The prob­lem of food waste

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - Pa­tri­cia West-Barker For The New Mex­i­can

Imag­ine go­ing to the gro­cery store, buying three bags of food, load­ing two into your car, and mind­lessly leav­ing the third in the park­ing lot as you drive away. Think you’d never do that? Think again: As Dana Gun­ders, a se­nior sci­en­tist with the Na­tional Resources De­fense Coun­cil (NRDC) and au­thor of The Waste Free Kitchen Hand­book (Chron­i­cle Books, 2015), writes on her blog: “Right now, we’re lit­er­ally trash­ing more than one-third of our food sup­ply — an on­go­ing crime against hunger, the en­vi­ron­ment, ef­fi­ciency, and com­mon sense.”

Food waste (or wasted food) is a mas­sive global prob­lem of rel­a­tively re­cent ori­gin. One hun­dred years ago — maybe even 60 years ago — there was little, if any, agri­cul­tural waste; and food didn’t travel thou­sands of miles in or­der for a Santa Fe gro­cery store to sell straw­ber­ries from South Amer­ica in Jan­uary. The NRDC has a few more sober­ing statis­tics: Only 60 per­cent of food pro­duced in the U.S. is con­sumed; 20 per­cent of the food we buy is never eaten; and 90 per­cent of us throw ex­cess or left­over food away too soon — adding up to about 300 pounds of wasted food per per­son — a habit NDRC cal­cu­lates costs a fam­ily of four $1,500 a year and places enor­mous stress on the en­vi­ron­ment.

“If global food waste were a coun­try,” Gun­ders writes, “it would have the third-largest green­house­gas foot­print in the world — rank­ing right behind the United States and China in terms of how much car­bon pol­lu­tion is gen­er­ated from its grow­ing, cool­ing, transportation, and dis­posal.” Who would have guessed that food in Amer­i­can land­fills is a ma­jor con­trib­u­tor to cli­mate pol­lu­tion? “Once buried in land­fills,” the NRDC says, “or­ganic waste produces meth­ane, a green­house gas that’s far more dan­ger­ous than CO2, plus other tox­ins that can leach into ground­wa­ter.”

Peo­ple who re­li­giously com­post the things they find at the back of the fridge may think they are not part of the prob­lem be­cause their stale bread, wilted let­tuce, and potato peels never make it into the com­mu­nity waste stream. But as Rachel Cer­nan­sky notes on the web­site Civil Eats, peo­ple may “feel less guilty about wast­ing food if they com­post it rather than throw it in the trash. And while that is a bet­ter way to man­age food waste … com­post­ing doesn’t bal­ance out the ini­tial resources used to pro­duce food in the first place.”


Chefs and restau­rants have re­sponded to the chal­lenge to re­duce food waste in a va­ri­ety of cre­ative ways. Fergus Hen­der­son, a Lon­don-based chef, helped bring at­ten­tion back to nose-to­tail eat­ing with The Whole Beast (Ecco), his 2004 “ode to of­fal” that de­tails how to cook ev­ery part of a pig. Santa Fe’s nose-to-tail cham­pion is Josh Ger­win, chef/owner of Dr. Field Goods Kitchen, whose nearby Dr. Field Goods Butcher Shop and Bak­ery al­lows him to buy and butcher whole an­i­mals in house, serv­ing some cuts in the res­tau­rant and oth­ers in the re­tail shop, while odd bits turn into sausage, bones into broth, and tal­low into can­dles.

Most Santa Fe restau­rants are re­strained from do­nat­ing left­over food to shel­ters and food pantries by lo­cal health code re­stric­tions and po­ten­tial li­a­bil­ity is­sues on the parts of both the donors and the re­cip­i­ents. Kitchen An­gels does ac­cept food dona­tions from cater­ers they know and trust to main­tain proper tem­per­a­tures through ser­vice and de­liv­ery, said ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Tony McCarty. He said Ed­uardo Ramirez of Casa Nova Cus­tom Cater­ing, as well as Wal­ter Burke Cater­ing, which han­dles many of the city’s large events, “re­mem­ber us most con­sis­tently.” Burke said he also do­nates left­overs to the In­ter­faith Com­mu­nity Shel­ter as well as to the Food De­pot.

Be­cause Loyal Hound pre­pares its of­fer­ings from scratch and cooks to or­der, the pub has very little food left over, said co-owner Dave Ready­hough. Any­thing re­main­ing at the end of the night is eaten by staff. Ge­orge Gun­drey, owner of Atrisco Cafe & Bar and To­m­a­sita’s, also noted that his restau­rants “re­ally don’t have left­overs. We’re an ef­fi­cient ma­chine,” he said. “We know how much to make.” He said if there is any waste, such as wrong or­ders re­turned to the kitchen, it goes home with em­ploy­ees rather than into the land­fill. Alexis Brown, di­rec­tor of de­vel­op­ment and com­mu­ni­ca­tion for the Santa Fe Farm­ers’ Mar­ket In­sti­tute, said a care­fully re­fined pur­chas­ing sys­tem de­vel­oped by Christo­pher Kolon keeps waste from the mar­ket’s pav­il­ion café and Café Fresh to a bare min­i­mum. There, too, any food re­main­ing at the close of busi­ness is given to farm­ers and staff.

Joseph Wrede, award-win­ning chef/owner of Joseph’s Culi­nary Pub, ac­knowl­edged that there will be some waste in any res­tau­rant, but “waste within the kitchen is a dif­fer­ent mat­ter.” Ev­ery in­gre­di­ent has two functions in a good kitchen, he said. First is a star­ring role in a dish du jour, but equally im­por­tant are the scraps, peel­ings, and odd cuts “that play a sup­port­ing role in stocks, starters and stews. … In­stead of filling a trash bag, the rinds, cores, bones and stems [be­come] the start of a new day.”

Dreaming of beetroot-pulp burg­ers with a side of cat­tle-corn fries? They were on the menu at a pop-up res­tau­rant called wastED in 2015, when Dan Bar­ber of New York’s high-end farm-to-ta­ble res­tau­rant Blue

Hill at Stone Barns served dishes com­posed en­tirely of in­gre­di­ents headed for the land­fill. This win­ter he re­pro­duced the con­cept at Sel­fridges depart­ment store in Lon­don. His goal on both oc­ca­sions, he has said, was to en­cour­age chefs to think dif­fer­ently about food waste. In June, Salt & Straw, a pop­u­lar small-batch ice cream shop in Port­land, Ore­gon, will fea­ture sea­sonal “res­cued foods.” Ap­ple but­ter made from bruised apples on their way to the bin and whole spices re­cy­cled from a lo­cal dis­tillery is their first fla­vor of­fer­ing.


Most of us aren’t equipped to butcher a cow or re­cy­cle food scraps on a large scale. What we can do is learn new ways to re­duce our house­hold “food­prints” — food-based car­bon foot­prints — by chang­ing the way we shop, cook, and think about food at home. For­tu­nately, a num­ber of in­di­vid­u­als and or­ga­ni­za­tions have stepped for­ward to help us fig­ure out how long we can keep that home­made Al­fredo sauce in the fridge and when we need to pay at­ten­tion to that “ex­pired by” date — or not. Cinda Chavich, a jour­nal­ist spe­cial­iz­ing in food and travel writ­ing, was moved to write a cook­book about food waste af­ter hear­ing Gun­ders speak at a con­fer­ence. “I have been a food writer and jour­nal­ist for more than 25 years,” Chavich told Pasatiempo, “and she was talk­ing about how much food we waste in North Amer­ica and its im­pact on global warm­ing. This was news to me, and I was shocked that I did not know about it.”

Her con­tri­bu­tion to the cause, The Waste Not, Want Not Cook­book (Touch­Wood Edi­tions), pub­lished in 2015, was one of three fi­nal­ists for the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Culi­nary Pro­fes­sion­als award in the Food Mat­ters cat­e­gory. Ev­ery­one can help when it comes to food waste, Chavich said, by chang­ing just a few small habits. She sug­gested “learn­ing to make a

few ‘use it up’ dishes with left­overs (stir-fries, soups, frit­tatas, fried rice, bread pud­ding, roasted veg­eta­bles, etc.), re­solv­ing to clean out the fridge/pantry be­fore go­ing out to buy more food, eat­ing food that’s be­yond it’s best-be­fore date (per­fectly safe to do — food man­u­fac­tur­ers re­cently agreed to change that con­fus­ing la­bel­ing), buying ‘im­per­fect’ fruits and veg­eta­bles, com­post­ing, can­ning, freez­ing/stor­ing (with a vac­uum sealer), shop­ping lo­cally, and shop­ping smart.”

Chavich’s cook­book of­fers prac­ti­cal help for in­tel­li­gent shop­ping. Or­ga­nized by type of pro­duce from apples to zuc­chini, her 26 chap­ters in­clude tips on buying, stor­ing, and serv­ing food, along with a hand­ful of sim­ple-to-fol­low recipes and sug­ges­tions for re­pur­pos­ing left­overs. Six other chap­ters en­cour­age us to re­vive the cus­tom of the week­end roast, by pre­par­ing a large chunk of pro­tein — such as sal­mon, turkey, pork, or beef — and then feast­ing on the left­overs through­out the week.


In 2015, the European Union set a goal to re­duce food waste by 50 per­cent by 2030. In 2016, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion joined the world­wide ef­fort by also call­ing for a 50-per­cent de­crease in food waste in the U.S. by 2030; days later, the United Na­tions re­leased a sim­i­lar tar­get.

“Our food sys­tem is one large, in­ter­con­nected web,” Chavich said, “and ev­ery­thing we buy, eat, and dis­card has con­se­quences.” Re­duc­ing food waste at home — the low­est hang­ing fruit on the sus­tain­abil­ity tree — is re­ally quite sim­ple. “Buy what you need, and eat what you buy.”

60 % Only of food pro­duced in the U.S. is con­sumed; 20%of the food we buy is never eaten; and 90%of us throw ex­cess or left­over food away too soon — adding up to about 300 pounds of wasted food per per­son — a habit that costs a fam­ily of four about $1,500 a year and places enor­mous stress on the en­vi­ron­ment.


IN 2016 the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion joined a world­wide ef­fort by call­ing for a 50 de­crease in food waste in the U.S. by 2030.

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