Article

The only way is ethics: tackling food waste

Categories: Behind the stalls

In a new series, we go behind the stalls to discover the positive environmental and social practices that underpin many of Borough’s traders. This month, Chloë Stewart, founder of Nibs etc—a stall that makes its products entirely from leftover juice pulp—talks about addressing food waste by getting inventive with ingredients

More than one billion tonnes worldwide. Between 95 and 115kg per person in Europe and North America. Whichever way you cut it, we’re wasting far, far too much food. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, in rich, developed countries, we waste almost as much—222 million tonnes—as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa, where chronic undernourishment continues to hold sway. Something must be done: on an international level, at the level of national government, but also at the level of organisations and individuals.

nibs etc. may be a one-woman band, trading out of a small kitchen in south London, but it is part of a growing movement of people and companies who are changing the public’s attitude to waste in the best way possible: by serving it to them as delicious food.

“The product is a medium,” says Chloë Stewart, the founder, director, brand manager, and head chef behind nibs etc. She’s been selling her juice pulp products at Borough Market for some months now and describes working here as “an honour—and really fun, too.” Her food is remarkable: knobbly, crunchy granola, sweetened and nutritionally enhanced by pulp collected from local juice bars; crisp, cheese-lusting crackers (also made from pulp that would otherwise have been destined for landfill); banana loaf from banana pulp and old, brown bananas.

Farmers, supermarkets, producers
“I look at fruit pulp like I look at shredded veg: if you can make something from shredded vegetables, you can make it from fruit that has been juiced.” Believe it or not, a large proportion of waste comes not just from individuals discarding surplus or past its best produce, but from the supply chain: farmers, supermarkets and producers—like, of course, those making juice.

Chloë’s mission is to spread the word about waste and encourage people to think twice before throwing things, while redirecting pulp away from landfill toward tummies, where it can actually be of benefit. Some friends have laughed at her obsession with waste: “I am a nightmare to go shopping with because I cannot buy anything I don’t need,” she laughs. But Chloë is anything but sanctimonious. She is evangelical about food waste, but she knows the best way to convert the masses is not by lecturing them, but by getting them to sample some delicious, ‘wasted’ food.

“I love the products, don’t get me wrong—but the goal is to inspire people to think differently about how they eat and cook. If they know pulp is not waste but an ingredient, then they might extend that thinking to other potential ingredients they are throwing away.” Nothing excites her more than a friend or customer messaging her to tell her they’re roasting their cauliflower leaves, or blitzing their carrot tops into pesto.

Cook differently
Indeed, the retail side of nibs etc. was actually born of Chloë‘s recipe blog of the same name. “I’ve always loved food, but I have always cooked with what’s lying around; what needs using up. My friends have said I cook quite differently.” The blog was their idea for her to share her recipes, but it was also a means of making her cooking more productive.

The blog is still going—more intermittently, now the products have taken off, but “I think people do make that connection between the blog and the products. The point is not for upcycling or the zero-waste movement to dictate, but for it to be positive and accessible.” If people can cook, taste, and try a message, they’ll digest it far easier than if they are simply told. This same theory extends to the packaging: recyclable, biodegradable, hand stamped and with recyclable tags, it reinforces the message: ‘powered by pulp. Fuelled by fibre.’

Food waste is a serious issue. While nibs etc. has no intention of trivialising the challenge it poses, it does make the prospect of facing it a bit more fun. “The customers love the packaging. It tells the story immediately, and it’s aesthetically appealing too.” You only need to open Instagram to know nibs etc. is photogenic. As for other areas of sustainability—well, Chloë just laughs when we ask about transportation costs. “I’m on public transport everywhere, with everything that I have. Makes for great arms,” she grins.

Grow organically
It is important to her to grow the business organically, so as to ensure she gets each part of the business right. “I would love to broaden the product line and I would love to work with more people, but for the time being I have to focus. So many businesses address one area of sustainability and completely overlook something else as they grow.”

While larger juice joints do often send their pulp to processing plants which can convert it to fuel and energy, small urban outlets don’t have those facilities. It’d be in the bin were it not for Chloë. Now, when people spread cream cheese on her crackers, they’re spreading the word about wastefulness.

“People talk a lot these days about mindfulness, and for me valuing good food is the epitome of that. It means being conscious of what you are doing, why you are doing it, and the consequences”—be it opting for Chloë’s granola of a morning, or carefully roasting the outer leaves of a cauliflower into vegetable crisps.