With the opening of our second site Fields last autumn it. It is safe to say we had not been able to come up for air until January to refocus. To say that this is not a challenging site would be a lie but with those challenges comes great rewards. The opportunity to grow our own vegetables and micro herbs, a chance to compost our waste, a place to escape the over polluted, cynical world that can be very hard on our bodies and minds. Sounds ideal huh?
We had been looking at our goals for the year and our approach to waste was something we felt should be addressed in our plans with our manager Dale.
An extreme and slightly random diversion but I had coincidently recently watched a documentary named 'If a tree falls' about the trial and story of Daniel G. Mc Gowan. A 'eco terrorist' who was convicted of Arson and sentenced to seven years for his participation in acts of economic sabotage in the name of the environment. It charted the story of this group of young people who had grown so frustrated with Americas' inability to respond to the issues surrounding the environment that they ended up taking a guerrilla approach to change. From burning down an abattoir used for processing wild horse meat to destroying people's personal property this radical and misguided approach left them facing 20 years in prison at the time of their arrest. I must admit I did like Daniel and he was shown to be an intelligent and caring person from what I saw and I felt scared at the idea of someone like this being put in prison amongst hardened criminals. However the interview with the owner of the logging company offices they burned down was a damning indictment of the fallout and dangers of these kinds if vigilante actions that are ultimately criminal and dangerous. For me it highlighted what an explosive issue the environment can be, this particular case created huge division within the community itself with many feeling that this kind of action actually makes the public less ready and willing to address these problems we face. Something I agree with.
Similarly to Daniel I grew up in a city and thought used plastic bags flew up to sky for God to recycle as he looked down on us in our beautiful ignorance. The fact is many plastic bags aren't recyclable or biodegradable. And they kill fish.
I do genuinely believe that most people do want to see a change. From my perspective it simply wasn't part of my education growing up and the idea even up until a few years ago that plastics cause pollution or that supermarkets waste huge amounts of food was quite frankly not even on my radar. Julian's perspective I have to say was quite different having been on Save the Whales band wagon from a young age just by nature of growing up in rural Australia he had the advantage of being much closer to the environment and in turn see the physical manifestations of our impact. I had previously taken quite a cynical approach to the environment be it through ignorance or fear of change. And actually the only eco warriors I had been exposed to as a teenager seemed to be on another planet. My friends wacky parent once insisted that if we were to smoke pot in the house we should do it without tobacco as it's better for us.... Who was I to argue?
For me having a business has given me a much closer understanding of the process of how food reaches our plate. The way that we consume/eat goes hand in hand with our approach to the environment. And ultimately i believe it is about taking a practical and honest approach to every aspect of our lives and how we can send out good energy and practical liveable solutions rather than being driven by short-sighted and self-serving aims.
It is with that thought that we have started step by step with our manager Dale grappling with the weaknesses in our approach. Now this can be a bit of a minefield.
To name a few things that came up in our chats.
Changing your coffee cups to recycled bio degradable ones. Done. That's easy.
Offering reusable Keep Cups. Done. Also very easy.
Reusing our milk. Makes Cheese. Pretty Easy....Note to our Head Chef Dan
Now things like blue roll can be trickier. Every restaurant uses it and often it is used excessively and not recyclable. You can buy compostable, recyclable and bio-degradable version but for triple the price. Which means your staff also have to make a special effort to work smarter and overall, across the board, from baking parchment to blue roll your costs go up. This must then be factored into your business as a whole.
Now when I hear complaints about our menu prices it does leave you in a difficult position as to how far you are able to commit to this practise. For example our Salmon is sustainably sourced from the Faroe Islands it is never frozen, never wrapped in plastic and sent straight to us from their smoker in Stoke Newington, the business has been in their family for 3 generations, our bread is local and comes straight to us from their bakery in Brixton. These local products are delicious and better for you but cost more to produce and in turn to serve.
And so there is also the cultural attitude towards the amount we are willing to pay for certain items. Some things when we grow them ourselves cost us less. Great. But others such as Meats, Fish, Biodynamic or Natural Wines cost a lot more to produce (if we are to have a respectful process) so there is a higher price to pay at our end.
In December during our Christmas break I saw on the news a weather lady delightfully reporting that this month would be unseasonably warm! In fact 8 of the top 10 warmest years recorded in the UK have been since 2002. It does make you think.
A shining and quite frankly bloody inspiring example of what can be done is at SILO in Brighton. Silo is as they put 'designed from back to front, always with the bin in mind. The production of waste has been eliminated by simply choosing to trade directly with farmers, using re-usable delivery vessels and choosing local ingredients that themselves generated no waste.' This no mean feat having been in lengthy talks trying to convince our own suppliers to use re-usable 'vessels' there is often very little room to budge when suppliers place more value on what is practical/less hassle for them. SILO is located in a beautiful warehouse building serving delicious meals that also happens to have a zero waste ethos. SILO has masterfully attacked the complex and wide-ranging problem that face a restaurant in its sustainability. Its is not only large operational things like buying locally that have to be tackled. But thing's like What hand wash do you use? What can you buy in bigger quantities? What blue roll do you use? What do you do with your left over coffee grinds? With a dogmatic and multi faceted approach there are diverse sources to draw from. Douglas mentioned in passing that they have an agreement to use food waste from supermarkets, most recently, tonnes of perfectly good mangoes that were deemed 'too small'. At first he outright refused to take them on due to them being from abroad but resolved '4 tonnes of Mangoes are pretty hard to ignore' It is this wonderful ingenious and practical approach that I respect so much, change the things you can and find ways to work with the things you can't to help reduce the astronomical waste in modern food consumption. We got a peek downstairs and there were three or four mango ciders vats bubbling away... This up close up encounter to their process was actually by chance, we had actually emailed Douglas Mc Master Head Chef and owner of SILO prior to going up on the hope he might be able to give us some insight. He replied and said m1lk was actually one his favourites in London! Result. Looking around the restaurant and kitchen the kitchen and FOH staff were buzzing with energy, It is this open, welcoming and inclusive attitude that makes this industry however hard a great one to be apart of.
We have just recently joined a scheme funded by the Mayor of London to measure our food waste so that we might work more efficiently. By nature of buying locally, buying in large quantities and baking and cooking nearly everything on-site we do pretty well but there is always more to be done.
At m1lk we have begun making small changes and I invite you to follow our blog to see them as them as they are realised.