• Hidden Harvest's Wasted Wednesdays is a fortnightly event serving a 3-course vegan meal using food waste. (Photo by Maree Thompson)
“At Wasted Wednesdays, the diners realise that the food they are eating would normally go in the bin. But when they taste the meals, they realise the food is delicious.”
By
Yasmin Noone

18 Jun 2019 - 10:29 AM  UPDATED 18 Jun 2019 - 11:12 AM

Every second Wednesday night, in a community space located above a dentist in the NSW coastal city of Wollongong, around 40 diners arrive in anticipation of an experimental dinner.

Although the diners don’t know what’s on the menu until they arrive, they’re aware there’s a theme to the environmentally conscious pay-what-you-feel dinner.

Each of the three vegan courses served at the ‘Wasted Wednesday’ event will be created from food waste.

“At Wasted Wednesdays, the diners realise that the food they are eating would normally go in the bin,” says Berbel Franse, founder of the non-profit organisation Hidden Harvest, which hosts Wasted Wednesdays. “But when they taste the meals, they realise the food is delicious.”

The fortnightly restaurant attracts people who want to experience what meals made of often ignored, overlooked or simply surplus food can actually taste like once it has been rescued from independent grocers.

“At Wasted Wednesdays, the diners realise that the food they are eating would normally go in the bin. But when they taste the meals, they realise the food is delicious.”

Franse explains the point of Wasted Wednesdays is not to lecture people about the issue of food waste but instead, inspire and introduce home cooks to the different ways they use excess food. 

“At the end of the week, on a certain day, supermarkets and food businesses end up with a lot of produce they can’t sell,” explains Franse. “It may be a bruised tomato or a cucumber that is soggy on one end. Or perhaps it is kale that has two-to-three days left in it that a supermarket can no longer sell. But a lot of this food is still very edible.”

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A large sheet of butcher’s paper hanging on the wall reveals the night’s menu. For entrée, there’s the aptly named ‘roast wonky veggie trio with potato purée and sage’ because it uses perfectly tasting ‘ugly’ vegetables with a less-than-perfect shape.

For mains, a rescued roast capsicum, stuffed with surplus brown rice and mushrooms, which is then capped off with coconut millet pudding for dessert, served with bruised cinnamon apples and leftover brownies.

Live music plays throughout the night, as a team of volunteer floor-staff serve each course and talk casually to diners about how each dish was cooked. Conversation cards, with food waste reduction tips, are positioned at each table setting to encourage diners to learn new facts.

“We want the dinners to start a conversation about food waste because we believe a conversation is a necessary component required to change behaviours.

“In Australia, we – as consumers – are actually wasting 20 per cent of the food we purchase. If you could [reverse] that, an average household could save $4,000 on a yearly basis. That’s a lot of money."

But it’s not just money that people are wasting when they waste food. It’s time. "If you reduced the food your household wastes, you’d shop less and if we all waste less food, then it would have a massive positive impact on our environment.”

“In Australia, we – as consumers – are actually wasting 20 per cent of the food we purchase. If you could [reverse] that, an average household could save $4,000 on a yearly basis. That’s a lot of money."

Sydney chef from Fred’s, Georgia Lahiff, leads the kitchen on Wasted Wednesdays. Lahiff explains that the meals served at each event are different, as the kind of produce donated varies week-to-week.

“The final menu is often experimental, in order to use the ingredients we have," says Lahiff. "We look at the food and ask what combinations can be delicious and work together? Or, how can we use the whole ingredient, including stems and leaves, in the dish?”

Lahiff recalls that she once featured a 75 kilo supply of unwanted zucchini in all three courses. “We started with zucchini frittata, then had a zucchini curry and finally a zucchini brownie.”

The zucchini replaced egg in the recipe and added moisture to the brownie mixture and although the vegetable-based dessert sounded like a challenge to eat, Lahiff insists they were very moreish.

Franse recognises that cooking food that you’d otherwise throw away – stalks, leaves, stems, stale bread or ugly fruits and vegetables – isn’t everyone’s first choice of a meal.

“Don’t let your recipe be the boss of you. You have to be the boss in the kitchen to make sure you use up the items that you already have.”

So for those who need a bit more encouragement to change their kitchen habits and reduce the amount of leftover food they scrap each day, she advises the following.

“Shop at home before you actually go to the shop,” Franse says. “We often buy too much food, so look in your cabinets and fridge before you go to the shop to see what you already have and what you really need.

“Get creative with your meals. You may have a recipe that asks you to use spinach but you have broccoli in our fridge. Consider that the broccoli could go really well with your meal.

“Don’t let your recipe be the boss of you. You have to be the boss in the kitchen to make sure you use up the items that you already have.”

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