Compass Group is making food personal in the fight against food waste

The foodservice provider recently held its 8th annual Stop Food Waste Day. Here’s a deep dive into this year's events and a look at how the small sustainability event became a global movement.
Speakers from the Waste Warriors Awards.
Speakers from the Waste Warriors Awards. | Photo courtesy of Compass Group.

The very first Stop Food Waste Day, held by foodservice provider Compass Group, took place eight years ago, in 2017. The team started small, but had big plans for the future. They even went to New York City to try and get on TV.

“It was kind of cute. We went to New York City and we actually stood outside the Today Show,  just like trying to see if we could get on TV that way,” said Amy Keister, Compass Group’s global director of sustainability. “And we really didn't think anything big would ever come with it.”

And yet, eight years later, Stop Food Waste Day is a global movement, celebrated in over 40 countries.

“It feels like it’s Christmas morning when you wake up and you can start at 4 or 5 a.m. and just seeing the excitement on social and just seeing our incredible associates that every day are doing such tremendous things on the fight against food waste,” said Keister. “But we kind of get permission to really spotlight it and just seeing the creativity of folks that you know, just how they've made it their own.”

The idea for Stop Food Waste Day was sparked in an off-site leadership meeting where the team had started discussing the impacts of food waste.

“When we talked about it, we were like, ‘oh, my goodness, we're a food company. We're a wonderful food company. We should love food.’ We have chefs that never ever want to waste food. And so, it was just a small idea like that. Let's just do a day,” said Keister.

So how has the foodservice provider effectively transformed a small sustainability event into a global movement? According to Keister, the trick is making it personal.

“All of us have a food memory. All of us have a moment where food became more than something just nourishing you; where it became personal, where it became precious,” she said in a livestream of Compass’ first Waste Warriors Awards last week. “And if you’re able to harness purpose along with that personal passion, the sky’s the limit and Stop Food Waste Day is a perfect example.”

The make-it-personal strategy, along with help from partners like FoodTank, have helped to transform Stop Food Waste Day into an incredible day of action.

The foodservice provider just celebrated its 8th annual Stop Food Waste Day across its corporate, schools and other sites across the world. The series of events are meant to spotlight the issue of food waste, spread education and inspire action on the issue.

The Waste Warrior Awards

One new way the foodservice provider celebrated this year was hosting the inaugural Waste Warrior Awards. The event was held in New York City and Compass teamed up with research and advocacy nonprofit FoodTank to make it happen.

The event kicked off as Keister took to the stage to share her own personal food memory, which roots back to her grandmother, who was born in 1916 and struggled through the Great Depression.

“[It] was being in our kitchen, and we had delicious raspberries from the garden as well as some vegetables, again just from our back yard garden, and my grandmother was teaching me how to make jam and can and store our vegetables in our cold cellar.”

Throughout the night, a few young advocates for ending food waste also took to the stage to read poems about the issue, which were one of Keister’s favorite moments from this year’s events.

“To see these young children and their passion, I just think is incredibly inspiring,” she said.

The idea of looking to the past on solutions for the future was one theme in a panel discussion.

“Another thing that makes me hopeful is the story that Amy told at the beginning about it's just a generation or two ago, that people were canning and pickling and freezing and storing. We can switch back, it's not going to be that hard,” said Danielle Nierenberg, co-founder and president of FoodTank, in a panel discussion.

Yet, other foodservice players emphasized the importance of moving forward and not relying too heavily on the past, albeit taking lessons from it.

 “I'm always a little cautious about trying to go backwards because inherently we're always moving forwards,” said Sam Kass, a food entrepreneur, former White House chef and senior policy advisor for nutrition. “I think there are definitely lessons from the past that need to be, you know, reincorporated into our culture and our way of being. I also think there's new approaches and techniques and technologies and models that can help modern society to grapple with this problem.”

The panelists took an optimistic view of the future, taking time to reflect on the work that has been done on the issue of food waste in recent years.

The panel concluded with the presentation of the Waste Warriors awards. The recipients were Kass, Christine Datz-Romero, co-founder and executive director of Lower East Side Ecology Center, Dana Gunders, executive director of ReFed, Stephen Grimaldi, executive director of New York Common Pantry, and Ed Brown, CEO of Restaurant Associates.

To conclude the event, Nierenberg presented one final award, the Chef and Food Waste Warrior award to Tom Colicchio, award winning chef, multi-cookbook author, Emmy award winning judge and producer on Bravo’s Top Chef and owner of Crafted Hospitality.

Colicchio also emphasized the importance of making food personal. He called back to the past, in which he said people’s relationship food was different.

”And so there was this whole mentality of food is important. Food is special. Food is something that we should cherish. Food is something that our farmers are growing. And again, this was pre-fast food right,” said Colicchio. “And so, food wasn't cheap. It was never cheap. And it was something that you really relied on to nourish your family. And it was important, and nowadays we treat it like a commodity, right? Throw it away. Who cares?”

He noted all the resources that go to waste when food is wasted—gas, energy, the farmers time, not to mention the carbon emissions that are associated with wasted food.

And yet, like other speakers, he remained optimistic for the future.

“This idea that we place value in the people's lives who are making this food for us is so so important,” he said. “I also am so excited to see young people who came up here and read. Because think about this 15 years ago, we didn't hear about food waste and now we have kids because of you, that care about the issue.”

Stop Food Waste Day

Stop Food Waste Day did not simply conclude with the Waste Warrior awards. Instead, Compass Group had activities planned across its various sites leading up to and on the day of the event on April 24th.

Bon Appétit Management Company, for instance, hosted a digital event at hundreds of locations to inspire diners to engage in everyday activities that prevent food waste. Dubbed, “From Trash to Treasure” the event featured a how-to about growing vegetables from scraps and tips to reduce kitchen waste. Several locations also hosted a “weigh the waste” event to spread awareness about the issue of food waste.

And Chartwells K12 celebrated throughout the month of April with the theme of “Be a waste warrior.” This program was held as a part of the foodservice provider’s Discovery Kitchen nutrition education program. Throughout the month, chefs and dietitians organized activities that allowed students to taste plant-based recipes such as a root-to-stem broccoli slaw and a nut-free vegetable pesto.

Chartwells Higher Education celebrated across various sites but the team at Carnegie Melon University hosted week-long activities surrounding Stop Food Waste Day. Some events included a campus-wide Farmers Market featuring local farms, an opportunity for students to create their own seed bombs, a food drive for the campus pantry, and a Teaching Kitchen event where students learned how to cook low-carbon meals.

The Morrison Healthcare team at the Mount Sinani Health System, also recently joined New York City Mayor Eric Adams in the Plant-Powered Carbon challenge, which aims to reduce food related carbon emissions by 25% by 2030.

Another exciting aspect of this year’s event was the space allowed for creativity, said Keister. For instance, this year, one chef created a “second chance aioli.”

“It was [...] like just this amazing fry sauce, which would have all gone to waste, and so, when you [can] just keep it, I think, less structur[ed], more passion, you just get such creativity," she said. "I felt like this year just the creativity and the excitement and individual passion just really shined.” 



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