Movements such as Food Upcycling demonstrate that—just like grandma's croquettes—food cooked with reused or recycled products does not have to compromise on nutritional quality or culinary enjoyment.
By Marina Pinilla
Vegetable peels, chicken bones, and even fish fillets or whole yogurts. Almost without thinking about it, we throw food away every day, either because we haven't calculated the quantities correctly or because we don't know what to do with the leftovers. It may not seem like a big deal at home, between everyone in Spain, we waste 1,245 million kilos of food every year. This is shown by the latest Report on Food Waste in Spanish Households which shows that three out of every four families wasted food fit for consumption in 2021.
These losses not only represent an additional obstacle for all those below the poverty risk threshold—21.7% of Spain's population, according to the National Statistics Institute (Instituto Nacional de Estadística, INE). National Institute of Statistics—but also harm the already battered Earth. Why? Because food waste is a waste of resources. We are talking about water, the soil layer, energy, inputs and the consequent carbon emissions produced during the processing, storage, and transportation of food that end up in the trash unnecessarily.
Considering the figures and the impact of waste, the circular economy is more important than ever, or as our grandmothers used to say, "food is not to be thrown away." This was the origin of the practice of the "zero-waste kitchen" at a time when there were no aisles full of products in the supermarkets. There were shortages and scarcity meant that food had to be reused in croquettes or empanadas filled with almost anything that was left over, or in broths for all kinds of stews and rice dishes. Unfortunately, the era of abundance led us to underestimate these small actions and now, with the effects of climate change and a fragile economy, it is time to return to the roots, with kitchens as outstanding partners. Does this mean giving up good food? Far from it, and this has been demonstrated by the 10 Michelin-starred chefs who have developed the first zero-waste recipe booklet: Estrellas contra el desperdicio (Stars against waste).
Along with traditional habits, there are also avant-garde trends such as Ugly Food, a movement that encourages consumers to choose fruits and vegetables that are not aesthetically perfect when shopping because, otherwise, they will end up in the trash. This means apples without that lustrous shine, oddly shaped potatoes, scarred tomatoes, and oranges that are perhaps smaller in size than you're used to.
Although this movement has been more active in countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany, in the last decade it has grown considerably in Spain. The perfect example is in the Espigoladors Foundation which, through the ancient practice of gleaning (collecting food left in the field after crops were harvested), collects fruits and vegetables normally discarded for aesthetic reasons, production surpluses, or a drop in sales. In this way, they produce products such as orange marmalade or artichoke pâté and have already recovered 2304 tons of food and prevented 1584 tons of CO2 emissions to date.
The initiative has inspired other projects such as Buruxka in Navarra, which sells a variety of canned food, or Frutas Feas in Valencia, which focuses on selling freshly picked oranges, regardless of their appearance.
Recycled (and delicious) food
When it comes to innovation in the fight against food waste, the Food Upcycling movement plays a leading role. Its basis? Applying the circular economy to the food industry so that new products can be made from the waste of others without sacrificing taste, quality, or information: labels show which ingredients are recycled so that consumers can make sustainable choices.
This movement has become established in Spain thanks to startups such as Agrosingularity, which manufactures dehydrated vegetable products from non-valued food, and MOA Foodtech, which transforms agricultural waste and byproducts into a protein with a high nutritional profile.
Both the avant-garde movements and the traditional "zero-waste cooking" have one thing in common: using ingenuity to squeeze every ounce of food into delicious, affordable dishes with high nutritional standards. A raw material now essential for shaping the system to fit within the planet's natural limits, to achieve more efficient use of resources—and money—and, ultimately, to make food more accessible to everyone.