Waste not, want not



AS WITH the im­pacts of cli­mate change and poor di­etary habits, the ef­fects of food waste are not felt right away. You may no­tice the amount of leftovers and spoiled pro­duce that you toss into the trash ev­ery week, but you don’t see the moun­tains of waste rot­ting in land­fills, gen­er­at­ing billions of met­ric tons of green­house gases and wast­ing the Earth’s fresh­wa­ter re­sources.

The James Beard Foun­da­tion, un­der new chief ex­ec­u­tive Clare Re­ichen­bach, wants to use its na­tional plat­form to raise aware­ness and help pro­fes­sional chefs and home cooks alike com­bat a com­plex pro­duc­tion, sup­ply and con­sumer prob­lem that an­nu­ally re­sults in the waste of about one-third of all the food grown in the world. As part of its new multi-year cam­paign, the foun­da­tion has re­leased a new cook­book,“Waste Not”, fea­tur­ing tips and chef-driven recipes that use whole veg­eta­bles or scraps. It has also launched a weekly pro­mo­tion, Waste Not Wed­nes­day, to en­cour­age con­sumers to learn how to bet­ter man­age their house­hold food.

“We want to build a move­ment around this,” Re­ichen­bach says in a phone in­ter­view.

The­o­ret­i­cally, the foun­da­tion notes, if Amer­i­cans elim­i­nated food waste one day a week for an en­tire year, the ef­fort would save 7.8 mil­lion tons of food – enough to pro­vide 13 bil­lion meals for the hun­gry. But even if all Amer­i­cans don’t step up for the cause – par­tic­u­larly mil­len­ni­als, the gen­er­a­tion least confident in its kitchen skills – chef, restau­ra­teur and ac­tivist Tom Colic­chio says raising aware­ness will be enough. For now.

“I think peo­ple just need to un­der­stand how much they’re wast­ing,” Colic­chio says. “It’s like putting the frog in the cold wa­ter and turn­ing up the heat. You don’t see the waste. You don’t see the amount of food that goes into the garbage, but it amounts to about $1,500 to $1,800 (Bt49,300 to Bt59,200) per per­son per year.”

Colic­chio, who re­signed from the Food Pol­icy Ac­tion group that he co-founded, knows there is waste all along the food chain, from farms to su­per­mar­kets to restaurants to house­holds. Colic­chio is also as­sist­ing a group to help re­duce su­per­mar­ket waste by turn­ing it into fer­tiliser and an­i­mal feed.

“The in­di­vid­ual per­son, they can each play a lit­tle part, and that will def­i­nitely re­duce food waste,” Colic­chio says. “But if you can get some big movers here, I think that will re­ally put a dent in waste.”

How can home cooks (and even din­ers) help re­duce waste? Colic­chio, Re­ichen­bach and the chefs who con­trib­uted to “Waste Not” all have tips:

>> Make use of your freezer. If you’re roasting a chicken, for ex­am­ple, Colic­chio ad­vises that you save the left­over bones in the freezer. When you have enough bones stored up, you can make a chicken stock, which is good for soups, risot­tos, braises and more. Or if you’re cook­ing a big pot of beans – more than you can pos­si­bly eat in one sit­ting – freeze the rest for later.

“Peo­ple don’t make good use of the freezer,” Colic­chio says. “We’ve done such a good job of telling peo­ple that they have to use fresh goods that they’re not us­ing the freezer. And if they do use it, it’s a stopover be­fore it goes into the garbage.

>> Save those fruits be­fore they turn. For ex­am­ple, you can place ripe ba­nanas on a sheet pan, with the skins in­tact, and bake them for 15 min­utes at 350 de­grees un­til the peels are black, ac­cord­ing to “Waste Not”. “Once cool, peel the roasted ba­nanas and freeze [them] in a zip-lock bag,” the au­thors write. “They won’t darken in the freezer, and they’re per­fect for smooth­ies and ba­nana bread.” Sim­i­larly, lay in­di­vid­ual berries on a bak­ing sheet or plate and freeze them overnight, un­cov­ered. Once the berries are frozen, store them in re­seal­able bags in the freezer. “You can eas­ily pluck them out just a few at a time and put them straight in the bot­tom of your bowl be­fore top­ping with hot oat­meal, or add to a smoothie for more tex­ture.”

>> Se­lect restaurants based on their food-waste

poli­cies. Does the chef at your favourite res­tau­rant use whole veg­eta­bles? Does she make her own stocks from veg­etable scraps or an­i­mal bones? Does he adopt a nose-to-tail phi­los­o­phy when us­ing an­i­mals? These prac­tices (or the lack of them) can af­fect a diner’s de­ci­sion on where to eat, but they’re par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant to mil­len­ni­als, who are “in­creas­ingly val­uedriven,” Re­ichen­bach says.

>> Get closer to the source of your food. Colic­chio re­calls how his grand­par­ents, who lived through the De­pres­sion, would “fry ba­con in the morn­ing and save the grease”. They were part of a gen­er­a­tion that val­ued food, in part, be­cause they were close to the peo­ple who grew or sold the prod­ucts. They went to the butcher for meat. They vis­ited pro­duce stands for veg­eta­bles. But as the coun­try be­came wealth­ier and cre­ated agri­cul­tural and man­u­fac­tur­ing sys­tems that could pro­duce cheap and con­ve­nient prod­ucts, Amer­i­cans be­came in­creas­ingly dis­en­gaged from peo­ple all along the food chain.

“It’s hu­man po­ten­tial that we’re wast­ing be­cause we don’t know that per­son, so we don’t value their work. That’s some­thing that I would en­cour­age peo­ple to do: Go out there and know the per­son who is pro­duc­ing the food,” Colic­chio says.

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