Rethink, Reduce, Reuse

The University of Gastronomic Sciences (UNISG) hosted a number of excellent presentations, workshops, and tastings during the four days of Slow Fish in Genova, including a session on rethinking food waste.


UNISG is one of the institutions participating in Life Foster, a project co-financed by the EU Commission LIFE Programme and led by ENAIP NET, the Italian network for vocational and educational training. Life Foster seeks to raise awareness about food waste among food professionals and policy makers, and to train students, trainers, and restaurant professionals in adopting sustainable practices.

Franco Fassio and Nadia Tecco are the researchers heading up UNISG’s involvement in the project, and the university is working to introduce the theme of food waste and skills to confront this issue into its didactic model. The food services sector is responsible for 12% of the food waste generated in Europe; as chefs are a key link between farm and fork, helping them to engage in more sustainable practices is crucial.


As Franco and Nadia said, the first step in responding to an issue is identifying and defining it: In this case, the problem is that, according to 2012 estimates, the EU wastes at least 88 billion tonnes of food every year, and the figure could be as high as 120 billion tonnes by 2020. To give some perspective, this is twice as much food as would be needed to feed all the hungry people in the world, and we spend more on processing waste than it would take to ensure that everybody has sufficient access to food.


Global food waste amounts to some 1.3 billion tonnes per year, and if food losses and waste were its own country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China and the USA. This gives a sense of the massive climate impact of food waste: In addition to adopting sustainable diets and improving food production practices, reducing food waste is the most significant demand-side measure for reducing the food system’s carbon footprint.

The Life Foster project seeks to bring about a systemic change by focusing on preventing food waste—in other words, it is concerned with rethinking, reducing, and reusing in order to decrease the amount of food and related material (such as packaging) that needs to be recycled or, worst of all, disposed of entirely.


Carlo Catani. Photo:

Carlo Catani is the former director oft UNISG and author of the book Tempi di Recupero (“Recovery time”). Tempi di Recupero is also the name of an association of chefs and home cooks with a passion for finding creative ways to avoid wasting food, often based on the traditional gastronomy of Romagna, where the association is based.

Carlo believes that it is important to project messages that people are happy to receive: When we get home at the end of the day and are ready for dinner, we don’t want to be hit over the head with the alarming statistics about food waste, or preached to and “taught” about the importance of reducing waste for the sake of the environment and social justice.

In order to bring critical issue of food waste into the kitchen in a way that people can get excited about, Tempi di Recupero hosts meals and other events to bring people together to savor the fight against food waste, and the book offers recipes and tips for turning this fight into an act of creativity and conviviality.


Two of the key concepts for Tempi di Recupero are the figure of the azdora Romagnola and the quinto quarto: In Romagnola peasant culture, the azdora (or arzdora) was the woman, either mother or grandmother of the family, who ruled over the kitchen and household and was responsible for sustaining the family. This almost mythical figure is attributed with great resourcefulness and wisdom, and it is precisely this practical wisdom that Tempi di Recupero tries to recover and celebrate.

How can you use different parts of a chicken, and avoid waste? Picture:

Roberto Casamenti and Alessandra Bazzocchi. Photo:

The raw material through which this wisdom often expresses itself is the quinto quarto, or “fifth quarter,” which literally references the organ meats and other “scraps” of a butchered animal (i.e. everything apart from the two hindquarters and two forequarters) but also encompasses all of the left over bits and pieces of food, from cheese rinds to vegetable trimmings, that can be transformed into delicious dishes.

For Roberto Casamenti and Alessandra Bazzocchi of Osteria la Campanara (in Galeata, Emilia Romagna), who are part of the Tempi di Recupero project and who discovered Slow Food 18 years ago (“it changed our lives!”), the traditional wisdom of using the quinto quarto is perhaps best expressed by polpette, or “meatballs.” As Roberto said, “before you throw anything away, make polpette!” Roberto’s grandfather was a butcher who tried never to waste. Roberto learned from his grandfather—and sees in the work of his colleagues—that it is not just traditional recipes that save food; it is also the relationships with people (customers, suppliers, friends) and with the plants and animals grown and raised in family gardens and small farms upon which a local gastronomy is built.


Barbara Piaggio of Trattoria Ligagin in Val Fontanabuona, Liguria, is also part of the Tempi di Recupero association. Her grandmother opened the trattoria in 1959 and did everything from planting vegetables and fruit trees to raising and milking animals, and from making butter and cheese to cooking in the trattoria, using all kinds of ingredients and techniques that have since been lost—for example, in the old days, stale bread was ground into crumbs and used to make fritto misto.

The thread that links Tempi di Recupero to an initiative like the Life Foster project is the idea that traditional wisdom can and must be brought together with new technologies and practices to create a sustainable food system that meets our needs and celebrates the pleasure of eating. Bringing traditional practices back into our kitchens and daily lives is itself an innovation, and is part of what it will take to train a new generation of mindful food professionals and citizens to rethink our food system for the better.

by Charles Barstow

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