From Earth to Table

alice Kok
圖 Photos eduardo martins
How to make fine dining sustainable?
These days, almost everything we do seems to relate back to the environment.  But sometimes the challenges seem overwhelming and it’s hard to know what we can do as individuals, households and businesses to really make a difference.  
 
One area that is beginning to get more recognition recently is the issue of food waste.  Last month, Hong Kong held its first-ever Food’s Future Summit, bringing together key change-makers, experts and conscious consumers to discuss important questions around the food industry.
 
As a major tourism destination, Macau is developing a strong reputation as a foodie’s paradise, but the big question is: how to maintain the high standards and variety of dining options for the millions of tourists who come here every year, while at the same time trying to make the industry more sustainable?
 
The month, CLOSER speaks to just a few people in the city who are making their contribution to greening up the F&B industry, and we also get some insights from key speakers at the Food’s Future Summit.
 
 
 
 
Small Steps
 
The statistics on global food waste can be frightening – around 1.6 billion tonnes a year!  Meanwhile, in Asia alone, over 500 million people do not have enough to eat.  
So what can the restaurant industry in Macau do to make sure it is playing its part in reducing waste?
 
“It really has to begin with small steps,” says Chef Hans Lee Rasmussen – Chef de Cuisine F&B at the Institute for Tourism Studies (IFT) in Macau. “It takes time, but we are definitely on the right track.”
 
In charge of IFT’s Educational Restaurant, Chef Hans is not only focused on making F&B operations more sustainable, but also passing on his knowledge to the culinary students studying there, and making sure the next generation of chefs are more aware of the issues and more equipped to solve the problems.
 
“My colleague Mark Gibson is in charge of training the culinary students, but I am also involved. The idea of sustainability is built into the curriculum. It should be incorporated into everything in the kitchen, and this is where we start, with training the young chefs,” he explains.
 
“We have a ‘from earth to table’ approach, showing the students that at some point everything comes from the ground and at some point it ends up on the table. That gives them an understanding of how the food is made and how it is consumed. From a culinary point of view, the students learn more about the ingredients. The more awareness, the higher respect for the ingredients, and therefore less waste.”
 
For the restaurant operations, Chef Hans tries to lead by example:  “In the kitchen we try to use all the material. If I have a chicken, I use all of it. Some top restaurants, if they only need the breast, they use it, and discard the rest.”
 
Presentation can also be a factor in food waste: “If vegetables need to be presented as a square, then the rest is not used, so this is where we need to compromise; maybe the presentation is not so square, but at least we use as much as possible. And from a costing point of view, it saves money, so it’s win-win.”
 
Around five years ago, IFT purchased a decomposer, into which all the food waste from the kitchen, the restaurant, the training hotel and even the student canteen goes. 
 
“The waste goes into the machine, we add a bacteria and within 24 hours it becomes a muddy consistency and then we can use it as fertilizer. It is useful for the students to know that there is a way to recycle food waste, not that it just all goes in the bin.”
 
Chef Hans notes that he tries his best to source the best organic ingredients, “but at some point you also have to consider the concept of ‘food miles’.  When organic food is transported from France by air, is it better than locally sourced food from China? You have to put that on a scale. Personally I think it’s better to locally source as it has a lower carbon footprint.”
 
Sourcing some ingredients locally is a challenge he admits, but “China has a growing market for organic ingredients and we are looking into that.  We have to start with small steps, first all the vegetables.”
 
IFT also has its own vegetable and herb garden, and even a small acquaponics system using nutrient rich water from the fish pond to fertilize the plants.
 
Ultimately though, no matter how green restaurants try to be, Chef Hans admits one major thing has to change in the way we as consumers eat.
 
“To really make a difference we have to stop eating meat.  It takes 780 litres of water to produce 40 grams of meat.  I love eating meat, but its better to use vegetables. I changed my menu so we have a vegetarian appetizer and main course every day”.
 
Born in Macau to a Danish father and local Chinese mother, Chef Hans was raised in Denmark, but returned to his birth place three and half years ago. He immediately noticed one significant difference between the two places.
 
“In Denmark, electricity is expensive and water is expensive, so people take more care because it costs them.  If it costs you something then you will try to save it,” he observes.
 
Regarding the F&B operations of other major hotels in the city, he believes they are trying to reduce waste, but still face challenges. 
 
“From a costing point of view they are definitely trying. They have realized that they can save money and be sustainable and have a good brand image, so of course they need to think about this. 
 
“But at the moment, I think they are still interested in fighting for the customers, which means offering larger and grander buffets for a cheaper price. Cheaper prices mean cheaper products, and cheaper products mean less focus on animal welfare and sustainability, and more mass production.”
 
However, he concludes positively: “Sustainability can be a win-win situation for restaurateurs because you can save a lot of money, and of course it helps the environment.”
 
 
 
 
Grow it Yourself
 
“Every chef likes to have their own local produce, but we live in a concrete jungle, so I thought, if I can’t find it, I can try to grow it myself,” says Chef Anthony Sousa Tam, as he shows us around his impressive self-made aquaponics setup, located on the fifth floor of an industrial building up on the hill near the CEM main office. 
 
Chef Anthony currently has two restaurants in Macau, Japas and his new venture, Root.  And he values being able to offer his customers fresh local produce. 
 
“The majority of products in Macau are not green in terms of transportation; coming from Europe and Australia.  We wanted to find a way to do something clean, so we decided on aquaponics. At least we can say in our restaurant that this is our own product,” he notes.
 
Acquaponics is a closed loop system that continually feeds back into itself. Fish in a tank produce waste, and bacteria turn it into nitrate, which is a fertilizer.  The plants absorb the nutrients from the water, and the clean water is returned to the fish tank to start the process all over again.
 
“Everything was bought from Taobao initially, and then we even made some ourselves. At the moment we are experimenting with what works best so we need to come here every day. I’m very lucky that I have my business partner Mr Lam who helps me.”
 
The amount of light, the temperature and saltiness of the water, the humidity and air temperature are all variables that they are adjusting in order to get just the right results in terms of texture, size and flavour.
 
So far they have grown basil, thyme, mint, rosemary, cherry tomatoes, and Chef Anthony’s favourite, ice lettuce.
 
“At the moment we trying to have no soil, just pure hydroculture, and we don’t use any chemicals,” he says.
 
Back at the restaurant, Chef Anthony also tries to maintain sustainable practices in the kitchen.
 
“We are using vegetable waste to create compost to use as soil for more urban farming in the future.  We try to avoid plastic containers and wrapping.  For our team, all the chefs need to understand how to grow and how to recycle, this is our aim for our team,” he explains.  “We try to source from as close as possible. There’s lots of beautiful seafood nearby, so red meat is not a big part of our menu.”
 
He is even experimenting with small scale hydroponics, converting an old wine bottle fridge into a miniature indoor farm by simply inserting some LED lights, a fan and a water source and pump.  
 
“You can do it with anything, even an old wardrobe,” he laughs. “It’s not a costly investment, it just requires time to take care of it.  And in the long term you can definitely save costs if you are producing all your own salads.”
 
 
 
 
Gold Awards for Green
 
For the past decade, the Environmental Protection Bureau (DSPA) has been coordinating the Macao Green Hotel Awards.  In the first year, eight hotels were awarded and by last year, 47 hotels received accolades.  According to the DSPA, since the beginning of the awards, the local hotel industry has reduced waste by over 30 percent, as well as making significant savings in electricity and water usage.  In 2016, Conrad Macao, Sheraton Grand Macao, Holiday Inn Macao and The St Regis Macao – all part of the Sands Cotai Central property – all won “Gold Awards” in the competition.  And one influential person driving this remarkable success has been Syed Mubarak, Director of the Sands ECO360 Global Sustainability and MEP Plant Operations Department at Sands China Ltd.
 
Could you tell us a bit about how you approach sustainability and green operations on the F&B side of the hotel?
Our main focus areas are - reducing food waste, increasing recycling rates and embarking on sustainable food options. The F&B team oversees the recycling program, which encompasses, but is not limited to: Paper, plastic, metal, aluminum cans; cooking oil; glass bottles; and food waste. One of our programs, the “Clean Plate Challenge” drives the food waste minimization across our team member dining operations.  Since 2014, this event has generated more than 300,000 clean plate actions, which has resulted in an average reduction of 30 percent food waste.  As part of our long term strategy towards sustainable food, the F&B team has implemented initiatives such as: sustainable food menus in banquet and event operations; and Shark’s fin removed from our menus effective from May 2017.
 
What are some of the greatest challenges you face?
Reducing food waste and increasing the recycling rate is a common challenge across Asia and we are not different from that perspective.  Addressing this requires lot of awareness and education at the grass roots level.
 
Could you comment on the importance of technology vs staff training in relation to achieving sustainability in F&B? 
Both technology and staff training are equally important to achieve our goals in sustainable F&B operations. Technology can help to address the waste generated like diverting food waste from landfill, while training will increase awareness and reduce waste. Apart from that, staff training helps to reduce cross contamination and increase upstream sorting to improve overall recycling rates. We are highly focused on our team members and some of the training programs incorporated into our operations are: General Sustainability training during staff orientation; Recycling training; Food Digester Training; and Food Waste Minimization training organized by DSPA.  We continue to embrace the latest technologies available on the market, one of which is a food waste digester that converts food waste into bio water. We have installed six machines of combined operating capacity of seven tons per day.  These machines have diverted over 1,300 tons of food waste since 2014. 
 
 
 
 
Studio Green
 
In 2016, Studio City was one of only seven hotels in Macau to win a Gold Award at the Macau Green Hotel Awards, organized by the Environmental Protection Bureau (DSPA).  Mr. Patrick Schaub, Vice President of Operations, Studio City spoke to CLOSER about the property’s strategy for reducing food waste.
 
“It is important to operate with the environment at heart. At Studio City, we actively promote ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ in our F&B operations.   
 
Reduce: We provide continuous training to employees on green operations and sustainability. For example, we ensure that employees are familiar with the portion size served in our restaurants, so that they can provide advice to guests when needed. We also remind employees at the employee dining room to consider the amount of food they need to avoid wastage.  
 
Reuse: When dealing with excessive produce, we try to reuse rather than disposing it, if it is in compliance with our food hygiene and safety standards. The same principle is adopted with vegetables and meat trimming and off cuts. We constantly repurpose those to make soup base, and they add great flavors! 
 
Recycle: All our menus and takeout containers are made from recycled materials. As with the rest of the resort, we encourage employees and guests to recycle paper products and plastic bottles. 
 
One of the challenges is the cost. Melco as a group has invested over MOP$100 million in its green initiatives. It is a long term investment. We are ensuring sustainability for many generations ahead.  
 
Another challenge is guest expectations. Guests who come to our restaurants are accustomed to lavish offerings such as the welcome drinks, amuse bouche, petit fours and complimentary dessert.  We need to strike a balance between maintaining the dining experience and being green. 
 
Both technology and staff training are equally important to a sustainable F&B operations. For instance, sensor technology can be used to indicate waste collection volumes in different areas of the resort. This saves a lot of time and manpower to inspect each collection point and make a record manually. 
 
The right kind of technology lightens employees’ workload, enables them to deliver greater results, and reduces the impact on the environment. But if there isn’t sufficient training provided, the technology itself may become an obstacle to daily operations.” 
 
 
 
 
Food’s Future 
 
Hong Kong’s first-ever Food’s Future Summit on dining trends and sustainability in the food industry took place in August, organized by Hong Kong’s celebrated food media platform, Foodie 
 
文 By Tanja Wessels  
圖 Photos courtesy of Food’s future summit
 
 
Hong Kong’s first-ever Food’s Future Summit, organized by Hong Kong’s celebrated food media platform, Foodie, brought together key change-makers, experts and conscious consumers to explore pertinent questions around the food industry, during a one-day event on August 12, at Eaton House, Central Hong Kong. 
 
Hong Kong is often regarded as the culinary capital of Asia, boasting an ample supply of food imported from all over the world. Meanwhile, Macau’s dazzling dining scene also brings visitors from near and far to experience its celebrated culinary scene. These epicurean excesses, however, mask the reality that the world is on the brink of a major food crisis, one that is projected to take place during our lifetime. 
 
As a bastion of Hong Kong’s food scene, Foodie has witnessed and participated in the city’s dining evolution and recognized a need for further discussion and change. For the first time in Hong Kong on such a large scale, the Food’s Future Summit aimed to bring together a host of industry change-makers, conscious consumers and cutting-edge experts to tackle pertinent questions about the future of our food: What will we be eating in the future? How do we create a sustainable food cycle?
 
By 2050, the global population is expected to have grown by one third. But dietary and climate trends suggest that we may only be able to feed half of 2050’s population at current food production rates. And it’s not just quantity – environmental and sustainability problems also pose serious challenges to stable and sufficient supplies of healthy and nutritious food. Yet, despite the urgency and severity of the challenges at hand, issues of sustainable dining practices remain largely absent from mainstream culinary consciousness. 
 
Through a series of interactive panels and plenaries, Foodie’s Summit discussed the latest food innovations, upcoming trends and imminent issues in the culinary world. 
 
One of the speakers at the event was Liz Thomas, co-founder of Food Savior, an online platform that pairs restaurants with patrons, allowing the latter to purchase food for less, with the aim of stopping perfectly good food from being thrown away. 
 
Restaurants list dishes on the Food Savior platform that they have left over from each service, and once customers of the service select and pay for their preferred meal, the restaurant shares a designated timeframe for pickup. The surplus food is sold at a discount of up to 50 percent off. 
 
 
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Hong Kong throws out a shocking 3,600 tons of food – the weight of six Airbus 380 aeroplanes or 200 double decker buses – every single day. Globally, one third of food for human consumption, is wasted each year; enough calories to keep an extra 1.9 billion people fed well, according to Institute on the Environment, in the US. In other words – there is enough to feed everyone on the planet and more, yet millions are starving. 
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Macau CLOSER: Why do you think Hong Kong has this devastating food waste situation and how unique to the city is it?
Liz Thomas: Food waste is an issue worldwide. Globally, around one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year - approximately 1.3 billion tonnes - gets wasted. So this isn’t unique to Hong Kong or Macau: at every stage from agriculture to the consumer, food is lost.
 
But Hong Kong is behind the curve in fixing the problem - Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei produce far less waste per capita than people in Hong Kong, and authorities in those cities have long taken action to try to drive those numbers down.
 
Everyone needs to take responsibility for their role in the food waste issue, and Hong Kong’s fast-paced culture often means people don’t take the time to slow down and look at their consumption and how it is adding to wastage. I don’t believe people enjoy wasting food, but I think we have developed habits that have allowed the situation to spiral and we need to address that.
 
One of our aims with Food Savior is to provide an ‘everybody wins’ solution - consumers get great food at bargain prices, restaurants get a second chance to sell surplus meals, and less gets needlessly thrown out. We hope that by providing something like this in the mix of other options available, such as composting and simply buying smarter, we can help make a difference one meal at a time.  
 
Do you see a growing awareness amongst Hong Kongers of the amount of food waste the city generates?
There is growing awareness, but one of the things that surprised us most is that Food Savior has become as much an education platform as a social enterprise. We have found that people are looking to us to explain the issues and how they affect their daily lives - for example not many people realise that our polluted air is in part caused by food waste - as well as to provide answers to the actual problem. But overall I think the interest and knowledge about reducing waste is growing, which makes us hopeful for the future.
 
How do the food regulations in Hong Kong affect the high waste numbers?
I’m not sure if its regulations or attitude, somewhere along the line some restaurants decided that they’d rather throw food away than offer it at a discount. We’ve changed a lot of minds since we launched in March, but I think the real driver for change in restaurants and hotels will be when the government brings in long overdue “polluter pays” legislation where they are charged on the amount of waste produced. We saw with the plastic bag levy, that even small penalties do change behaviours. 
 
What was the moment that triggered the start of Food Savior?
Hong Kong brunches and buffets! Co-founders Florent Sollier, Adrien Hay, and I were always wondering what happened to all the food - and there had to be a lot - that wasn’t consumed. We found out most of it was being thrown away and we were pretty horrified. We looked around thinking something had to be done, and realised that if we wanted things to change - we needed to make them change ourselves.
 
How long has Food Savior been running and what has the industry response been? 
It launched in March and the industry response has been fantastic - savvy restaurants understand that waste is no good for anyone - it doesn’t make sense financially and is a fantastic waste of resources. But there remain a handful who don’t care about the environment and that is disappointing.
 
Has the public response been what you expected?
The public response has been fantastic - which shows the demand is there. We have had multiple orders every day since day one - so definitely exceeding expectations already.
 
Do you think something like this is possible for a place like Macau? 
Yes we hope so. We’re looking to meet with local partners to discuss expanding to Macau. 
 
 
 
 
 
At one of the ‘Fireside Chats’ at Food’s Future Summit, Anna Simpson, Curator of The Futures Centre, led a discussion on five of the big global trends that could make food a factor in our future wellbeing, rather than a cause for concern: 
 
 
1. Eyes on supply  
 
Consumers are fed up of opaque supply chains delivering one food scandal after another, whether it’s frozen meat from the 1970s seized in China, or gutter oil found in Taiwanese mooncakes. As traceability becomes the holy grail, the Chinese online-only insurer ZhongAn has announced a blockchain platform for the chicken supply chain, logging all transactions permanently to shed some light on the journey from farm to plate. 
 
 
2. Junk backlash 
 
Governments are clocking the cost of poor diets, and pointing fingers at business. Diabetes is expected to cost China 360 billion RMB by 2030. In Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is weighing up a sugar tax, taking advice from the World Health Organization. Meanwhile, Vanuatu in the South Pacific has plans to curb all imports of foreign ‘junk’ food by 2020, in favour of locally grown and organic produce. 
 
 
 
3. Health sensors
 
Consumers want to know more about what’s in their food - and how it’s affecting their bodies. Designers are responding with innovative concepts, from Chinese search giant Baidu’s smart chopsticks that can detect contaminants in food, to Japanese manufacturer Toto’s toilets that monitor the health of your bowels by checking sugar levels in urine and gas in stools. 
 
 
 
4. Less livestock
 
Given the impact of livestock farming on strained resources, and the greenhouse gas emissions of ruminants, eating less meat is a must for meeting climate action targets. China has set a goal of reducing meat consumption by 50% by 2020 - which would cut its total GHG emissions by 9%. Innovations to support meat lovers range from the meat-free but bloody burger from Impossible Foods, to the advent of cellular agriculture: meat grown in bioreactors from cells harvested harmlessly from animals.  
 
 
5. Focus on feed 
 
What we feed the animals and seafood we consume matters as much as what we eat ourselves. Currently, nearly one third of land used to grow crops - and three-quarters of soy grown - is for animal feed. Innovations to reduce the strain include insect-derived feed: the fat grubs of black soldier flies offer complete proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals. Meanwhile, McDonald’s, Tyson Foods and Chipotle have all committed to serving antibiotic-free meat, in the fight against bacterial resistance.    
 
 
Anna Simpson, Curator 
of The Futures Centre, Chief Innovation Coach at Flux Compass, and author of ‘The Innovation-Friendly Organization’.