Cooking, Farming, Field Notes, Foodshed, Healdsburg, HomeFarm

Food is Too Good to Waste

Currently, about 40% of the food we produce is wasted, representing a carbon footprint larger than any individual country except China and the United States. It’s also a moral failing—in the United States alone, 1 in 8 people are food insecure.

The EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy ranks methods of dealing with food waste from the most preferable to the least. Many people think of composting as the be-all end-all of responsible waste management, but it’s actually all the way at the bottom of the pyramid, just above the landfill. Don’t get us wrong, we’re big believers in compost—one of our owners is a self-proclaimed dirt doctor!—but effective reduction of food waste starts long before your cores and peels hit the compost bin.

The top of the pyramid is source reduction, which simply means generating less food waste to begin with. The more mindful we are about using every ingredient to its fullest, the less food waste we’ll have to manage further down the line. It’s a philosophy essential to our culinary identity at SHED. Our different departments work together to ensure that nothing goes to waste, much like a permaculture farm would. When we have surplus dairy in the coffee bar, pantry products we need to move, or extra ripe and ready produce, our cafe chefs can transform them into new dishes.

Our menus are full of underappreciated ingredients, from croutons made of bread heels to apricot kernel ice cream. And when we can’t use all of a seasonal ingredient, we ferment or preserve it. It not only lends flavor to our dishes, it extends fresh ingredients’ shelf lives to ensure they don’t end up in the trash. And our eye toward preservation goes beyond pickles; culinary powders and shrubs also keep produce out of the landfill. Our passion for preserving extends to helping others learn the art. From canning classes to full-on food waste dinners, education is a top priority. Going low-waste in our own kitchen is good, but encouraging those in our own community and beyond to do the same can be game-changing.

But despite our best efforts, sometimes we end up with food waste. We over-prepare or end up with trimmings that just can’t be used. The next three tiers on the food recovery hierarchy are all ways to make the most of leftover food. If we can’t eliminate food waste, we should try to feed hungry people, feed animals, or find industrial uses for food waste. As our leftover-loving employees and our well-fed chickens can attest, we’ve got the first two covered. We also work with an oil management service that turns all those fried chicken Fridays into energy-rich biofuel.

The bottom tier of the food recovery hierarchy is the landfill. The landfill should only ever be a last resort. With so many alternatives to choose from, there’s no reason we should be throwing food away. Yet this is where 90% of food waste ends up. We’re proud of the work we have done to be part of the solution, but we know we can always do more. So we’re asking for inspiration from the place we so often find it: our community. We want to hear your ideas of how we can do more, because every meal we can keep out of the landfill is one more we can enjoy together. We welcome your comments and insights below!

Eat Good Food

Eat Better, Waste Less: Tips for Reducing Food Waste at Home

“What is good food and what is trash? ‘Trash’ and ‘scraps’ are ideas that people create when they decide what is in and what is out. Who made these rules?” – Mads Refslund

Nobody wants to waste food, but despite good intentions, it happens to the best of us. The good news is making a difference has never been easier.

Equipped with resources like Mads Refslund’s book Scraps, Wilt & Weeds: Turning Wasted Food Into Plenty, Dana Gunders’s Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook, and tips from Ambatalia creator Molly de Vrieswe’ve compiled some of our favorite smart tricks for lessening your contribution to the $165 billion worth of food that’s wasted each year in the United States.

Overall, minimizing food and packaging waste not only benefits our personal health and pocket books, but also our land, oceans, and the people that produce our food.

Molly de Vries of Ambatalia discusses the importance of stocking the pantry.

At the Store:

  1. Bring your own bags, jars, and containers to the store or farmers market.
  2. Shop smart. Plan meals, use lists, and avoid impulse buys. Buy what you need and in the amount that you’re likely to consume. Keeping an eye on what you throw away over the course of a week will help you make better choices at the store.
  3. Invest in reusable linens to cut down on napkin and paper towel usage. Molly demonstrates creative ways to use kitchen towels to tie up produce, bread, and even wine bottles in this video series.
  4. Head to the bulk section for dry goods such as beans, grains, flour, pasta, and rice. You can try as little or as much or something as you want, and eliminate unnecessary packaging waste in the process.
  5. Learn to love ugly produce. It’s perfectly good to eat, and buying imperfect produce at the farmers’ market or grocery store helps use up food that might otherwise be tossed.
  6. Get to know your farmers, butchers, fish and cheesemongers, stockists, and cashiers. Be curious – and kind! Here are some sample questions to ask. 
    • Is your favorite milk or kombucha available in a reusable glass bottle with a deposit program? Can you reuse your egg carton each week at the farmers market? 
    • Before heading to the bulk section at the grocery store, speak with a cashier to obtain the tare weight (weight of an empty container) and understand any in-house rules.
    • For meat and fish, inquire if regulations permit mongers to use your own reusable glass containers, instead of several layers of butcher paper. Consider asking your cheesemonger to skip the plastic wrap and use a bento bag instead.

At Home:

  1. Take stock of your pantry at the beginning of each season and write down the items that you always strive to have on hand, in addition to more regular purchases.
  2. Keep a running list of “house meals” and their ingredients that your household already enjoys.
  3. Invest in nondisposable materials to help you stay clean and organized. Here are some of our favorite options:
  4. Learn how to keep your seasonal produce looking and tasting fresh with these helpful tips
  5. Use your nose. Expiration dates are more often guidelines than hard facts. If a food looks, smells, and tastes fine, it’s most likely safe to eat. If any of these elements are off, then it’s time to compost it.
  6. Take stock of what’s about to expire and plan meals around those ingredients.
  7. The freezer is your friend. Keep a list of what’s in the freezer and when each item was frozen. Keep the list on the freezer door for easy reference.
  8. Designate one dinner each week where you “shop” in the pantry and fridge. Good oil and vinegar plus some other pantry basics like mustard, onions, garlic, canned tomatoes, honey, crushed chillies, and bay leaves are generally all that’s needed to turn near-wilting vegetables in the back of the fridge into a delicious meal.
  9. Eat your leftovers! (Labeling helps keep them from getting lost.)
  10. To test if eggs are still good, put them in a bowl of water. If they sink, they’re safe to eat.
  11. Use nearly sour milk as buttermilk to make delicious pancakes.
  12. Use all of your ingredients! Skins, stems, stalks, and more. Here’s one of our favorite recipes for pesto that features carrot tops.
  13. Make stock. Get started with a good pot. Then add water, vegetable and meat scraps, zest, rinds, and whatever else you have around.
  14. Preserve! Make jam, shrubs, pickles, or dried fruit and herbs.
  15. Donate what you won’t use. Our local gleaners will even come harvest from your backyard tree.
  16. Compost! We can’t. Get. Enough. Store any excess food scraps in a kitchen compost pail, crock, or bucket with a tight fitting lid.
  17. When preparing meals, check in with your hunger. Ask your body what it wants to eat, and how much. Reducing portion sizes is an easy way to reduce food waste.

Eating Out:

  1. Split large dishes with a friend.
  2. Take home leftovers. Ask your favorite restaurant about their to-go materials. Are they compostable and/or recyclable? Can your server able to pack up your leftovers from dinner into your own reusable glass or stainless steel container?
  3. Go trayless. When eating in a cafeteria, skip the tray. It’s hard to carry more food than you can actually eat.

Ready to take your personal waste stream to the next step? Learn more with our post on how to keep your compost pile happy.

Field Notes

ZeroFoodprint: Interview with Anthony Myint

zero foodprint myint

Anthony Myint was in Copenhagen at a thought leadership conference sponsored by Noma restaurant in 2014 when the idea for ZeroFoodprint was born.

Myint’s friend, Lucky Peach editor Chris Ying, had just been tapped to lead the next year’s conference, and the men huddled with environmental consultant Peter Freed to brainstorm ideas. Recently becoming a father had amplified Myint’s desire to make a difference. In researching food waste, he learned that the effects are more dire than he could have imagined.

Myint, the co-founder of San Francisco’s famed Mission Chinese and The Perennial restaurants, says that the topic immediately turned to the role of restaurants in responding to climate change.

“The food system is about 43-56 percent of all greenhouse emissions — processing, storage, deforestation,” Myint recently explained by phone from the kitchen at Mission Chinese, where he worked as he talked. “A lot of people think of fossil fuels as being the culprit and while that stuff matters, food is such a big part of it that it seemed that we should find as many ways as we could to stem it.”

The friends knew that restaurateurs would donate money to the cause, sure. But there had to be something that was deeper, that offered a more robust commitment, in order for the actions to deepen and resonate. That something turned out to be ZeroFoodprint.

“We started the organization to learn more about what specific aspects of the industry contribute to greenhouse gas emissions the most and how we can change those things,” Myint says. “There’s an element of taking responsibility but it’s more specific to what each restaurant is doing. It’s learning about your carbon footprint and making the changes that you can and specifically offsetting them.”

To that end, ZeroFoodprint has a certification program that allows restaurants to be evaluated on their carbon emission “foodprint” and learn to take steps to both rectify and offset the valuation. SHED launches its relationship with ZeroFoodprint this month, learning how to change our practices and creating a pathway to offset our emissions.

Even though we built the Healdsburg SHED with an eye to sustainability, insulating our walls with recycled denim, installing photovoltaic panels, and establishing a rigorous composting program from the start, there are still ways that we can diminish our impact. And for those things that simply can’t be changed, we can purchase carbon credits for offset. Working with the ZeroFoodprint organization helps us make these efforts count.

Because, as Myint well knows, it goes beyond simply not throwing away food scraps that could be used to make soup stock or pesto. That kind of waste is accounted for on the bottom line and most restaurants are rigorous in preventing money from being literally thrown away. As we are known to say, it all comes down to soil.

“It was really exciting to learn how farming can change climate change,” Myint says. “The soil used to have a lot more organic matter. We can revise our farming practices to put it back in the soil. In the long run, our goal would be to have zero foodprint contributions to those efforts.”

Carbon offset monies currently go to such entities as the Marin Carbon Project and the American Carbon Registry.

ZeroFoodprint is also working with the Open Table reservation platform to add a category that allows diners to choose a participating restaurant when making a dining choice. It’s still in the “proving out stage,” he says. Once that’s in place, Myint allows, the movement will have a more concrete footing. “It will be easier to have metrics,” he admits. “In the absence of that, it’s a little bit esoteric.”

Myint’s Mission Chinese has always had an altruistic bent, donating 75 cents for every meal purchased to the San Francisco Food Bank. In becoming a ZeroFoodprint establishment itself, it now donates 10 cents for every meal to offset its carbon emissions, too. Myint sees this as a way forward for all dining, even fast food.

But how would this apply, say, to a national franchise like Pizza Hut? Myint goes back to the 10 cents per meal he already charges for offset.

“[Mission Chinese] is not as inexpensive as Pizza Hut, but I’m pretty confident that no one is electing not to eat here because of 10 cents,” he says.

“If leaders in the restaurant industry like SHED are willing to take a stand… that’s how a market is created. We don’t give customers the option; it’s just part of the program.”

For the Pizza Hut example, Myint suggests that they would offer customers the option to donate 20 cents from each purchase to carbon offsets. The only inconvenience would be in checking off a box.

“That seems pretty approachable,” Myint muses. “That actually is the model that we’re trying to get chefs and restaurants to adopt.”

Learn more about the ZeroFoodprint initiative, meet Anthony Myint with colleague J. Kenji López-Alt of Serious Eats, and help us offset our carbon emissions at a very special dinner on Wednesday, Sept. 27

To learn more about the ZeroFoodprint initiative, read Myint’s excellent James Beard op-ed.

Anthony Myint photo by Alanna Hale.


School Lunch Waste

Food waste is a serious problem in the U.S., where it is estimated that some 40 percent of our food annually goes into the garbage stream. School lunch waste — from half-eaten meals to individual packaging — is a major factor. (more…)