Would you eat second-hand food? Instinctively, most would say no. We’re drawn to the flawless, unspoiled and spot-free fruits and vegetables offered in the supermarket. We turn our noses up to whole loaves of bread and gallons of milk if they go just one day past their “best-by” date. Yet despite our adverse reaction to food that is anything less than pristine, there has been an explosion of startups and initiatives dedicated to challenging just that. They’ve found innovative ways of taking unwanted food scraps and turning them into something not just edible, but also delicious. Is the next food revolution not about what you are eating, but what you’re not?
It’s no secret by now that food waste is becoming increasingly problematic throughout the world. The amount of food wasted annually is staggering, with roughly one third of the food produced globally going to waste. This equates to about 1.3 billion tons of food wasted annually, a number that becomes even harder to swallow when you consider the aspect of malnutrition and starvation that is prevalent among many developing countries. It’s clear that we have enough food, but our process of distribution and the way that we handle it is flawed. With the population continuing to rise to a projection of 9 billion by 2050, it is imperative that we find a way to remodel the broken supply chain of food.
As awareness of food waste grows, so do efforts to address the problem. A hand full of clever startups, initiatives and restaurants have succeeded in combatting food waste by finding value and use out of unwanted food. Some are aiming to distribute food that is about to be thrown out, others are working to use every last ounce of ingredients, while still others are turning so-called trash into trendy featured dishes. Regardless of how they’re doing it, these food pioneers are succeeding in changing the way that people think about waste. They’re taking what was once headed to the landfill, and turning into a highly marketable and valuable product.
NYC-based WTRMLN WTR is one of them, purchasing farmers’ discarded melons and turning them into a healthy and delicious drink. Other companies like California's Imperfect Produce finds homes for ugly produce by selling low-cost, blemished fruits and vegetables that would have otherwise never made it off the farm. ReGrained is another case in point, taking spent grains leftover from breweries and transforming them into nutritious granola bars, bread, cookies, cereal and chips.
Blue Hill on a different spectrum, is a restaurant and farm operated by Chef Dan Barber. His innovative eye and passion for food has led him to create a space where people can learn about and appreciate sustainable food. Blue Hill has been instrumental in the food waste movement, by educating the public about the value of making the most out of ingredients. Dan Barber further reinforces those lessons through a sophisticated menu highlighting ingredients like “roasted reject apples” and “broken razor clams.” He adds grace and glamour to so-called “trash food,” transforming it into a whole new delicious and trendy manner of dining.
These innovative ways of making use of food that was once considered trash will only increase as time goes on. By optimizing the food supply chains, these organizations, start-ups and restaurants are not only reducing the amount of food wasted throughout the world, but also educating the public, and making sustainable food accessible to a much larger market. The chefs, nonprofits and entrepreneurs dedicated to raising awareness about food waste are putting a dent in the problem, moving us closer to a waste-less world.