As a cook and restaurateur who's keen to do my bit to help the environment, I'm always on the lookout for ways we can help minimise the impact of the food waste that busy restaurant kitchens create (like mine at Wahaca). So when Tristram Stuart and I met and started chatting about the idea of trying to reverse the ban on food waste, I felt that we were onto something hugely exciting. After all we had been feeding food waste to pigs for centuries in the UK as they do in countries as diverse as Japan, parts of the United States, South Korea, China and New Zealand. This was an idea that needed to be put back on the agenda for research. The potential benefits to restaurants, farmers and the environment were huge.
At Wahaca we already do all we can to reduce the amount of waste we create, whether it's by encouraging our customers to ask for doggie bags if they can't finish food, incentivising our chefs to be scrupulous about what they order and use, or by sending any unavoidable waste away to be composted and recycled for the generation of energy; little things do help. But the idea that one day we could collect, process and feed pigs with our waste food, using a robust, carefully regulated system designed with modern technology and good knowledge - this seemed to me both obvious and mad not to do - it was a virtuous circle that would reduce our impact on land on the other side of the world - land that currently is used purely to grow grain for pigs instead of people.
So Tristram and I came up with The Pig Idea, a campaign which begins by raising awareness of this issue and getting more of the already legally permissible waste (things like bread, dairy and vegetables) diverted from landfill to be used as pig feed. In the long term it aims to encourage the EU to reassess their ban on feeding properly processed restaurant waste to pigs.
In May, thanks to a handful of extremely generous and enlightened restaurant sponsors, we were able to buy eight piglets. These pigs have been raised on a diet of locally produced Okara from Clean Bean of Brick Lane, whey from the Mexican cheese that the Gringa Dairy produces, unused fruit from Reynolds and spent brewers grain from The White Heart Brewery. In return, we've been able to support these producers and even start using some of their produce in Wahaca (the Gringa Dairy now supplies us a queso fresco that we use in a delicious cheese and chive empanada).
The pigs have spent the summer being looked after beautifully by the team at Stepney City Farm, living outside, eating delicious food and generally having the kind of lives that all livestock should. The meat that they produce from their food waste diet will be used to feed 5,000 people this Thursday (21st November, 12 - 4pm) at a free feast in Trafalgar Square to raise further awareness of the campaign. You are all invited to come swine with us!
Wahaca will be providing pork pibil tacos and will be joined by our other restaurant partners, from Bistro Bruno Loubet, to Soho House and The Delaunay plus many more, all cooking up pork dishes for the hungry public. I'll be taking to the stage with one of our Hambassadors Sara Cox, to make a dish which has been voted for by Pig Idea Twitter followers. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Valentine Warner, Bruno Loubet and Stevie Parle will also be cooking up some delicious porky treats with Giles Coren hosting some demos and a host of activities for kids and adults to get involved in.
The campaign has already raised fantastic levels of awareness around the issues of food waste. The cross section of other chefs and restaurants who have come on board with us has been incredibly exciting for me, all of whom see The Pig Idea as having the potential to make a massive difference (the average UK restaurant throws away the equivalent of four double-decker buses in food every year).
But the campaign doesn't just see benefits for restaurants who would have a sustainable channel for their food waste, we've also received backing from farmers and farming bodies, who see the good that reintroducing the swill industry could make, both financially for them and nutritionally for their animals. Currently most farmers are feeding their pigs with soya grain, much of which is grown in the Amazon basin, adding to the increasing pressure to fell the rainforests. The feed is expensive to produce and ship to the UK and is far from environmentally sensible.
We believe that by following the right control measures and setting up a robust, safe system which ensures pig feed is responsibly monitored, The Pig Idea can champion a change that's better for restaurants, farmers, pigs and the environment overall.