Full circle: re-imagining the meaning of food waste

We go from harvest to dumpster and unveil three promising initiatives currently making innovative, and tasty, use of food waste in Belgium.

Written by Axelle Minne.
All photography by Thomas Ost (c).

The artists: Humus&Hortense, Brussels

We’re working so hard to bring high quality, seasonal and local products into the restaurant that it would be a total lack of respect to the product itself —and the producer— if we didn’t do our best and try to use every inch of it.

After barman Matthieu Chaumont spent five years creating elaborate cocktails at Hortense, his intimate and somewhat hidden cellar space on Brussels’ Sablon, he traded his downtown den for a bright venue in the city’s Flagey area in search of more space to experiment. In his new location, Chaumont started exploring on the gastronomical end of things too, for which he joined forces with chef Nicolas Decloedt, founder of Humus Botanical Gastronomy, a Brussels-based food collective that hosted three to four tables d’hôtes a week serving unpretentious yet delicate set menus based solely on vegetables. The two first met at the annual Native Cooking Awards in 2015, held in Denmark, and instantly hit it off, deciding to embark on a collaborative effort they’ve christened Humus&Hortense. Having opened its doors to the public early 2017, their shared goals on food waste quickly became an underlining priority, with the duo starting to experiment by cocktails and dishes that were based on waste produced by the other. “We’re working so hard to bring high quality, seasonal and local products into the restaurant that it would be a total lack of respect to the product itself —and the producer— if we didn’t do our best and try to use every inch of it,” says Nicolas. Both agree on one main objective: to highlight the product while creating something that stays interesting and relevant in taste. Turning a perceived negative into a positive, they’ve made what others might see as a constraint – recycling food intended to be trashed – part of their unique take on fine dinning and drinking. For example, instead of throwing away the solid part of sour milk needed in order to create a Milk Punch, Matthieu passes it on to Nicolas who transforms it into a dessert with creamy notes. And it works both ways. When Nicolas doesn’t use the peelings of some Jerusalem artichokes, Matthieu uses them in an infusion that will later be the main component in one of his cocktails. “It is really too early to estimate the percentage of waste we actually reuse, but everything that was destined to the trash is sure to be stored, dehydrated, pickled or fermented. It’s an ongoing process and some experimentations will take a bit of time. We won’t know until a few weeks if it’s going to bring something good but at least we can be proud to say we’ve tried,” concludes Matthieu. Right on.

facebook.com/HumusHortense

The purists: Wonky, Ghent

If a vegetable in Belgium is about to be binned, Wonky reuses it.

Helena Gheeraert got her start in food waste recycling by watching documentaries. Indeed, the entrepreneur with no food industry experience to speak of, took the plunge when the sudden realisation of waste’s impact on our climate – whether that meant the environment, biodiversity or water waste – hit her. In 2016, she decided to launch Wonky, a Ghent-based start-up that works exclusively with food companies in the business of cutting, prepping or packing vegetables, making it its priority to recycle otherwise wasted veggies into edible food products that are purely plant-based, natural and made of vegetal waste. “We don’t discriminate against any kind of vegetable,” says Helena. With waste reduction being the company’s number one goal, it reuses any and every vegetable, making no distinction between organic or non-organic, local or imported, beautiful or ugly. Case in point, if a vegetable in Belgium is about to be binned, Wonky reuses it. Currently, this translates into paprika or yellow carrot dips, with new products like crackers or pickles in the pipeline. And whilst finding wasted raw materials or developing new creations isn’t the most difficult part of the job, the upstart faces an uphill struggle in terms of distribution and finding a network of retailers that share the same values. What’s more, the central premise of their venture, recycling food waste into edible products, still turns off potential client. “Our products are a bit more expensive than other offers of the same kind and we know it can prevent people to buy them. A big effort has to be made when it comes to storytelling and communication, as being told the story behind a brand and knowing that a purchase makes a difference really is key,” says the founder, extolling the benefits of workshops to further the company’s message.

wonkyfood.be

The idealists: Disco Soupe, Liège

We do believe it to be more efficient to talk about food waste in a manner that’s as creative as it is positive, to generate a genuine impact on people that then decide to engage in combatting the issue.

What initially started out as a small Berlin-based citizen project early 2012, the ‘Schnippel Disko’ (renamed Disco Soupe by its francophone branch) quickly grew to become a worldwide volunteer network dedicated to raising awareness on food waste among the general public. Behind the somewhat funky-sounding name lies a strongly participative and ambitious ideology: after collecting unsold fruits and vegetables from markets, volunteers are invited to prepare and cook them in a public space, always accompanied by music – hence the name – and later handed out freely to passers-by. In Liège, the Disco Soupe concept is led by Benjamin Dupuis and Jérémy Joncheray, the duo behind graphic design studio Les Signes du Quotidien. Jérémy previously was involved in similar initiatives in Strasbourg and decided to convince his partner Benjamin to embark with him on the same venture in La Cité Ardente, building the local chapter to some five Disco Soupe parties each year. “We do believe it to be more efficient to talk about food waste in a manner that’s as creative as it is positive, to generate a genuine impact on people that then decide to engage in combatting the issue,” says Benjamin “I once spent an entire Disco Soupe in the company of somewhat older people. And, after frantically peeling and cutting carrots, we ended up having the best time together,” remembers Benjamin, who also says that by infiltrating public spaces, the movement is gaining more and more attention. “Most of the time, communication is a very real problem for volunteer-based projects, as are the financial questions. People often give donations, and other times we collaborate with bigger companies and structures in order to afford certain types of equipment,” explains Benjamin. Add to this the fact that the events always take place in the public area, with a whole set of rules imposed by the city that have to be met, and organising these food waste parties takes dedication, to say the least. Bottom line though, people enjoy themselves, mind sets are changed and, most important of, citizens take a new environmental consciousness back home with them, one rescued carrot at a time. “Truth is, as much as we enjoy organising these parties, we also hope that the need for Disco Soupe will be eliminated in a couple of years,” concludes Benjamin concludes, attesting to the team’s long term vision.

discosoupe.org