The progress has stalled lately, but no one ever thought common sense alone would end food waste. Artificial intelligence may be required. From a remodeled Victorian furniture factory in the Shoreditch section of London, Marc Zornes, CEO of Winnow, is pitching a high-tech solution that his start-up already has placed into 1,300 restaurant kitchens: smart garbage cans.
Zornes demonstrated one in his conference room, using a plastic chicken leg. Each time a cook or waiter dumps a pot or platter of something into a Winnow can, a scale measures the added weight and a camera snaps a picture. The AI software identifies the new garbage -- at Ikea it has learned to distinguish three kinds of meatballs -- and displays its cost.
Zornes claimed his clients -- AccorHotels, the French multinational, is another big one -- routinely cut food waste in half by listening to their garbage cans. Breakfast buffets are notorious, he said; most leftovers are discarded. "When you start measuring the problem, you start managing it," Zornes said. You make less of what you're throwing out. I had walked through Winnow's graffiti-decorated carriage doors expecting grooviness and hype; I walked out wanting to tell my nephew, a Ritz-Carlton chef, about Winnow.
A few days later I had a similar experience in Amsterdam at InStock, a restaurant that makes ambitious cuisine from surplus food. In a spare but cozily lit room, I sat down under a wooden sign that tallied the "rescued food" -- 780,054 kilograms, or more than 850 tons. One of the founders, Freke van Nimwegen, was at the bar checking the books. She joined me and told me her story as my prix fixe menu ran its courses.