The Reality of Making a Change — one of Ireland’s top caterers’ journey to a more Conscious Kitchen.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! That’s the only way in which I can face the overwhelm of sustainability in terms of my kitchen and my life as a mom of three young girls. The idea of climate change, C02 emissions, broken food systems and mindless consumption can seem an insurmountable problem. I’ve found that by breaking it down into smaller, more achievable little bites, you find that you can make real progress toward operating a more ethical and sustainable food system.

Orla McAndrew, one of Ireland’s Top Wedding and Event Caterers.

As a chef my commitment to food provenance and my desire to support local farmers has always been an integral part of my operation.

Creating good relationships with local food suppliers and respecting the produce that’s in season means not only am I contributing to a local circular economy but I’m also getting to enjoy the very best food available to me.

Where I’ve struggled in terms of my catering operation has been in finding new ways to get my produce delivered to customers. Pre-pandemic I delivered all of my food to clients in reusable containers as opposed to the vast array of plastic packaging available. So, when the pandemic forced me to change my business offering I was at a loss for the first few weeks trying to source sustainable packaging. I opted for compostable boxes initially but soon realised that these are almost a lip service to sustainability as the majority of Irish households don’t have a brown bin for composting. Whilst it was important for me to keep trading, it was also important that I find a better solution.

Eventually, I opted for a reusable cooler bag to distribute my goods. This was a far more costly option for the business but it made more sense to deliver in something that could be reused again and again and again. I branded the bag too so it made better business sense and people are reminded of me as they bring their picnics to the beach or park or wherever they go!

Another sustainable practice that comes more naturally than some of the other obstacles I face is to monitor and reduce food waste in my kitchen.

The freezer is the star of the show here! It’s been such an interesting journey of discovery finding out how to freeze odds and ends to ensure they can be reused at a later date. This practice has actually helped me develop new and interesting recipe combinations. Having your freezer well organised can help to save time, money and energy! Label everything accurately with date and revisit weekly to find ways of using things up. It’s a complete game changer. I freeze all my veg peels to add to stock pots and this reduces the amount of food that goes to compost.

The compost bin is another very useful tool when it comes to operating a sustainable business. I use it to grow herbs and some veg for our own personal use. It’s a fantastic way of introducing the idea of sustainability in a really practical way to my three children.

My current focus is on eliminating single use plastic from my kitchen entirely.

Cling film is ever prevalent in professional kitchens and extremely handy for wrapping food and keeping it fresh. It’s something I’ve found challenging to replace. Tin foil was my first alternative as this can at least be recycled if stored up and wrapped into a large ball. Bees wax is another great option and slowly but surely I am moving toward this method of food preservation in my kitchen.

‘’I have found that by reaching out and connecting with like minded individuals I am inspired to continue on this path toward achieving a more conscious kitchen.’’

Once you lift the lid on what’s possible, there’s kind of an irresistible urge to jump down the rabbit hole! All of the steps that you take need a conscious commitment. Is my kitchen 100% sustainably run? No. But I am taking steps continuously to address the issues that arise. It’s a journey of learning, exploring, committing to change and taking action. One bite at a time.

Want to learn more about Orla? Head over to her website.

Written by Orla McAndrew for Conscious Kitchens.

Food Safety Consultant & Sustainability Expert with more than 10 years of industry experience internationally.