• Jonathan Bloom writes about why we waste food, why it matters and what we can do about it. This is his blog.

Wasted Food Dude–Using Up Dressing

Here’s the latest installment of my food waste advice column, Dear Wasted Food Dude, which also runs on BioCycle‘s site and their e-bulletin, BioCycle Food Recycling News

Related: send questions! All food-waste-related queries are welcome–big or small, true or false, named or anonymous. Send stuff to wastedfood {at} gmail or @wastedfood.

Dear Wasted Food Dude,

It seems that we can’t get through more than half a bottle of salad dressing without getting tired of the flavor. I hate to throw it out or let it expire, but it’s getting gross. For example, I have half a bottle of an Italian that was too tart and half a bottle of raspberry dressing that is too sweet. Besides as a marinade or taking to a party, any suggestions on how to use these up?                        -—Danielle C., Northern California

Howdy Danielle,

I thought your tale would end like an old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup ad, and you’d be praising Raspberry Italian dressing. But no.

How best to use up those bottles? Well, you may be asking the wrong dude, as I’m not a big fan of dressing. I eat my veggies raw and spend most days in pajamas. But it’s not about me. It’s about me using the internet to help you!

My reflexive advice is always smoothies and soups. The former won’t work here, but the latter could. I plugged in Italian dressing on BigOven.com and it spit out 1,488 recipe ideas! To be fair, plenty of recipes use dressing as a marinade or as…salad dressing.

Still, there were heaps of useful ideas, like using dressing to make pasta salad, cole slaw, and “Texas caviar.” The possibilities, like a black hole and the internet, are endless.

Also, I was kidding about the raspberry/Italian dressing mashup, but it may be worth trying. The blend may mellow both the tart and sweet, and it can’t be too different from your average raspberry vinaigrette.

The best way to avoid this situation in the future, other than dressing abstinence, is to buy smaller containers. And that is decent universal advice for food purchases. Any savings realized from buying the larger size evaporate when that item isn’t finished.

If you’re already buying small-ish containers of dressing and can’t seem to use them up — a problem for many people who live alone — I’d recommend whipping up your own small batches. And by small, I mean making enough for one or two bowls. I find that experimentation is rewarded with salad dressings, so just follow your heart!

Making your own salad dressing (or most anything), will save money, avoid waste, and allow you to experiment with minimal stakes! Just keep in mind that you have some time to ponder what to do with your dressings, as most kinds contain vinegar, a curing agent that makes bottles last, approximately, forever.

You’re berry welcome,
Wasted Food Dude

 

November 7, 2016 | Posted in General, Household, Wasted Food Dude | Comments closed

Dear Wasted Food Dude–Waste Audits

Here’s the latest installment of my food waste advice column, Dear Wasted Food Dude, which also runs on BioCycle‘s site and their e-bulletin, BioCycle Food Recycling News

Related: send questions! All food-waste-related queries are welcome–big or small, true or false, named or anonymous. Send stuff to wastedfood {at} gmail or @wastedfood.

Dear Wasted Food Dude,
I’m preparing to do a home waste audit as part of an NRDC initiative where I live. Not sure exactly what my family and I will find, but I’m curious if we’re normal. How much food does the average family waste?
—Rod G., Nashville, TN

Hey Rod,
I’m taking a leap here, but I doubt you’re all that normal. I mean, you did just volunteer your family to log all food discards and have a researcher inspect your trash as part of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) Nashville Food Waste Initiative.* That’s commendable and it puts you firmly in the forefront of food waste awareness, but doesn’t make you mayor of Normal Town. Then again, who cares? Normal is overrated (and quite wasteful)!

But of course, you were asking whether the amount of food your family wastes is normal. So how wasteful are most people? Here’s a good measuring stick: according to U.S. EPA data, the average person wastes about 20 pounds of food per month. That figure — more specifically 0.64 pounds per day — is slightly different than what you’re asking. It represents per capita U.S. food waste, or the total food waste generated in the U.S. food system (not including farms) divided by the number of Americans. But it provides a good ballpark estimate.

For a family, you can’t just multiply that amount by the number of family members. And that’s good news — there are economies of scale at play here. A United Kingdom study found that the amount of food wasted per person in a three or more person household is less than half of what it is in a single person household! (See page 12 of the study.)

That’s why, for families, I’d recommend using this ballpark estimate: we don’t use 20 percent of food we buy. So get out your supermarket receipts!

Speaking of normal, you know what’s not normal? Most people think that they’re ahead of the curve when it comes to wasting food. A whopping 75 percent of survey respondents think they waste less than the average American. Think about that for a second. But because you’re participating in the NRDC food waste study, you’ll soon have a fairly accurate idea.

Of course, knowing that your wasted food is being measured will undoubtedly alter your behavior in certain ways. But in the name of science — and normalcy! — try to shop, cook and eat like nobody’s watching.

And in the end, all that matters is that you learn from this measurement. As the adage goes, we manage what we measure. Seeing all of that embedded money, water, energy, soil nutrients, and pesticides going for naught should provide ample motivation to improve your food usage habits.

One final word of warning: if you’re planning do something about your food waste, that will likely put you squarely in the non-normal category, for better or worse. Yet, I think it’s well worth being unusual here.

Measure Twice, Cut (wasted food) Once!
—WFD

*NRDC is conducting a pilot in Nashville, Tennessee to test strategies to prevent, recover and recycle food waste at key points along the supply chain, including households. As part of that initiative, NRDC is assessing the amounts and types of food generated in Nashville. Assessments also will be conducted in other cities.

September 27, 2016 | Posted in Household, Wasted Food Dude | Comments closed

Chef Matthew Orlando Q & A

Matthew Orlando is the owner and head chef at Amass Restaurant in Copenhagen. He was the chef de cuisine at Noma (you may have heard of it…) from 2010 to 2013, when he left to start Amass. Prior to his time at Noma, Orlando worked at the renowned restaurants Per Se in New York City and The Fat Duck in the UK. The native Californian has now lived in Copenhagen for more than six years and was kind enough to share his thoughts on the cooking, culture, and Venn diagrams.

Jonathan Bloom (JB): I’ve heard you’re pretty obsessed with avoiding waste. Where does that come from?

Matthew Orlando (MO): I think this came from working in high-end kitchens that did not take into consideration the impact of the amount of waste that was being produced. The only thing that mattered was the end product. What happened along the way was an afterthought. When I opened Amass, I vowed to never adopt this way of thinking. In fact, I vowed to approach cooking in the opposite way. There is no such thing as a by-product, only another product.

JB: How does that manifest itself in the day-to-day operation of Amass? Can you summarize a few examples of kitchen innovations aimed at using everything? 

MO: At Amass, we save all of the stems from the different herbs that we use, put them through a lactic fermentation, dry them, and grind them to a powder. The powder tastes like seaweed. We then use the powder to season vegetables and different oils. We also save all of our leftover bread and soak it in the whey that is leftover from making our fresh cheese. The next day, we puree it and make a chip out of it. We save all of our leftover coffee grinds, dry them overnight, and mill them to a flour. We then make crisps out of them that we serve with a marshmallow that is made with the leftover tea leaves from the previous night’s service that we burn to an ash. We even save all of our water from our ice baths and circulator baths, as well as the water leftover from the bottles on the tables. We boil it up and use it to wash the floor in the kitchen.

JB: I’ve heard you talk about a fish called bakskuld—can you tell me how Amass’ practice compares to most Danish restaurants?

MO: Most restaurants use the bones to infuse sauces with a smoky flavor [and then throw them away]. At Amass, we look at the entire fish. We freeze the flesh, grind it up, and dry it. We then roast it in oil to make a smoked fish crumble. The skin we infuse in oil overnight. We marinate cherries and summer beans in this smoked fish oil. We infuse the bones into stocks to achieve a smoky flavor. After that, we strain the bones out of the stock and cook them overnight in the steam oven. We then roast them and serve them with different dipping sauces.

JB: Are other restaurants in Copenhagen similarly experimental with nose-to-tail and root-to-stem dining? 

MO: BROR is doing an unbelievable job with nose-to-tail cooking. They are utilizing the absolute entire animal. They serve the entire lamb head in different servings: stuffed eyeballs, with the tongue and the meat of the cheeks and forehead wrapped in little pancakes.

JB: Has this “use-it-all” cooking become somewhat the norm in Denmark or is it only happening at places like Noma and Amass?  

MO: It is definitely not the norm yet, especially at high-end restaurants. I think a lot of people talk about it but fail to follow through. There are just a few restaurants that are starting to realize the importance of adopting this way of thinking. For me, it is the only way that our industry will be able to cook in the future with the products we use now. Right now, we, as an industry, are cooking very irresponsibly.

JB: What comes to mind when you say we’re cooking irresponsibly? And how do we change that?

MO: As a whole, we are cooking with no thought of the impact that we are having on the environment. Everything is at our fingertips. Foods are being flown in from around the world with no thought of the carbon footprint that they leave behind. We are taking the center cut of meat or seafood and discarding the rest. How do we change? We need to look at what’s around us. We need to start cooking more locally. We need to look at the entire product, whether it’s meat, fish, or vegetables. We need to let the by-product of refinement become part of our daily repertoire.

JB: How do diners respond to these kinds of experimentations? 

MO: The response has been great. When you feed someone a by-product of something else they had earlier in the menu and explain how you transformed it into something that is delicious, it is a real eye-opener. It becomes something they can touch and taste and not something they have just heard about.

JB: On the Venn diagram of New Nordic cuisine and avoided food waste, where is the overlap? 

MO: I think that we have a great culture of preservation through salting and fermenting. These are both excellent ways to make items that are usually undesirable taste delicious.

JB: How would you compare the average Copenhagen restaurant customer to the ones you saw in New York at Per Se or in Britain at The Fat Duck? 

MO: Diners in Copenhagen are far more open-minded. What I love most about cooking in Copenhagen is that the guests come to eat whatever the chef is cooking, versus those places where I worked previously in which the guest comes and butchers the menu by telling you what they don’t want to eat. The sense of freedom in Copenhagen is amazing. People are looking for something a bit outside the box. So if you do something that is too traditional, then people will tell you that it just wasn’t that exciting. This keeps the chefs pushing and looking for the next new ingredient or flavor combination that sets them apart.

** This interview originally appeared on the fabulous Food Tank site. **

September 26, 2016 | Posted in Q & A, Restaurant | Comments closed

Wasted Food Dude–Priorities…

Here’s the latest installment of my food waste advice column, Dear Wasted Food Dude, which also runs on BioCycle‘s site and their e-bulletin, BioCycle Food Recycling News

Related: send questions! All food-waste-related queries are welcome–big or small, true or false, named or anonymous. Send stuff to wastedfood {at} gmail or @wastedfood.

Dear Wasted Food Dude,

What would you pick as the most important choice consumers can make to reduce food waste on their end or the production end?
—Adam Hallihan, Darien, IL

Wow Adam,
I’m impressed. You’ve asked a question that’s both a real softball and essential!

And your question begs another one: what do you mean by “most important?” And how much of an impact do you believe one person’s actions have on the food system?

The reason I got all Socratic there is because you could interpret the most important choice to be the one that results in the most tons of avoided food waste. Or the highest number of meals saved, the largest reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, or just the most dollars saved. Read More »

September 1, 2016 | Posted in Wasted Food Dude | Comments closed

Dear Wasted Food Dude–Extreme Couponing

Here’s the latest installment of my food waste advice column, Dear Wasted Food Dude, which runs on BioCycle‘s site and their e-bulletin, BioCycle Food Recycling News. But fear not, I’ll also crosspost here.

Very related: send questions! Please write in with any food-waste-related query, issue or conundrum. I’m not picky–questions can be big or small, true or false, named or anonymous. Send stuff to wastedfood {at} gmail or Tweet to @wastedfood. On to this month’s question…

Dear Wasted Food Dude,
Just curious: how much does extreme couponing lead to food waste?
Thanks,
Ivo D., London, UK

Yo, Ivo!
Extreme couponing, eh? That reminds me of the expression, ”all things to the extreme.“ Oh that’s right, it’s the opposite — “all things in moderation.“ Along those lines, I’m not a fan of anything done to the extreme other than composting and bathroom cleaning (not necessarily in that order). And that goes double for coupons.

The reason being, coupons are mostly just prompts to buy stuff that we don’t really need (not to mention food ads that many of us willingly seek out). Sometimes they prompt us to buy foods that we don’t even want just because the deal is so tempting. For example, it’s surprising that you could get a 2-liter Mountain Dew Voltage for 25 cents. But now you have a few pounds of magenta-colored sugar water that you probably shouldn’t even know existed (and is not exactly healthy).

Extreme couponing only pushes us to excessively purchase items solely in the name of saving money. And buying food to save a buck is odd at best; some harsher columnists would call it flawed thinking. And when we don’t consume our purchase, it renders any savings moot. I’m continually amazed by this paradox: we’re extremely price-sensitive with our food, yet blissfully unaware of how much food we discard and its cost.

Speaking of unaware, your question required me to do five minutes of Internet research on extreme couponing. In addition to learning about this behavior in general, I also landed on Extreme Couponing, a dreadful “reality” TV show. This show and the behavioral subculture of taking couponing to excessive, er, extreme levels feels slightly harmful. It’s as if they both just provide a way to advertise new, unnecessary products and enable hoarding. In one episode that perhaps represents these shortcomings, a family dumpster dives for a specific coupon, unaware, apparently, that they could simply save a step by looking for that food item in the same dumpster!

Read More »

July 11, 2016 | Posted in Household, Wasted Food Dude | Comments closed

Report from Congressional Food Waste Hearing

The following article by Jonathan appeared in BioCycle‘s June 2016 issue. 

On May 25, the House Agriculture Committee held hearings on the issue of food waste. Based on their tone, committee members sounded determined to use government to prompt change in the food waste status quo. Or at the very least, help remove bureaucratic roadblocks to food waste reduction.

images by Jonathan BloomThe Committee invited expert witnesses to essentially educate them on many facets of food waste and discuss potential federal roles for its alleviation. The only witness on Panel I was Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME), who set the table for the others by laying out the impact of America’s wasted food and reminding the committee of the federal 50 percent food waste reduction goal by 2030. She also plugged her more recent legislative answer: the Food Date Labeling Act introduced in May. That policy initiative received plenty of attention during the two hours of testimony.

Chairman K. Michael Conaway (R-TX) established a collegial tone for the proceedings in his opening statement. He praised former Ag Committee colleague Pingree for getting food waste on the Congressional radar. Conaway then reached across the aisle, verbally: “Tackling food waste in this country is, and should be, a nonpartisan issue that will be most successful by engaging everyone in the food chain, from field to table,” Conaway said. “It will take the collaboration of all stakeholders to be successful.”

That cooperative spirit feeling continued throughout the hearings in the Longworth House Office Building. In his opening remarks, ranking member Collin Peterson (D-MN) asserted, “This is an area where we can work across party lines.” Given that notion, the strong committee turnout —17 members — on a busy Hill morning, and the amount of time spent discussing the date label issue could mean that Pingree’s labeling bill may just have legs.

Read More »

June 17, 2016 | Posted in Legislation | Comments closed

Dear Wasted Food Dude–Table Scraps

Here’s the latest installment of my food waste advice column, Dear Wasted Food Dude. It will run on BioCycle‘s website and in BioCycle Food Recycling News, their fledgling e-bulletin, but I’ll also crosspost here.

Very related: send inquiries! Please write in with any food-waste-related question/issue/conundrum. I’m not picky–the query can be big or small, true or false, named or anonymous. Send stuff to wastedfood {at} gmail or Tweet to @wastedfood.

Dear Wasted Food Dude,
I have sliced nitrate free salami in my freezer that must not have been sealed properly (even though I double bagged it). It has turned brown/gray and tastes funny. How bad would it be to feed it to my dog?
—Danielle C., Northern California

Hi Danielle,
Are you sure you didn’t doggie bag it?? Hahahahaha.

While I can’t promise that will be my last joke, I do have the sneaking suspicion that you may have already fed this brown/gray frozen meat mush to your dog and are second guessing yourself. And if that’s the case, at least you’re feeding it nitrate-free spoiled salami. You must really love that pooch!

Whether you’ve actually done the feeding or just pondered it, you’re onto something here. The EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy lists “feed animals” above anaerobic digestion and composting because it directly repurposes food’s embedded resources. But the EPA means feeding livestock—think hogs and chickens—who will then create more protein, either through their own flesh or their milk or eggs. What I’m pretty sure the EPA doesn’t have in mind is converting excess food into dog meat. While there is mutual benefit to feeding scraps to dogs, it’s more abstract and less tangible than with livestock (hopefully).

And feeding table scraps (or unwanted food) to dogs certainly isn’t new. That’s a big part of why dogs became domesticated in the first place. And I’m guessing plenty of dogs over the last millennia or so ate some rather rancid meat.

imageBut I doubt many veterinarians would support the practice today — nitrates or not. Dogs have dietary needs like any living creature. Then again, I think many vets and owners are a bit too attuned to what dogs eat. I don’t disagree with this bit of doggy diet satire, courtesy of Will Ferrell (at the 1:40 mark).

Read More »

June 14, 2016 | Posted in Food Safety, Household, Wasted Food Dude | Comments closed

5 Things Learned Lobbying Congress on Food Waste

This article by Jonathan originally appeared on Civil Eats on June 8, 2016. 

Photo courtesy of Food Policy ActionWhen I wrote a book about food waste six years ago, I never imagined attending a White House roundtable or lobbying Congress on the issue. But I recently had the chance to do both, with only the latter being somewhat on the record.

I was invited to be part of a team organized by Tom Colicchio’s advocacy group, Food Policy Action Education Fund, and the multistakeholder ReFED collaborative nudging lawmakers to tackle food waste. More specifically, I spent the day drumming up support for Congresswoman Chellie Pingree’s (D-Maine) Food Date Labeling Act. The bill wouldstandardize date labels, changing what is currently an unregulated mess to a system that clearly distinguishes between food quality and safety dates. It would also allow for the sale or donation of food after its quality date, which is currently restricted or prohibited in 20 states.

With that goal in mind, our merry band of food waste fighters set out to educate and evangelize to members of Congress. In addition to myself, there was Colicchio, Chef Victor Albisu of Del Campo, Chef Kevin Spraga of Spraga and Company, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)’s Dana Gunders, and Food Policy Action’s Claire Benjamin.

Here’s what we learned:

Have a Game Plan

Before entering our first Congressional office, we came up with a rough plan. Albisu and Spraga would open by explaining their personal connection to the issue. They would emphasize their personal connection to the issue, and share their frustration with the fact that their customers often don’t finish the high-quality, fine-crafted fare they serve, especially when so many Americans are food insecure. Next, Gunders and I would hit them with the impact and opportunity of food waste. And Colicchio was there to close the deal.

In practice, lobbying reminded me of being a kid. We were essentially pleading those in power—our Congressional parents—to do something that was not their first priority. And we had to frame our pitch differently to each party because, like parents, each holds such divergent views.

For that reason, we used a slightly different approach depending on whether we were visiting a Democrat or a Republican. For example, we emphasized food waste’s climate impact in the former and didn’t utter that word in the latter. We focused on the fiscal irresponsibility of food waste in red offices, and the opportunity to help those in need in blue ones. We were on the lookout for Republicans wanting to use redistribution of food currently wasted as an excuse for cutting food assistance. (It came up once—“Can we save money on nutrition programs here?”) And incentives, not regulation, were a key in a few Republican offices.

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Yours truly inside the Capitol on official business.

There were several surprises, though. A leading Democrat expressed strong deference to the food industry. One prominent Republican staffer wanted to talk about poverty, and rural poverty in particular. Another Republican said he felt pressure to “get something done” to show that D.C. isn’t totally dysfunctional. Happily, he was hinting that tackling food waste was something quite doable.

For both parties, the feasibility of our “ask” was important. And, fortunately, food waste is anything but divisive. Nearly everyone can support wasting less food. “This sounds bipartisan,” one staffer for a high-profile G.O.P. Congressman told our group. Indeed; nobody is for the status quo of wasting 40 percent of our food.

Read More »

June 13, 2016 | Posted in Legislation | Comments closed

Dear Wasted Food Dude–Date Label Hell(p)

Here’s the latest installment of my food waste advice column, Dear Wasted Food Dude. The column will run on BioCycle‘s website and in BioCycle Food Recycling News, their fledgling e-bulletin that all “wasted foodies” should sign up for pronto! I will also crosspost the columns here on Wasted Food.

One thing any advice column needs inquiries. That means you need to write in with any food-waste-related question/issue/conundrum. I’m not picky–the query can be big or small, true or false, named or anonymous. Send your stuff to wastedfood {at} gmail or Tweet to @wastedfood. Otherwise, I’ll be forced to do some creative inventing that may or may not include Seinfeld scenarios. Such as…

Dear Wasted Food Dude,
I’m so confused about expiration dates. There are a million different terms and figuring out what they mean is wicked hard. Is there really a difference between any of the terms? Which ones carry the most weight? My husband scoffs at all expiration dates. I really swear he looks forward to eating food after its date. I’m worried he is going to get sick and I’ve started to secretly throw away certain foods so he doesn’t devour them.  Who’s in the right here?

Sincerely,

Julie R, Concord, NH

Hi Julie. I hate to quibble over semantics — oh, wait, no I don’t — but let’s stop saying ‘expiration dates.’ Because that’s not what they are. Food doesn’t expire. It doesn’t die at midnight on the date stamped on its package. Instead, it slowly passes from optimal to inedible. And that date stamped on the package — no matter what words precede it — tends to fall much closer to edible.

Second quibble — compost that food instead of throwing it out. I’m sure that’s what you meant when you wrote ‘throw away.’ Organic waste simply does not belong in landfills. If you have any questions there, pick up a copy of BioCycle.

Now, let’s get to the matter at hand: Date labels speak to quality, not food safety.* Manufacturers put that date on their products to indicate when we should eat them before the texture or taste start to wane. And they do so voluntarily — the only item required by federal law to have a date is infant formula. Most foods usually last beyond the date label. But they can also go bad before that date. That’s why it’s best to rely on your senses — of smell, sight and taste.

As you say, the variety of terminology is a major problem here. There are just so many different terms, and I won’t even dignify them by writing their names. All you really need to know is that they all speak to quality and taste. To cut through the clutter, there is now a bill circulating through Washington, D.C. (see “Food Date Labeling Act” below), aimed at standardizing the terminology. But the phrase that really cuts through the noise and that I wish was the norm comes from the Ad Council’s Save The Food public service campaign: “Best If Used.” Given our wasteful ways, we’d be better served by a nudge to actually eat our food than a quality date that prompts many to send it directly to the compost pile.

In each household there’s usually one Date Label Doubter and one Spoiled Food Fretter. You’re both playing your roles perfectly. Who’s in the right? I would never interfere in this kind of marital dispute, but I will say that it’s usually bad to be throwing food away. Also, the Date Label Doubter is totally in the right.

If you want to learn more about this vexing topic, watch this efficient, 5-minute film on the topic called Expired. If you want to become an instant expert, read The Dating Game. And if you want to get a very funny take on the subject, watch this Seinfeld bit on how milk producers really determine the date label.

All the Best (By),
WFD

*By reading this article, you consent to not sue this Dude if you get sick from eating something past its date. Seriously, dude — trust your senses.

May 26, 2016 | Posted in Food Safety, Household, Leftovers, Legislation, Wasted Food Dude | Comments closed

Legislating Date Labels

America’s date label status quo has expired.

Lack of a national standard on date labels combined with a jumble of state laws on the subject causes a jumble of confusing terms. A recent Harvard/Hopkins survey (PDF) documented the extent of that confusion. In that haze, we often throw out perfectly good food. That confusion causes at least 8 million pounds of food wasted annually (according to ReFED), which means squandered money, natural resources and nourishing food.

To remedy this situation, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) yesterday introduced the Food Date Labeling Act. The bill aims to create a uniform national date labeling system to simplify terms to either “best if used by” or “expires on.” The bill would also allow for the sale or donation of foods after the quality date (currently prohibited in 20 states).

Rep. Pingree introduced general food waste bill in 2015, but this marks the first national bill on this particular facet of the food waste issue. Remember, the only food item required by federal law to have a date label is infant formula. Let’s hope this bill is brought to a vote in both the House and Senate and passes. It sure is needed.

May 19, 2016 | Posted in Food Safety, Legislation | Comments closed
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