To The Food Rescue
I think it was on Oprah once when I first heard about freegans – in this case, a group of anti-establishment people living in the States and dumpster-diving for free food. The show revealed just how much good food from big supermarket chains was tossed out because its packaging was damaged, it was nearing its sell-by date or a big holiday had passed without sales of all the themed merchandise.
In the Netherlands, there’s a restaurant group doing something about this massive food waste problem. In their three restaurants in Amsterdam, Utrecht and The Hague, Instock serve fresh and ever-changing dishes made from surplus produce and products which they rescue from big supermarket chain Albert Heijn and other suppliers.
We asked them about their revolutionary business, and got some tips for combatting food waste here at home.
What was the biggest challenge in starting Instock?
The hardest part was to convince people we could create a business model out of food surplus. Logistically they did not think it was possible to work with residual flows, but it works because we started to work with a lot of local retailers. Next to this there were doubts about food safety. But there is a difference between food waste that is unavoidable and avoidable. The former kind consists of food that cannot be consumed anymore according to the food safety guidelines, like perished meat products. Avoidable waste includes all the foodstuff that’s still fit for consumption, but is thrown away anyway. As you might guess, we only cook with products that belong to the last category! All the food you eat at Instock is perfectly fine. We would never sell food that has passed its expiration date. We make this possible by optimising the distribution process with the retailer and the producers that are supporting us with their products.
What kinds of food do you rescue and where does it come from?
When you eat at Instock, it is hard to imagine the process that preceded the food that ends up on your plate. Our food rescue drivers get up early every day to rescue foodstuff. In our restaurants, the aim is to create meals that are made from at least 80% to 100% surplus food. We obtain most of our products from several Albert Heijn supermarkets, which our food rescue drivers pick up at the return-freight centre in Zaandam. We get hold of nearly expired cheese and eggs and one-day-old bread by picking it up by bike at a few local Albert Heijn stores. The meat we cook with comes from the distribution centre of the Albert Heijn; they occasionally have an amount of products in stock that are either surplus or are approaching their expiration date.
The fish we use is acquired at the producer or packager. They sometimes have an excess of food for several reasons. Heineken supplies us with beers that are soon to be expired, while our bottles of wine are often residual quantities that are too scarce to fill up the shelves in the Albert Heijn. Tony’s Chocolonely, our former neighbour at the Westergasterrein area, makes us happy with leftover samples and batches from collections such as their Valentine’s Day edition. Lastly, we also save products that are not expired, but simply damaged during the pick-ordering process. These products, among which are sodas and dried pastas, only have flawed packaging. All of our sources are without a doubt a big help in the process of creating surprising and delicious meals! Several products, like olive oil, butter and dairy products, are purchased new to finish off our dishes.
What do you believe food waste says about our culture/society as a whole?
It is frustrating to see how easily people throw away food. In our modern world people have extremely high standards. We don’t value food anymore the way we used to. What it says about our society as a whole is that we are very disconnected from the land and process. We don’t understand that we don’t only waste food, but we waste energy, land and CO2. This is the reason I think we buy and process without thinking of the implications.
What’s on the menu today?
The exact dinner dishes are written down on the menu boards in the restaurants every day at around 5 p.m. The cooks then know what they will prepare for the night. During the daytime, we always offer the same kind of dishes: soups, salads, toasties and French toast. That doesn’t mean we serve the same dishes every day; the ingredients depend on what’s in stock!
What are some food rescuing tips that people can try in their own countries?
Check what you have in stock and in your fridge before going to the supermarket
Make a grocery list and only buy what is on your list, so you don’t buy products you don’t actually need.
Did you cook to much? Freeze your leftovers
Sharing is caring! Share food with your roommates, friends and family if you cannot finish it on your own.
The menu changes daily
Burnt green or red gazpacho + wasabi
Sesame panzanella croutons
Thickened herbal buttermilk
Shaved spring vegetables
Sushi made of preserved vegetables
Avocado citrus cream / prei mayo
Root vegetable powder
Cauliflower + broccoli tempura
Vegetable omelette togarashi sesame
Blanched leeks + onions + chinkiang vinaigrette
Thickened allium beer broth
Super green oil
Tart shell blind baked
Fresh berries + grapes
Tropical fruit curd
White chocolate gel
2% Citrus foam / quenelle citrus sorbet