Upcycling food: Hidden Harvest

Hidden Harvest is a community-based not-for-profit organisation that raises awareness about food waste and its related environmental and social problems by “upcycling” food that would not normally reach the consumer’s plate. REMI DASKEY @remidaskey interviewed Berbel Transe, the driving force behind Hidden Harvest, to discuss the bigger issue on everyone’s plates.

What is Hidden Harvest?

Hidden Harvest's Berbel Tanse. Photo: Facebook
Hidden Harvest’s Berbel Tanse. Photo: Facebook

Hidden Harvest is a not for profit organisation that I guess brings the issue of food waste literally to the table by bringing and using products that are not appreciated by food supply chains and that would normally end up in the bin to the table in a slightly upcycled way. The aim is to open the people’s minds and generate the food waste discussion within the community. Across the food supply chains there are a lot of different elements where there is a waste, but we as consumers are responsible for 30 per cent of the waste.

A lot of the food that we waste is thrown into the bin, 40 per cent of what is discarded into the bin is food, and that food ends up in a landfill. All the food that does end up in the landfill will turn into methane gas, which is 20 per cent more potent than carbon dioxide which is completely crazy. By wasting that food we as consumers are creating a huge problem when the alternative could be composting it. We as consumers can actually make a difference.

Where did the idea for the initiative come from?

I moved to Ghana and South Africa for a year, and when I was there I had the opportunity to do a Masters in Sustainability Science by a distance at an Australian uni. While I was in Ghana I worked on a number of projects in an agricultural area. I saw there was a lot of food being produced by the land and they would harvest it. But there was a massive disconnect between the land and getting it to the market. When the food did get to the market the people would eat everything, but there was an abundance of food that was wasted when being transferred from the land to the market, due to no fridges, trucks not turning up on time.

I saw a lot of food security and food insecurity. If you look at the supply chain in developing countries, a majority of the food waste occurs when the produce is being transported. What I found significant during this time was people were hungry and at the same time food was going to waste, like how is that possible? Returning to the developed world after a whole year, I was devastated. In Australia, there is an awesome logistics infrastructure but still, we’re ending up with the same amount of food waste as those in third world countries. I came to the conclusion that the food system is bloody broken. And in particular we in developed nations can reduce food waste by 30 per cent and this is when Hidden Harvest was born.

How is this problem affecting us?

This problem isn’t really affecting us, I mean it is but is also isn’t. It has an environmental impact. For example, 30 per cent of food is wasted, the water and land that is used for producing those products is wasted as well which causes a massive environmental impact and we as consumers are often not really aware of it. We don’t think about wasting food because it’s socially accepted. If you go out for dinner and leave half of your plate, no one thinks twice. We don’t value our food as much as we should. We are not immediately affected, but in the long run, we will be affected by it due to the chain reaction.

How do you source the food for Hidden Harvest?

To source the food for Hidden Harvest we work very closely with local markets around Sydney and sole trader businesses. We pick up the food that they would usually throw out. We try to jump in between the supplier and the bin to make sure we don’t have to jump into the bin to get it. The next stage is to take it to one of our chefs and then creatively upcycle it or change and transform the ‘bad’ produce into something delightful. Through these dishes we generate a topic of conversation.

Have you personally noticed any change since starting this initiative?

Since starting this I haven’t noticed a huge change, but it’s baby steps to begin with. One thing I have noticed is that people from these upcycle events are either messaging me or stopping me in the streets to say, “I threw out a head of broccoli and I thought of you and what I could have done with it”. I mean, I’m being thought of when a piece of broccoli is being thrown into the bin, but at least people are thinking about what they could have done with it. Also, the new rage at dinner parties is when people take all the leftover food home, it’s called “the Berbel effect”.

How would you like to see Hidden Harvest?

As I’m at uni, we’re gradually slowing it down a little bit as I’ve got my workload cut out for me at the time being. But we’re planning big things for the New Year, bigger and better. I have an awesome crew of volunteers, and after everything I have been talking about I want everyone to know it isn’t just me running Hidden Harvest. Because I wouldn’t have been able to do this all on my own, we have an amazing social media team who are super active, an awesome graphic designer who makes everything she touches beautiful, and a number of chefs who are incredibly creative and inspire me every time we’re in the kitchen.

I could not have done it without them – it’s not a one-man show it’s a ten man show. So whilst I shall be taking it easy, these guys are writing articles and running everything in the background. We’re currently not hosting any events for the time being, but we would like our conversation to go on through social media.

You can find Hidden Harvest on Facebook, Instagram, and on their website.



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