Food Writer's Diary
Food waste: The big food issue for 2016

Food waste: The big food issue for 2016

This post is part of the Food Writer’s Diary blog.

Social issues, and the food trends that can emerge from them, often simmer beneath the surface of mainstream consciousness, quietly gestating among the interested few before bursting, almost fully formed, into the public eye.

I think in 2016 that issue will be food waste. And the food trends associated with that look to be more interesting than you might expect.

Concern about waste has been simmering for a long time among some people. I was raised in the 1970s and ’80s in a house with a covered pail in our kitchen full of moldering coffee grounds and carrot peelings and whatnot that we emptied into a hole in the garden for compost (not potato peelings, though; we salted and baked them for snacks).

The idea of not wasting so much of our food has spread over the years, and it’s now pretty common practice for restaurants to compost — some culinary schools do it, too, now — and for smart ones to figure out how to use scraps to make stock or purées or pasta fillings or anything else that will help them manage food cost.

But awareness of just how much food we waste in this country — 133 billion pounds, or about 31 percent of our food supply, in 2010 according to the United States Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service — has made it into mainstream conversation now.

Comedian-cum-incisive social commentator John Oliver even devoted an episode of HBO’s Last Week Tonight to the issue.

Chefs are even taking on the issue of waste from an aesthetic perspective. The nose-to-tail movement — part waste-related, part holistic, part just kind of a cool thing for chefs to do — has spun off the root-to-stem movement, in which chefs, particularly those influenced by the conservationism-focused New Nordic movement, endeavor to use every bit of a vegetable, from carrot tops to cilantro roots to squash peels.

New York-based chef Dan Barber took the message farther with WastED, a three-week pop-up he did at his New York City restaurant Blue Hill. For the meal, as Pete Wells of The New York Times reported, Barber and his cooks used stale bread, fish bones, the fibrous leavings of vegetable juicers and other stuff normally considered garbage to make food that they sold for $15 a plate.

Sweetgreen’s WastED salad

Think that’s just a gimmick for a famous chef in a city with much more than its fair share of trend-obsessed rich people? Think again. Salad chain Sweetgreen offered a WastED salad, developed in partnership with Blue Hill, in its New York restaurants in July, August and September for $8.60. It was made of broccoli leaf, romaine heart, carrot ribbon, arugula mix, roasted kale stems, broccoli stalks, cabbage cores, shaved Parmesan, spicy sunflower seeds, croutons and pesto vinaigrette.

Yes, it was in New York, but still at a fast-casual salad chain.

Produce distributor Baldor now sees this interest in food formerly known as waste as a potential profit center.

It has initiated a program called SparCs, which it debuted today at the New York Produce Show at the Javits Center. Pronounced "sparks," it offers trim, tops and peelings from its processing facility to chefs and food manufacturers.

Baldor, in a press release, said the inspiration came from Blue Hill's vice president of culinary affairs, Adam Kaye, who asked them for help with the WastED project.

Since then it has announced a partnership with Misfit Juicery, a company based in Washington, D.C., that makes cold-pressed juice from surplus and misshaped fruit and vegetables. Baldor said it has also been contacted by other restaurants, including New York-based, 11-unit fast-casual chain Dig Inn, which focuses on balanced diets and nutrient-dense food.

Baldor said it also was in talks with Marco Canora, who helped start the weird bone broth craze with his restaurant Brodo.

Maybe he’ll be selling vegetable scrap broth for $9 a cup, too. That sounds weird, but then again, so does bone broth.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

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