We are all aware of the horrendous food waste that supermarkets, restaurants, and households throw away daily; perfectly edible food that is left to rot. We have all heard rumours about burgeoning mountains of rancid butter, industrial silos of rotting grain, and flowing rivers of soured milk.
We congratulate ourselves on how progressive and enlightened the human race is in this modern age of technology, yet how enlightened or progressive are we really? Stop, think, and consider: two thirds of our species are either seriously undernourished or starving to death. Nobody truly understands the logic behind global economic supply and demand or the worldwide government food programs attempting to manage the discrepancy between these forces. But, anyone can see that the millions of tons of daily waste thrown away daily is pure madness. Real positive change starts with the individual—with you and me—right now! But how can we make a difference on a personal level?
Meet Nick and his pal, Tom, who met randomly on a train and are now addressing the food waste problem in their own small way. They founded and now run Old Tree, a brilliant yet simple little company based in Brighton. Old Tree brews their own carefully crafted drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) from donated fruit that otherwise would have been destined for the bin.
Like all good plans, Old Tree is so simple and obvious. They get in contact with all kinds of local businesses, wholesalers, farmers, restaurants, and individuals to collect the days’ unsold food waste. In their very own micro-brewery, Old Tree uses the unsold food waste to brew an imaginative array of colourful alcoholic beverages and non-alcoholic cordials. Some of the more fun and exotic donations to date have been about 1,000 mangoes (turned into a deliciously sweet table wine) and about three tons of pears (brewed into a head-banging cider).
“We have been operating for about 6 months and receive donations from regular suppliers in and around the local area. There are hundreds of potential outlets willing to donate, it’s just a matter of approaching them. If you don’t ask, you don’t get!”
Old Tree has secured for themselves a cosy little niche in SILO, a “zero-waste restaurant” based in the Brighton lanes, which operates under a similar ethos. Don’t be put-off by the “Waste Menu”; you are not consuming garbage. You will not be rummaging through a bin—reminiscent of a green furry monster with an attitude problem living in a bin on Sesame Street—rather, the daily menus are imaginatively created, prepared, and served by professional chefs. The produce secured is perfectly ripe, decent, and seasonal. The menu and drinks are perfectly nutritious and delicious too. The restaurant is clean, organised, hygienic, fresh, and ethically sensible; most importantly it’s beginning to bear fruit, literally!
“We are always kept on our toes and we have to be flexible because from day to day we have no idea what will be donated to us. We are always trying new exciting concoctions.”
The vision goes further. What is so endearing and forward-thinking about Nick and Tom is that they are on an eco-mission and they are happy to share their skill-set and knowledge. They wish to encourage other people to get started in the rapidly growing “zero-waste food and drink” industry. They have built a beautiful log cabin in the forest. This cabin is their hub, their dream, their baby. They re-invest the small profits made from Old Tree into planting and sustaining their own forest garden. They plant and grow a variety of trees and shrubs, while encouraging volunteers to get involved to collaboratively transform a passion into a sustainable, working garden. Their wider ambition is to invest all generated profits into agroecology projects and edible landscaping.
Anyone from all walks of life and all ages is welcome to come along and learn: from planting, nurturing, and growing trees and shrubs to fermenting and brewing beer to making wine. It is a free and educational opportunity to connect with nature, to learn, to be inspired, and to encourage everyone to set up their own micro-brewery or “zero-waste” restaurant.
Old Tree’s gate is wide open to anyone who wants to drop by, have fun, get planting and get brewing! The fermentation process is a beautiful art form lost or left to the big corporate breweries that serve the mass market. This is a shame. In the UK, we have a deep, rich, and traditional history of fermentation and we offer the support and ability to teach these skills. There are ancient and herbal healing beers with natural ingredients from locally sourced carbon-free perennial fruits. Nature is a great healer.
“Being in the forest and planting little seeds and connecting with the forest is a beautiful way to learn, teach and encourage.”
Zero-waste restaurants are a small but growing trend; different versions with similar waste-free business structures are beginning to sprout up across the UK. Not only is it a step in the right direction to address the dreadful waste problem, but it is also simple, sustainable, sensible, and smart.