The idea of 18 million tons of wasted food annually is enough to make even the most gluttonous person reconsider their way of living and eating. As horribly incredible as it sounds, it’s estimated that in the United States alone, between 40% and 50% of food is thrown away, ultimately valued at $165 billion. Thankfully, chefs, retailers, and even the government is stepping up to educate and mitigate the costly social and cultural impact food waste has on the world at large. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency, after researching and assessing the problem of food waste, has initialed a food recovery project to better “…educate Americans on best practices and reasons to curb food waste on a national and global level.”
There’s also an “ugly fruit” campaign that focuses on teaching the public about the virtues of fruit that may not be perfect in appearance, but is perfectly fine to consume. Distributors and retailers sometimes hold high aesthetic standards for produce, forcing the unfortunate disposal of thousands of pounds of good food. The campaign promotes the sale and consumption of “ugly fruit” that isn’t actually ugly, but rather slightly misshapen or undersized.
Even local businesses and individuals are taking notice, such as Jason Paul of Heirloom in downtown Rogers, perhaps the most altruistic chef in the state, who requires his customers to reserve a spot in advance and eat from a fixed menu to minimize the amount of food left in his kitchen at the end of each day.
Chefs from all over the world have been looking at ways to reduce overall consumer waste, including techniques for helping restaurant guests save the food they don’t finish in one sitting. As a child growing up in southwest Missouri, I fondly recall how the iconic chicken restaurants in the area provided “doggie bags” that were used to take leftovers home “for the family dog,” even though it was more likely to be consumed by a two-legged member of the family. Today many restaurants are using the same technique, but referring to the bags as “family bags” to avoid the dog connotations.
William Lyle, Executive Chef of Eleven at Crystal Bridges, will be co-hosting a special “Waste Not” dinner as part of the 2016 Cr(eat)e Food Series, along with Chef William McCormick of the soon-to-open MOD (Modern Ozark Dining) in Bentonville, and Chef Jason Paul from Heirloom in Rogers. Each chef will prepare a specific course to promote a narrative behind the “No Food Waste” movement…and then the chefs will come together collaboratively for the entrée portion of the meal. During the dinner there will also be a conversation focusing on how artists “repurpose” works and materials for creating art… culminating in an evening of art and food altruism.
The food waste problem is one that has the potential to affect us all…but with an ounce or two of awareness and education, it’s one that we can all help reduce.
“Give me spots on my apples
but leave me the birds and the bees, please”
–Joni Mitchell, “Big Yellow Taxi”