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October 26, 2017

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WASTE NOT, WANT NOT (Part Two)

April 17, 2017

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Every year, America wastes a startling amount of food and money, but it seems that there is a growing movement to conserve and repurpose. Part One explored some of the challenges and innovative solutions to food waste at the level of individual choice around initial purchases. But what to do about all the food is left over? These days more and more companies are finding delicious ways to give new purpose to byproducts and create a market to help unsold meals and unused ingredients find a home.

 

ONE MAN’S TRASH IS ANOTHER’S TREASURE

 

Foods repurposing byproducts are widely expected to be one of the biggest trends of 2017. Both in home and industrial kitchens, chefs are eagerly exploring the possibilities of “stem to root cooking,” making the most of beet stems and carrot or broccoli stalks that are generally discarded. Juice companies, like Misfit Juicery, give their products a health boost by incorporating peels and rinds which are typically discarded but actually contain many nutrients. The cycle continues when Pulp Pantry uses leftover juicer pulp to create granola.

 

In a stereotypically Seattle moment, the distillery startup I visited once with friends proudly informed us how they upcycle leftovers from their (recycled) wine cask-aged whiskey to make artisanal pickles. Similarly, Regrained creates delicious snack bars with a healthy twist from the “spent grain” left over from the malting process in urban breweries. With so many craft breweries opening in urban areas, spent grain that traditionally went to farms to enrich soil or feed livestock has been ending up in landfills. But it turns out that spent grain makes great baked goods as well.

 

Like Regrained, Sir Kensington’s has partnered with a hummus company to keep them supplied with aquafaba the liquid drained from canned or cooked chickpeas that acts like egg whites, thus making possible Fabanaise, the first vegan mayonnaise available. Other notable repurposing byproducts, even across industries, are Eco-Olea, who has a household cleaner line with a base from water left over after their olive oil production, and Waitrose who have created packaging for their new red lentil pasta from a byproduct of making the pasta.

 

There’s also a lot of attention these days on yogurt whey, a byproduct that can be toxic if not disposed of properly. It’s an issue that has concerned the USDA for some time and with the boom in Greek yogurt, it’s more of a problem than ever. So using the whey to create new products kills two birds with one stone. It’ll be a bit tricky to convince American consumers to try whey (at least, in a form beyond the protein shakes or bars) but it’s long been established in Iranian culture, where the family of the owner of the White Moustache hails from. They’ve created probiotic tonics and turkey brining kits from whey (apparently it can also replace milk in a muffin recipe) and are exploring how to better educate consumers. General Mills has also filed for a patent to use the whey in food products from soup to baked snacks and confectionary items and Arla Foods is looking into ways whey can provide a nutrition boost to baby food.

 

SHARING IS CARING

 

It’s not like restaurants ignore the problem of food waste. It’s a constant struggle for them to maximize what they can get out of the ingredients they stock. In many ways finding a buyer for leftover food and ingredients comes down to communications. People first must be aware of where the leftover food is available for consumption or repurposing.  Apps are being developed all over the world to share information, help people connect, and to track patterns and rates of waste overall. Food For All, for example, allows participating restaurants to offer unsold food to app users at a discounted price.

 

This isn’t the only area that could benefit from some higher level (re)organization. Confusion around sell-by, best-by, and expiration dates is exacerbating the problem as many consumers simply don’t know if the food in their refrigerators is still safe to eat and so throw out feed that is fine. Ann Arbor-based recycling company, ReFed, is campaigning for standardized labels on food packages. They also want Michigan to pursue a centralized system of composting and encourage individuals to compost as well. Food waste could then help grow the state’s produce rather than creating more methane in landfills and contributing to climate change.

 

 

The greatest innovation demands facing us now are not necessarily new or better foods but how to make better use of the food currently in circulation.  Today’s consumers are strongly motivated by brands’ values and want to feel that their purchase decisions are contributing in some way, to making the world a better place. Not to mention that eliminating waste is great for the economy as well.

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