A couple of weeks ago, the Food Network aired a show called The Big Waste. Four Food Network chefs were challenged to use refuse food, which was destined for the trash, to make a meal for 100 guests. The chefs were in two teams - Bobby Flay and Michael Symon vs. Alex Guarnaschelli and Anne Burrelle. They visited local fish and meat wholesalers, farms, bakeries and other purveyors of food, to source their ingredients. Ms. Burelle even met with a Freegan to see what he found on nightly scavenging trips. (Note: the food that they all eventually used to prepare their meal was found to be 'safe' by a Food Inspector).
Some of the food that was being thrown out was surprising:
- Eggs that were not a uniform size and as such would not pass grading standards
- Chickens with punctured skin or a broken wing - so called 'Utility' chickens
- Produce that was a day before the 'Sell By' date, but would be acceptable for consumption for a few more days
- At a 'pick your own produce' place, people had picked e.g. a cabbage, then realized it was too small, discarded it, then picked another
- Blemished fruit or vegetables - not spoiled, merely marked by an imperfection
- Fresh fish that had been returned to a wholesaler by a retail customer because the flesh was not even
I could go on...
It was truly astounding the amount of food in America that is destined for the garbage. I do not doubt that the same thing goes on in many other cities in other parts of the world as well. One of the main conclusions that was drawn by the chefs who prepared the meals, was that consumers have trained themselves to only want perfection when they are shopping at their local grocery store. I include myself in the throngs of the guilty who will not buy an apple that has a bruise on it. When did I become so obsessed with this level of perfection?
As a lover of food, I am also a lover of the beauty in food. It gives me pleasure to see a perfect bowl of tomatoes, a verdant green and crispy leaf of rainbow chard. As I increasingly dabble in food photography, I can appreciate the beauty in these things - I don't think it makes me a bad person to do so.
I was discussing this issue with a friend and she brought up some good points. For example, there may be restrictions with the food that may not serve the community at large. Sometimes food may be past due or not culturally acceptable. Good points I had not even considered - specifically dietary and cultural considerations of the foods in question. It is not solely about the food being wasted, but when considering using some of these foods destined for refuse, one has to consider the security of the food. Is it still safe to eat? Is it wise to give away the food, but make someone sick in the process? Such a quandary.
What can I do? One person? I can take the tomato off of the top of the heap so as not to bruise those under it; I can choose the banana that has one spot; I can buy less than perfect produce - especially if I am going to be turning it into a soup or sauce anyway. There is often a rack in the produce department of your local grocery store, where you can purchase injured, but edible, produce.
I realize that there have been many papers and such devoted to this topic and I do not propose solutions to this vast problem, only to say that I am glad I saw the program and can make myself more aware of my own contribution to this problem - I can at least do my part to not contribute to it.
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