One of the best (and easiest) things we can do to reduce our environmental impact is to reduce waste, especially food waste. I’m horrified at how much waste there is, particularly with my favourite staple, bread.
At my Bread and Butter Bakery we work really hard to try and reduce waste of all kinds and over the years we’ve partnered with a few different organisations to save bread and feed hungry people. Up until recently we worked with the City Mission and Hope Worldwide, who would come and collect our unsold bread and distribute it in food parcels. The City Mission however no longer wants our bread, because they are inundated with supermarket loaves and since those come already sliced, they find them easier to deal with than our whole loaves.
So instead of the City Mission we’re now supporting an organisation called Everybody Eats and they work in a different way to traditional food collectors. They use perfectly good food that would otherwise go to waste to serve restaurant quality, 3-course meals, prepared by volunteer chefs. People pay what they can and “meals are served with a smile at shared tables by a team of amazing volunteers”. Up until now they’ve been sharing dining space, but at the start of November they will open their very own premises in Onehunga and we’ll be their regular bread supplier – an exciting development that I can’t wait to see come to fruition. Check out their website to find out more.
We also use the Foodprint app – this clever bit of tech connects users to eateries who have surplus food available for purchase at half the normal price. Each day the eateries who’ve partnered with Foodprint upload surplus food items that will otherwise be thrown out. The food is absolutely fine to eat and the same quality you’d purchase directly from the store. In just a few clicks, you can search for and purchase food items while exploring local eateries and rescuing food from being sent to landfill. I highly recommend you try it – as more people use it, more eateries will be keen to get on board, and that’ll benefit everyone. Half price sandwiches, pastries and bread are definitely worth the time it takes to download the app from the app store!
Another thing we do to help reduce our bread waste is making breadcrumbs. We’re always looking for creative ways to use them in our baking, and one of our favourites is in our house rye loaf called ‘Bergsteiger’. It has toasted rye sourdough bread crumbs in the dough, which really enhances its flavour, and is a great way for us to recycle bread.
Where else might you find breadcrumbs at Bread and Butter Bakery? They could be an ingredient in our delicious sausage rolls or the crispy crumb coating on some tasty fish in the cafe. Another way of making sure our unsold bread is eaten by humans is our savoury bread and butter pudding that forms the base of our House Eggs Benedict – you have to try it to see how amazing this is! Our sweet bread and butter pudding is a winner too – after all, it’s named after my bakery! No matter how we use our unsold bread, the main thing is that it feeds people – after all, that’s what it’s made for.
In some ways the problem with bread waste is intrinsic to bread itself, partly due to its short shelf life and partly due to the dictatorial policies of supermarkets and the power they wield over suppliers. Unfortunately our unsold loaves from the bakery aren’t the only waste bread we have to worry about, as we also have to deal with stock that comes back from the supermarket. Supermarkets only pay for what they sell, and because of their size, they have a lot of power over their suppliers. Their bread policy means that anything they don’t sell, they don’t have to worry about, and the cost falls to the bakery, not the supermarket. Another effect of this is that supermarkets can sell OUR bread cheaper than WE can sell it ourselves! Because they consider bread a ‘loss-leader’ – meaning a low-margin product that people are always going to come to their stores for to buy – they bank on the fact that shoppers will also buy other products that have high margins on them. For a bakery like Bread & Butter, which is only in the business of baking bread and pastries, this however isn’t an option. And on top having to make our own margins, we also have to accommodate the waste we have to deal with coming back from the supermarket. You could argue that we should then not be selling wholesale to supermarkets, however bread is a volume game and with Bread & Butter Bakery still being a relatively small player, making enough breads to be able to supply a variety of different ones, is only possible, because we do wholesale, including to retailers. On average more than 25% of bread on supermarket shelves is wasted – it is the top most wasted food item and a huge contributor to the mountain of food wasted globally.
Recently I met a sales rep from one of the big bread companies that produce supermarket brands. They have the same conditions put on them by supermarkets as we do, but of course they sell so much more bread that they have full-time reps on the road. The reps drive around between supermarkets in the area and manage their stock. Even so their wastage is generally between 12 – 20% and only the busiest supermarkets with very good sales managers manage to get it under 10%.
From our own experience with a supermarket chain we supply, some of their stores wasted as much as 60%. With no financial risk to them, there was no incentive to practice good stock management. After trying to educate and work with the store managers and getting nowhere, we had no option but to take the shelf management over ourselves, we managed to get bread wastage down to 10%, but again it’s an expense on our part, as it takes time for our staff to sort out supermarket shelves.
Even with good management, the 10% waste that comes back to us is often several days old and no longer fit for human consumption. It isn’t mouldy, but it is stale. Up until this winter, the cows at Kelmarna Organic Farm benefited from this bread, which provided a healthy protein and carb supplement for them. Unfortunately when the farm advertised in June this year that the cows were going to be turned into steaks, there was a vegan public backlash and they were instead sent to a refuge to live out their days. Kelmarna Farm’s manager Adrian Roche says with the benefit of hindsight, Kelmarna should have made it clear why the cows were there in the first place. “We’re a farm, we’re not a vegan organisation. Here at the farm, 98% of our energy goes into plants, but in our understanding of sustainable systems, you have to have diversity.”
Without the Kelmarna cows this bread now needs to be composted, as it’s not enough to make the trip to town worth it for a farmer and pig farmers are already inundated with wasted bread from factory bread producers. If anyone knows of any city farms that are still brave enough to raise animals and would be interested in stale, organic bread, please get in touch.
So that’s the commercial side, but as New Zealanders we also waste a lot of bread once we get it home. According to Love Food Hate Waste, 20 million loaves of bread end up in landfill every year. It’s so easy to buy bread when you go to the supermarket – it’s almost an automatic reaction to being in a grocery aisle. Then you get home and find you already had half a loaf in the breadbin, but who wants to eat yesterday’s bread when today’s is beckoning? What happens to the old one? More often than not it’ll end up in the bin destined for landfill, as compost bins are not ideal for bread since it attracts rodents and wormbins cannot deal with the high energy load. In landfill it breaks down without oxygen and releases harmful greenhouse gases like methane that contribute to global warming.
If you work it out, this generally makes ‘cheap’ supermarket bread much more expensive than it seems, and artisan bread more cost-effective in comparison. That’s because, apart from it’s fabulous taste, people tend to eat the whole loaf, it stays fresher for longer and people value it more because they paid more for it. If you add calculate health benefits of eating a nice organic sourdough rather than a chemical-laced commercial loaf, which will have costly negative health consequences further down the track, there’s really no competition! FYI: A very interesting study on this topic done in 2017 in the UK estimates that the hidden externalities of cheap food – that is the hidden costs of environmental pollution and ill health due to the consumption of poor quality food are nearly 100% of the actual cost of food. Which stresses one of my favourite points I always make: it’s not that organic food is too expensive, it’s that conventional food is too cheap!
All up bread is one of the most wasted food items on the planet, but we can all have a hand in changing this. Here are my simple tips for reducing your bread waste and making the most of every loaf:
- Buy high quality bread made with natural ingredients and eat it up. Sourdough bread still tastes great toasted after three or four days and some varieties like wholegrain ryes last for up to 10 days.
- If you buy your bread at the supermarket, check the bread bin before you head to the store
- Only buy what you need for the next day or two
- If you don’t eat a lot of bread you can slice the loaf and freeze it. Bread keeps for months in the freezer (in an airtight container or plastic bag) and you can take a slice out and pop it in your toaster and have fresh bread in minutes. If you buy artisan sourdough bread DO NOT REFRIGERATE it! Fridge temperature makes bread go stale almost instantly! Only loaves containing emulsifiers stay soft and fresh in the fridge.
- If you don’t eat the crusts or ends of bread, make breadcrumbs – you can save the crusts in the freezer until you have enough for a breadcrumb session, or throw ends of bread into a paper bag, which I keep in my hot water cabinet. They dry out nicely and don’t go mouldy. When I need bread crumbs of any kind, I just blitz them up in the food processor.
Once you have some crumbs, try my delicious Bread Crumb Crunchy Biscuit recipe – it’s great for using up old bread. It’s fine to use a mixture of different breads here.
These are so tasty you’ll never waste bread again!
Bread Crumb Crunchy Biscuits
125g / 1 cup bread crumbs toasted to light brown
125g/ 1 cup flour (can be spelt or wholemeal)
125g / 1 cup desiccated coconut
65g/ 1/2 cup golden or brown sugar
100g melted butter or coconut oil (if you want them to be vegan)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon golden syrup or other syrup (i.e. rice, date or agave)
Mix all the ingredients together. Add a little milk or coconut milk, if the mixture is too dry. Roll into a log and cut into slices, or drop spoonfuls onto a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Bake at 160C fan bake or 170C for approximately 20 – 25min or until golden brown. Enjoy!
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) is a great source of information on food waste world wide
Some more stark facts about food waste https://www.unenvironment.org/thinkeatsave/get-informed/worldwide-food-waste