It’s rare that a trend in the food world reflects our better natures. Our imaginations, yes. Our palates, definitely. Cronuts may not save the world, but being more creative in the kitchen can certainly help reduce food waste.
In honor of Morton Salt joining forces with the James Beard Foundation to create the Full-Use Kitchen, a free online curriculum with culinary school instructors in mind, we looked to a few leaders in the war against waste for their go-to tips.
Keep Calm and Compost On
Methods for combating food waste vary from city to city based on how a given area decides to deal with its trash. In places that have been leading the charge against climate change for decades, composting is second nature to a lot of professional and home kitchens. It's been mandatory to compost food in San Francisco for nine years, and other cities like Portland, Seattle, and New York are starting to follow suit.
Food waste actually matters most in areas where composting isn't readily available. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, no official measures are put in place for dealing with food waste, but there's a movement driven entirely by individual bar and restaurant owners to reduce the waste they produce. Daniel Beres, who opened the cocktail bar Lost Whale with his business partner, Tripper Duval, earlier this year, says that creating a sustainable bar was their top priority from the beginning.
"We said to each other, let's take what we know about food waste and apply that immediately before we open the doors so that we get it into the common practice and culture," Beres says, which meant taking the extra step to source compost bins and bags, train their staff on how and what to compost, and use materials that break down in less than 100 days. For bars and restaurants without city-mandated compost, the next best thing is to get in touch with a local farmer and work out a deal. Some places charge pickup fees, but Beres and Deval were lucky enough to find a small farmer eager enough to buy the Lost Whale's compost from them.
Beauty is Peel Deep
Solutions for reducing food waste are possible at every step along the food production chain: everyday consumers can buy aesthetically unfit produce that can't be sold to supermarkets through CSA box subscriptions, and farmers call on soup kitchens to offload larger quantities of unclaimed produce. In fact, many shelters and community kitchens rely on the supply of imperfect fruits and vegetables to produce such large meals.
Of course, food waste doesn't only apply to the food that comes from the ground. Shopping at discount grocery outlets ensures that expired food items—from dairy products to packaged goods—won't go to waste, either.
One Person's Watermelon Rind Is Another's Watermelon Cocktail
For a lot of cooks, professional and otherwise, reducing waste is also an excuse to get more creative with food scraps. In the Bay Area, Duna's Nicolaus Balla is frequently called on by farmers and fellow chefs to take in their extra produce because they know he'll cook, preserve, or ferment the food they can't get to. A habit that will officially become his business model when Duna reopens next year with a processing facility for surplus B-grade produce.
"Reutilizing ingredients is a great draw of inspiration when creating cocktail menus," Beres says. "It basically forces your hand. If I'm writing a seasonal menu and I know for instance we're going to make a watermelon syrup for a summer cocktail, we know we're going to use the flesh for the syrup and that we can compost the rinds. But we want to hold ourselves more accountable than that, so we ask ourselves what we can do with the rinds, and we ended up macerating them in some sugar and rum to make a watermelon cordial."
These tricks yield small-batch cocktails that Beres throws up on a chalkboard that they call the "Lost Whale Salvaged Cocktail" menu. "That's just one of the things that force us to be more creative than we normally would," Beres says. "I can easily come up with another ingredient to use in a different cocktail, but now I’m forced to be creative in two ways."
The easiest solution for reducing food waste? Don't waste your food. From composting to reusing kitchen scraps, it's easier than ever to reduce the actual trash generated in kitchens—it's just about knowing where to begin. Got your own tips or tricks for reducing food waste in your kitchens? Share 'em with #EraseFoodWaste!