My first thought, upon hearing that celebrity chefs had joined a campaign against food waste, was that we have to stop these people.
If, as promised, they show consumers how to get the most out of meat, produce and other foods, they will have less need to go back to the grocery store to stock up. That means less income to the Northern San Joaquin Valley, which produces an abundance of poultry, tomatoes, nuts, peaches, beef, dairy and other goods.
But we should look at the big picture. Reducing food waste cuts down on the water, energy and other resources needed to grow, transport and market the stuff. Not to mention fuel for trucks that haul the garbage to landfills.
The Natural Resources Defense Council told me about the new campaign in an email this week. Chefs such as Mario Batali and Dominique Crenn will create dishes with the bottoms of broccoli stalks, the fiber left over from juicing and other supposed waste.
About 40 percent of the nation’s food is wasted, said Dana Gunders, staff scientist with the group’s Food and Agriculture program. “To put this into context, the average American family of four ends up throwing away an equivalent of about $1,560 annually in food,” she wrote.
The losses also happen on the farm, such as when a worker rejects a peach that might not meet the cosmetic standards at a cannery. They happen at stores, when fresh food can go bad before it’s sold. They happen in our homes, when we let things expire in the fridge, or the children turn up their noses at certain dishes.
(And the losses happen in car seats holding toddlers, like my own two kids about a decade ago. The ratio of Goldfish crackers consumed to those lodged deep in the cushions was running at about 1-to-750 at one point.)
The waste-not ethic takes us back to the Depression, when people scrimped because of lost jobs or wages, and World War II, when we needed to ensure that the troops ate well.
Even in these more peaceful and prosperous times, we can reduce food waste simply because it feels right. And, often, it simply tastes good, like a day-after-Thanksgiving turkey sandwich.
Food banks benefit from the movement by distributing not-yet-expired goods donated by farmers and food processors. These agencies help many families through tough times.
Speaking of nourishment, much of our food waste is composted, in backyard piles and industrial-scale operations that turn out rich soil amendments. We have rendering plants that turn poultry and cattle carcasses into basic ingredients for things like soap, paint and pharmaceuticals. Chicken processors save the feet for sale to China, where they are a delicacy.
So, yes, we are doing a lot, but the 40 percent waste cited by the NRDC shows we have a way to go. I will do my part. The next toddler to ride in my car will snack on crackers made with broccoli stems and juicer pulp.