Food & Dining

Don't deny it: We all waste far too much food

Asparagus stalks and cauliflower leaves can be turned into delicious dishes unto themselves.
Asparagus stalks and cauliflower leaves can be turned into delicious dishes unto themselves.

What's the point of worrying about organic food, genetically modified organisms, locally sourced items and fair trade if more than a third of it will simply go to waste?

Discarded food is a serious issue, and it's garnering attention from a variety of places. Statistics are stunning: About 40 percent of food in America goes uneaten -- the equivalent of $165 billion a year.

Globally, it's estimated that at least one-third of the world's food is wasted across the supply chain. Not only could curbing the waste have a profound effect on the very real issue of hunger, but it could also help with less-obvious concerns -- water supplies, energy and land use, even climate change.

In March, New York chef Dan Barber transformed his Greenwich restaurant Blue Hill into wastED, a three-week pop-up devoted to the theme of food waste and reuse. WastED collaborated with suppliers across the food chain, along with more than 20 guest chefs, to conceive dishes from food that would normally be discarded.

In April, the documentary "Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story" premiered to American audiences. In it, filmmakers Grant Baldwin and Jen Rustemeyer pledge to live off of discarded food for six months, and through their journey they explore issues of waste across the food chain -- from the farm, through retail and into a consumer's refrigerator.

"Every day, America wastes enough food to fill the Rose Bowl," Jonathan Bloom writes in the opening to his book "American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It)."

"For the most part, we don't recognize we’re throwing away good food," Bloom said recently, citing the disconnect when it comes to the amount of food wasted in individual households.

While most people may have a sense that there is a lot of waste society-wide, they don't implicate themselves as part of the problem.

"They don't tend to look in the mirror, because it's so easily disposed of. It's down the drain, it's out with the trash or it's sent back half-eaten at a restaurant."

Before produce even has a chance to reach the average consumer, much of it is discarded merely because of imperfections in appearance.

"Around 6 billion pounds of produce is wasted each year because of looks," said Ben Simon, a co-founder of Imperfect. The venture, scheduled to launch this summer, will take otherwise-rejected produce from California's Central Valley and distribute it to subscribers in Oakland and Berkeley at a discounted price.

"I grew up doing this. We used everything; that was just a way of life," says Michael Fiorelli, chef at Love & Salt in Manhattan Beach, California. "Now it's funny to me that" it's trendy.

Fiorelli has a dish on his menu made from sauteed cauliflower leaves, served over a soft mascarpone polenta. The leaves are usually discarded after the vegetable is cleaned.

"Why would I throw the leaves in the trash? There are so many different ways to use them -- just love them up a little."

How you can reduce your food waste

So how does one reduce his or her waste of good food?

  • Primarily it's shopping smarter -- not bringing too much into your own home so you doom yourself to waste food.

  • Try to use every part of a food item you buy. "We cherry-pick certain ingredients we want to eat instead of the whole thing. Waste should become gastronomic invention," says Dan Barber, chef, author and creator of wastED.

  • Don't just look for perfect produce in the stores. "When you're grocery shopping, you can buy imperfect or buy the stuff no one else is going to buy. You can start that right now," says Grant Baldwin, "Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story" filmmaker.
  • Love your leftovers. Save and actually eat the leftovers. You'd be amazed how many people are so careful with packing everything up to get it into their refrigerator, only to let it rot once it's there.

  • Avoid wasting meat, especially. "The single biggest thing you can do is avoid wasting any meat at all, because the amount of water and land you're wasting through this is disproportionately massive. Eat the whole thing," says Tristram Stuart, author of "Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal" and founder of the environmental charity Feedback.

  • Manage your refrigerator. We don't need to fill our refrigerators front to back.

  • Befriend your freezer. Use it as a way to avoid waste. Pretty much every food item can be frozen.

  • Order only what you'll eat at restaurants.
This is republished from the Miami Herald.