How chefs can end food waste
By Olivia DeWolfe
Though most professional chefs are passionate about feeding people, the world needs more chefs that are just as excited about ending hunger. Anyone in food service knows that a huge amount of food gets wasted between the delivery dock and the customer's plate. If you need further proof, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations commissioned a study that found that about "one third of the food that gets produced in the world for human consumption…is lost or wasted" and this number rises to almost one half in the United States. Ending food waste is one of the ways chefs can battle hunger.
Why do we waste so much food in the United States?
In her blog on Civil Eats, Amber Turpin makes relevant connections between the way food is handled in the United States and food waste. She points out that because food (from vegetables to seafood) is farmed in massive quantities that must be stored and trucked all over the country, it leads to spoilage and is often thrown out before it can be safely consumed.
Turpin also discusses the consequences of food being so cheap in the United States. It's just too easy to order an extra large french fry for $1 more and then throw out most of them. Alternately, in developing countries where food is often very expensive, it is rarely wasted on the consumer level.
Rather than using what we have, Americans like cooking with recipes calling for very specific, often far-flung ingredients that may not get used up before being tossed. We also have a cultural need for "perfect food" so a lot of perfectly good food gets tossed on the delivery dock for having visual imperfections.
Solutions to ending food waste
Some of the ways chefs can end food waste include creating direct relationships with farmers and offering locally-made food, changing expectations around visually perfect food, offering reasonable portion sizes (or letting consumers choose their own portion size), composting, and educating themselves about storing fresh food for maximum usage.
For further ideas, the Environmental Protection Agency has created a this hierarchy of principals to help food services eliminate food waste (and save money):
- Source reduction (decrease purchasing costs)
- Feed hungry people (increase revenue from tax breaks for donating food)
- Feed animals (decrease spending on waste disposal fees)
- Create bio diesel with waste oils (decrease spending on waste disposal fees)
- Create compost to amend soils (decrease spending on waste disposal fees and increase revenue by selling compost)
Culinary schools also have a vital role to play in ending food waste. They are implementing programs to educate students and staff about preemptive techniques to keep food from being lost, as well as ways to use leftover food once it has been prepared. Programs include using food scraps to create compost that gets sold or used in the campus vegetable gardens, converting used vegetable oil for bio diesel fuel to power campus vehicles, and donating leftover food to food banks.
Food waste is a natural concern for chefs who love to feed people. Not only can eliminating food waste help end hunger, but it can also save other resources as well: up to 10 percent of landfill space, as well as the fuel used and emissions created to transport it. Do what you can as a chef to keep good food from going to waste.