Pinch Food Design on Giving Food Waste a Makeover

Each April, we are called to celebrate the Earth. In addition to thanking nature for its splendor, we choose to reflect on our relationship with the planet and how our actions impact the overall health of our climate. Many companies, like Pinch, pledge to bring sustainability to the forefront of their business practices by eliminating plastics, offsetting carbon footprints by contributing to regenerative agriculture and composting. We believe in composting. We even created a compost shrub cocktail, where we re-imagine kitchen scraps to make a vegetal and refreshing fizz with carrot and beet peelings. But by taking a deeper look at food waste and the possibilities beyond composting, we came across some inspiring innovators and ideas. Designers like Carolina Härdh and Milan-based architecture and design practice Studio.Traccia bring a resourceful and inventive approach to turning food waste into viable material.

Carolina Härdh’s materials used: Oyster shells, fish glue, kelp (seaweed), and rice starch

Carolina Härdh’s Gigas stool \\\ Oyster shells, fish glue, kelp (seaweed), and rice starch

Carolina Härdh crafted a versatile dual-purpose stool and side table for Vrå (above), a Nordic-Japanese restaurant located in Göteborg, from its own food waste. By combining rice starch, fish bones, and oyster shells from the kitchen, Vrå shows its guests the unexpected value of food waste. “The components were picked based on an investigation I did of the restaurant’s waste bin,” Härdh explains.

Carolina Härdh’s Gigas stool \\\ Oyster shells, fish glue, kelp (seaweed), and rice starch

The material resembles terrazzo, but it is bio-based. Deriving it’s cement-like strength by crushing the largely abundant local resource of oyster shells into chunks of varying sizes and combining them with dried bits of kombu, and bound together by fish glue – a natural adhesive made by boiling down fish bones – and starch sourced from the water used by the restaurant to soak rice. Härdh’s compost concrete-like dough concoction is then cast into two separate molds to form the stool’s geometric base and seat. The biomaterial is also used to merge the two different pieces and to patch up any holes. The fish glue concept alone makes us want to take a second look at our compost.

Studio.Traccia’s TABULA [non] RASA at BASE for Milan Design Week 2021

Then, in an effort to explore the possibilities of food-waste recycling, Studio.Traccia, in collaboration with designers, researchers, and companies at Milan Design Week, created a modular table and wares crafted from food waste. Studio.Traccia co-founder Luigi Olivieri explains, “that around 20% – roughly 931 million tons – of food produced for human consumption is wasted each year. A lot of people are recycling other products like plastic, waste from oil, industrial products, steel, and concrete, but no one is really exploring [recycling] food.”

Mogu tabletop accessories, made from discarded eggshells

Mogu, a European brand that uses mycelium-based technology to develop sustainable materials, created the tabletop component using bio-based resin and food waste including rice, straw, corn crops, coffee grounds, algae, and shells. It rests on steel legs. The table was then topped with tableware and objects that were also crafted from food waste. A perfect example are the plates designed by Midushi Kochhar, made from discarded eggshells – a calcium-based bio-material.

Mogu tabletop accessories, made from discarded eggshells

“The food was something you ate and now it becomes something you eat from,” said Studio.Traccia co-founder Claudia Orsetti.

But are recycling and composting food waste the only answer? Hopefully we can examine why we are addicted to beautifully arranged abundance. In the age of overproduction and over-consumption, making more products out of waste, does not tackle why we have so much food waste to begin with. Just like we’ve seen recently in fashion and interior design, we need to expand on the current minimalist aesthetic in the food realm.

Panscape bakery in Kyoto, Japan \\\ Photo: Hiroki Kawata

Panscape bakery in Kyoto, Japan \\\ Photo: Hiroki Kawata

Blè Bakery in Thessaloniki, Greece \\\ Photo: Yorgis Yerolymbos

Designer bakeries like Panscape bakery in Kyoto, Japan, or Blé Bakery in Thessaloniki, Greece do a beautiful job at making a sparse display poetic and appealing, but it’s not mainstream enough.

In Francesca Sarti’s manifesto, The Beauty of Scarcity, she proposes a micro-retailing system that celebrates frugality and parsimony: “Most of the environmental issues related to food are due to exaggeration, excess, overproduction and over-consumerism. To put it simply, they are problems of quantity.”

And hopefully we can all soon come to the consensus that less is more.

TJ Girard is a sought-after food designer and creative consultant, celebrated for staging theatrical, interactive food + beverage experiences. She now resides in California where her creativity is solar powered! TJ writes the Design Milk column called Taste.