015 where you can get a free lunch (with 5000 others) in the spirit of raising awareness about food waste.
- 1 small Japanese pumpkin, peeled and cut into large chunks
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 cup black rice, rinsed until water runs clear
- Rind of one lemon, peeled in strips (use a vegetable peeler)
- A handful of fresh green peas (frozen are also fine)
- A couple of tablespoons of dukkah (for serving)
- Extra virgin olive oil, for cooking
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 bunch of carrot top leaves from bunch of carrots (around 60g), washed well
- 1/4 bunch of basil (around 15g)
- 1/4 bunch of flat leaf parsley (around 15g)
- 1 garlic clove
- 4 tablespoons tahini paste
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- Preheat the oven to 180°C. In a large baking tray, add the pumpkin and sprinkle half a teaspoon of ground cumin, cayenne pepper, smoked paprika, a splash of olive oil and a couple of grinds of salt and pepper. Roast in oven for 40-45 minutes until soft.
- Meanwhile, prepare the black rice: in a small saucepan, add a splash of olive oil, half a teaspoon of ground cumin and the lemon peel strips. Stir for a minute or two and then add the black rice, and give it another stir for 2-3 minutes until coated. Add two cups of water, bring to the boil and then let simmer for 25 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside for 10 minutes. Remove lemon peel from rice.
- In a blender or food processor, add the carrot top leaves, basil, parsley, garlic, tahini, lemon juice, sesame oil, salt and 3 tablespoons of water and blend for a couple of minutes until smooth. Taste and season with salt, tahini or lemon juice, as necessary.
- Bring water in a small saucepan to boil, add the green peas and blanch for 2-3 minutes until just cooked. Remove from the pan and rinse in cold water to stop them cooking.
- Spoon the rice onto a plate, add a couple of pieces of pumpkin, spoon over a couple of tablespoons of the dressing, sprinkle on the peas and some dukkah.