For as long as we can remember, our parents have always told us to finish off our plates before leaving the table. Every crumb, every dollop of sauce, and the last piece of pasta must be chowed down. Yet not everyone in the Kingdom has lived this way, clearly.
As of 2021, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture has estimated that food waste costs the Kingdom US$10.6 billion annually. A nationwide field study conducted by the Saudi Grains Organization showed that the waste generated per person per year averages a staggering 84kg of food each year.
It’s safe to say that we think about food all the time; what to eat, what not to eat, when, where, how much it will cost, and so on and so forth. But most people don’t think about food waste: 1.3 billion tons of food lost or wasted annually, globally, from uneaten leftovers to spoiled milk, fruits, and vegetables, according to the United Nations Environment Program.
Al indications are that we must create less trash, mindfully shop, and find better and healthier options in our kitchens, and consider how much of the product we buy can be used. That is what drives Hawazen Zahra and Yasmin Hamza: the sustainability advocates and food lovers behind Indulge Thyself, Saudi Arabia’s first zero food waste, plastic-free fine dining experience. And as consultants to the F&B industry, they are also helping advise other restaurants how to follow their lead.
They set out two years ago with a food and cooking blog, then began creating menus and consulting a year later. Last year launched their first supper club, serving fusion cuisine in the Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah.
“We wanted to incorporate all the flavors that we loved from all over the world, as well as our own local Saudi cuisine,” explains Yasmin. “What makes it fine dining is the cooking technique, the level of R&D that goes into every dish, the premium ingredients, the elaborate presentation, the venue, the level of R&D that goes into making sure our whole experience is zero waste, the ambience, the interior design, the dish ware, the service, the professionally trained waiters and much more.”
Their approach is farm-to-table and head-to-tail cooking methods, using 95 to 98 percent of all the produce purchased and composting anything left over so it gets turned into plant fertilizer. Their Grouper to tail dish, also known locally as Najel, uses the fish’s head to make a Vietnamese fish head soup, the upper (most tender part) of the fish’s flesh for Peruvian/Saudi Najel ceviche papadom, and the lower part of the flesh is used for a Thai fish cake. For Waygo sando, they make fresh Japanese milk bread, remove the crust and use it for other dishes incorporating bread crumbs.
Their ethos extends to cocktails: No Melon Left Behind, for example, uses pickled watermelon rind, while the Peach Elderflower Bellini is sweetened with sugar syrup made from a peach pit.
“Environmental responsibility must stem from the understanding that we are nature,” explains Yasmin. “When we begin as humans to understand that our separation from our environment is merely an illusion, we can then start to initiate action as we are of this Earth.”
Everything changed for Yasmin when she was studying abroad. After a bachelor’s degree in business management and fashion design, she spent four years working in the fashion industry in New York City, where delved into learning about sustainability.
“I became aware of the dire situation our planet is plummeting towards, and began to vehemently educate myself on the appalling effects of human practices, whether on an industrial or personal level, and further investigate what can and should be done to halt the spiraling situation,” she said.
For Hawazen, she went from obtaining a bachelors in banking and finance to the world-renowned culinary school in Le Cordon Bleu in Paris to study pastry. With the love of good food and fine dining, the aunt and niece duo – although Yasmin is older – began cooking together when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“Our trips to the supermarket were quite often and we realized that Saudis’ plastic consumption and lack of sustainability awareness was huge, so we decided to take matters into our own hands in the only was we know how: through our Instagram content,” says Yasmin.
Yasmin uses her Instagram account to share methods for using food most would think only to throw away. For example, stale bread can be used as croutons or breadcrumbs, vegetable scraps, and chicken bones can be used for soup stock, leftovers and produce that is past its prime can be repurposed in soups, casseroles, sauces, baked goods, and even smoothies.
Sticking true to their ethos, Indulge Thyself’s take on a Raspberry Panna Cotta starts off with a Sobacha pan cotta, cashew crumble, raspberry coulis and finally toasted raspberry seeds. It’s simply accepting the imperfection, and she said, “and embracing it for a better us”.
Yasmin advises that kickstarting a zero-waste lifestyle begins with understanding that everything not used in the kitchen goes to a landfill. First steps include analyzing what a family throws out daily or weekly, using only minimal packaging and storage containers that prolong the shelf life of certain foods, controlling quantities, recycling, using disposable items, and pre-planning meals.
Other starting points: avoiding processed, packaged foods and buying fresh produce in smaller quantities. Instead of packaged snacks or drinks on the go, invest in produce bags, a tote, and a travel mug.
Learning the difference between “sell-by”, “use-by”, “best-by” expiration dates can help the effort – and save money.
To become more environmentally friendly and reduce waste, the duo behind Indulge Thyself recommend:
- First and foremost never give up
- Install a filtered water faucet at home
- Invest in a small kitchen composting bin to collect your food waste
- Most fresh produce has a short life span unfortunately, so don’t over-buy
- Learn about how to store your produce and make it last longer by freezing, fermenting, curing and pickling
- Reuse any item around you until you literally can’t use it anymore, then recycle it
- Follow zero-waste and eco-friendly professionals, accounts, shows and channels for information and inspiration
Making small shifts in how we shop, cook, prepare meals, and store food while keeping an eye on how much is being thrown out can be overwhelming, the Indulge Thyself team acknowledges. Luckily, with growing environmental awareness practices, more communities will evolve towards healthier and more conscious communities that could contribute to reducing household waste in the long run.
Hawazen and Yasmin hope to expand their restaurant, services and knowledge across different cities in Saudi first and then internationally.
“Going against the grain is always extremely hard,” says Yasmin. “But in hindsight rewarding and worth every minute of the struggle.”