Food waste. I have been managing the chef stage at a major trade show in Chicago for the last 9 days. 4 different chefs each day doing demos and each giving out at least 150 samples to the assembled crowd. I have witnessed big pans of various cooked grains – like quinoa, couscous and polenta – go into the trash. I have seen whole pork tenderloins throw away and big pots of stews go into the garbage. Most often this waste is an imbalance of the chef overestimating how much food to bring for the crowd and also the crowd turnout being smaller than anticipated. The chef doesn’t want to take anything back, and sometimes they can’t (they came in from Canada, for instance). The chefs also bring large amounts of their ingredients for their demonstrations, not use them all, and then toss the leftover product as well. I have seen a lot of food waste in nine days!
And this is just one example. Think of all the restaurants discarding unwanted or unused food. Think of all the events where leftover food is tossed. Think about your home and how many rotten vegetables you had to toss. It’s hard to imagine the magnitude of waste that’s happen on a daily basis throughout the world. The latest studies show we are throwing away about 50% of the food we produce. And yet hunger is still an issue both stateside and internationally. What’s wrong with this picture?
I wish I had the solution. I know making cheap food in mass quantities is not helping. If we actually viewed our food as precious and limited, we would probably respect it more. Furthermore, it takes thoughtfulness and diligence to reduce waste. For example, I review my schedule every Sunday for the week, and determine how many meals I need to make. I then only cook that many servings so that I am not overproducing food that won’t get eaten and that will end up in the garbage. It takes discipline and practice…and I am only cooking for two people! Imagine the brainpower that would have to go into restaurants knowing how many customers, and therefore how much food, to plan for on a daily basis. There are lots of known and unknown variables…almost seems impossible not to create waste, right? Some places that are trying to do a good job have extended their efforts to donating leftovers to soup kitchens and others who could really put them to good use. Ultimately, there is no quick fix and it requires deliberative attention throughout the whole food system.