How 'Root to Stem' makes fighting food waste fun

The food trends emerging these days never fail to make me do a little happy dance, as practically every conversation is around the things that really matter: sustainability and the environment, health and wellbeing, purpose, authenticity, and more. Whether we’re embracing ugly fruit or pushing back on plastic, collectively we’re becoming so much more considerate in the way we behave and look out at the world, and it’s a breath of fresh air.

While some food trends hold a passing appeal and can be a lot of fun for short-term campaigns, some of the trends suggest a societal shift - a serious call from customers to be part of long-term positive change.

‘Plant-Based’ is a prime example of such a shift, one swiftly emerging in response to growing concerns about the way we live, and the impact it has, and is reflected by a rapidly-growing interest in vegetarian cookery and cuisines. For some, it’s about individual health and nutrition, for others, animal welfare and intensive food production, either way each becoming increasingly well-versed in exploring the world of vegetables and seasonality for the greatest health benefits and least harm to the environment.

‘Zero-Waste’ is another such example. With new awareness of the role of rotting food waste in climate change, as well as the urgent need to redress food poverty where possible, we’re consciously finding ways to reduce and redistribute food surplus before it hits the landfill.

What is Root to Stem?

‘Root to Stem' is a relatively recent trend representing an age-old wisdom, one that’s ideal to promote plant-based recipes, zero waste and cookery skills. The catchy phrase has been circulating for a while now, but it’s no passing fad; it’s timeless knowledge (and, dare I say it, what all our grannies used to do by default…).

Taking pointers from the Nose to Tail movement in meat - where every cut is considered and cooked up as ingredients for meals, stocks or soups, and nothing is wasted - Root to Stem applies in exactly the same way to plants, championing the use of the entire vegetable -  carrot tops, cauliflower leaves, onion skins, potato peelings -  every single scrap and scraping. shutterstock 173335607

From spontaneous soups to spiralising, it brings culinary creativity to the fore. And it’s a hit for health, given that the parts of vegetables we normally throw away are laden with nutrients; potato peelings, for example, are packed with Vitamin C, fibre and iron. Minimising what we throw away also means we get to be a bit more thrifty with our pennies, stretch food further, and reduce the harmful emissions produced by food waste. And fundamentally we can achieve a better balance between animal- and plant-based food resources, putting less pressure on the meat industry, encouraging quality over quantity, and an ethical supply chain.

Inspiration for everyday life

Our changing habits are already reflected in supermarket shelves, food magazines, menus and cookery shows, whether we’re simply adding some ‘Wonky Veg' to our trolleys, or introducing more vegetarian and vegan recipes to our repertoires and restaurant choices.

But from a cookery and recipe development standpoint, Root to Stem is particularly compelling, as there are hundreds of unexpected ways to use the different parts of vegetables normally discarded - whizzing hardy kale stems into a nice pesto, pickling root stems, simmering up some hearty stocks, soups and stews, shoving things through spiralisers and seeing what comes out. It has been cleverly demonstrated to the public in recent years by Sainsbury’s ‘The Vegetable Butcher’ pop up, where
expert Amber Locke spiralised, sliced, diced, grated, roasted and juiced her way through a wealth of fruit and vegetables, sharing imaginative techniques to an increasingly health-conscious crowd.

And with plant-rich diets spanning ancient to modern-day cuisines, meeting somewhere along the journey of necessity, responsibility, culture and creativity, there is also a variety of experiential inspiration to explore.

The Middle-Eastern influence, so wonderfully embodied by Yotam Ottolenghi, evokes exotic ingredients, jewel colours and mismatched, worn utensils. His book, Plenty, is a rich resource. Ecocentric initiatives inspire outdoors vibes; ingredients home-grown and hand-picked, against a backdrop of sustainable materials and earthy tones. Healthy living - and cookery for kids - conjures up a clean, fresh and uplifting environment, where the ingredients themselves provide cheery colour pops. And cultural heritage is creatively revived with time-honoured recipes and methods, age-worn equipment and muted rusticity - warmly perfected by the late Antonio Carluccio in his cookery book, Vegetables.

Yes, Root to Stem is a lot to do with common sense, and a very grounded approach to take, with firm roots in topical messages that people are strongly supporting for GOOD.

But there’s a magic in it, this Root to Stem concept, with its timeless and ageless appeal - endless experiments and an element of inventiveness that transforms kids and adults alike into magician mode, to make that veg waste disappear. And part of that magic is that Root to Stem applies to everyone, meat-eater or not. This vibrant world of vegetable waste brings endless flavour possibilities that everyone can enjoy, and a rainbow of uplifting colours and undiscovered cuisines to engage with and explore.

People are hungry for solutions with shared goals. So how can our product development consider the scraps we normally sling out? How can we encourage home cooking with carrot tops and cauliflower leaves? For with this global wellbeing and environmental need comes a creative opportunity that can’t be contained - the Root to Stem concept, capturing widespread imaginations, while conjuring up tangible positive change.

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About Carra Santos CarraSantos CreativeFuturistBrandConsultant

Carra Santos is a creative futurist and brand consultant shaping positive food culture and communication, working with brands to develop a conscious brand culture and ecosystem that can help fix the future through food. She has worked with industry leaders including 100% Design, British Council, Formica Group, The Flava People, and The Food People, with projects featured internationally in a variety of publications, including Wallpaper, ICON, New York Times, and Wired Magazine. 

Find out more about Carra at or join her on LinkedIn and Twitter