“As a country, we’re essentially tossing every other piece of food that crosses our path. That’s money and precious resources down the drain,” said Dana Gunders, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s food and agriculture program.
The NRDC report said Americans discard 40 percent of the food supply every year, and the average American family of four ends up throwing away an equivalent of up to $2,275 annually in food.
Over the years I’ve become slightly obsessed with this. Maybe it’s from reading about this tick from chefs who are always struggling with that bottom line.
From Bill Buford’s Heat:
“What the hell is this?” Mario [Batali] asked, when he appeared, holding up a handful of my celery leaves, before plunging back into the plastic bag to see what else was there to discover—which was, of course, more celery florets, hundreds of them. He pulled them out, shaking off whatever greasy thing was adhering to their leaves (they’d be served that night with steak).
From Jacques Pépin’s The Apprentice:
It has always been my habit, when I arrive at a restaurant kitchen to check the garbage bin to see if anything usable has been discarded and to inspect the walk-in refrigerator to see if there are leftovers that can be recycled in one way or another. Poor Zim [Pépin’s friend Gloria Zimmerman]: she burned a few of her cakes, tarts, and breads the first week and had tossed them in the garbage. She took to hiding damaged pastries and breads in the trunk of her car, so she could take them home and dispose of them herself, away from my judgmental eyes.
With just a little know-how, you can save a lot on food costs. During my recent lunch with Pépin, he proudly told me how he managed to salvage some of his food after a weekend party:
I’ll tell you, we did a menu yesterday. We had 70 people. Fine. I had stuff leftover. We started cleaning yesterday. We had a watercress salad, and the guy had a package of watercress, five pounds, and it was starting to wilt at the corners. So he said, “Do we have to throw that out?” I said, “No, no, I’m doing a watercress soup with that.” … I did the watercress soup last night. I froze the rest in a container. Then he had roasted veal. Roasted veal with the shoulder, and I thought it was a bit tough and not cooked enough, anyway. So I took a roasted half of veal, I cut it, sauté it, and I added two apples, three tomatoes—I did a curry of veal, which we had last night to eat with rice. And I had two big cases of cherries from the West Coast, and one of them, the Rainier cherries, were getting spoiled very fast. So I pitted them, and I did a chutney. It made me feel good about myself. We did a chutney, a veal curry, and the soup. I didn’t throw anything out.
UPDATE: I’d forgotten as well how my interview with Michel Richard five years ago was disrupted when the chef stared at a young commis in the rear of the kitchen. She was doing something wrong. Richard excused himself, walked briskly over to the girl, and started yelling, “Don’t waste the bread! Please!” An older chef came over to see what was wrong, and Richard yelled out to him, “She’s wasting it! She threw it in the garbage!” The girl did say, “I’m sorry, chef,” and nodded in silence.
I bet she didn’t waste bread after that.