Sunday Times: Waste Not: Setting A Standard For Sustainable Practices

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Enda McEvoy, of Loam restaurant, in Galway was recently rewarded for his efforts in sustainability with a three-star Food Made Good award from the UK-based Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA). Loam, which won a Michelin star 10 months after opening in November 2014, is the first independent restaurant in Ireland to receive the accolade.

“We got in touch with the SRA a while back and they carried out quite an intensive assessment of the restaurant and produced a 120-page document, telling us what we could be doing better and putting us in touch with people who could help us to improve. They looked at things such as our buying practices, the species of fish we were using, how we treat our staff, and our impact on the local community. This award is real validation for what we are doing and spurs us on, because we can always do better.”

Among the sustainable practices for which Loam was recognised are the indoor grow boxes that it uses for herbs and flowers for the restaurant, a short menu that minimises food waste, the kitchen’s use of pickling and fermenting when crops are abundant, a commitment to composting, and its participation in food education at local schools.

“I believe that it’s the responsibility of every individual to have a low impact lifestyle,” says McEvoy. “We strive to offset the impact that we have on the environment, while maintaining standards of excellence. Waste has always been an issue in restaurants. It’s a sector in which margins are tight.”

McEvoy began his career in Germany in the mid-1990s, where the kitchens in which he worked were practising recycling and composting as a matter of course. “It was a shock when I came back to Ireland” he says. “Nobody was separating rubbish or composting, everything went to landfill. And when food waste rots in landfill it creates methane [a greenhouse gas that accelerates climate change].”

McEvoy says that his insistence on separating and composting at Loam is driven in part by economic factors, as he doesn’t want to have to pay for waste to be taken away as rubbish. Some compostables for the Loam kitchen go to his vegetable growers, Leaf and Root Farm, in nearby Loughrea. He is investigating the installation of a closed-loop system that would enable Loam to do all its composting of vegetable and animal products in-house, producing nutrient-rich pellets that could in turn be used as a soil fertiliser.

When he opened Loam, the chef was clear that he wanted everything – from the food ingredients to the restaurant’s tableware and furniture – to be sourced locally. It’s an approach that he follows in his own home too. Of course, the practices that make sense in a restaurant kitchen because of scale may not be as appropriate in a domestic kitchen, where the quantities of mushrooms stalks are likely to be too small to bother with fermenting them. But McEvoy reckons that there’s a place for sustainable kitchen practice in every home. “In the domestic kitchen, there’s enough waste to make a nutrient-rich compost for a small garden that will grow a few vegetables,” he says. “We all need to be more conscious as shoppers, to ensure that we do not buy too much, that we use up leftovers and make stock from bones.”