The American restaurant industry has a big food waste problem. A 2014 study by the Food Waste Reduction Alliance found that 84.3% of unused food in American restaurants ends up being disposed of, while 14.3% is recycled, and only 1.4% is donated.
Many restaurants and organisations have adopted the mission to end food waste, especially since so many people across the country suffer from a lack of access to high-quality food. One of those is Feedback, an environmental organisation that has planned a number of campaigns to bring about global awareness of the issue.
On May 10, Feedback hosted a food festival called “Feeding the 5,000”, where executive chefs from three notable New York-based restaurants gave away 5,000 free meals made from leftover food. All of the ingredients used in the meals would have been tossed out otherwise.
We got a chance to chat with Dan Barber, executive chef and co-owner of Michelin-starred restaurant Blue Hill, about his partnership with Feedback and Feeding the 5,000.
According to an analysis by the Green Restaurant Association, a single restaurant can produce approximately 25,000 to 75,000 pounds of food waste in one year. Here, a Feedback volunteer plates a meal during the Feeding the 5,000 festival in New York City's Union Square.
A 2012 study by the Natural Resources Defence Council found that Americans throw away almost half of their food, amounting to $165 billion wasted annually.
Food waste is not just a problem in America, but across the globe. About 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted globally each year, and around 40% of that comes from restaurants.
Chef Dan Barber is the co-owner of Blue Hill, one of the restaurants helping end food waste through work with Feedback. Barber describes food waste and hunger as a 'very serious issue.' At his restaurant, they cook many dishes using food that would have otherwise been wasted. Additional leftovers are fed to the livestock raised on Blue Hill's farm.
'This evening, I'm putting a ravioli on the menu that is braised lamb with a fine mince of diced spring vegetables and a little bit of ricotta cheese,' Barber said. 'But the lamb is left over from the braise last night, the vegetables are left over from extra prep in the kitchen yesterday, and we are cooking it today. So, essentially what I just described is 'waste', but we are calling it a ravioli.'
The goal of Feeding the 5,000 was to bring awareness to the food waste problem. 'I think this a really inspired way to deal with this (issue),' Barber said of Feedback's food festival.
Every ingredient -- including bread, vegetables, and fruit -- that was incorporated into the meals during Feeding the 5,000 was salvaged from high-end restaurants.
Popular New York restaurants Blue Hill, Almond, and Egg all participated. The food items were salvaged, cooked, and then given away to the public for free.
5,000 free bowls of root-atouille, a vegetable-based stew made with leftovers, were given away during Feedback's food festival.
Barber ran a similar experiment in 2015, when he installed a pop-up restaurant called WastED at Blue Hill. Every dish, from the cheeseburger to the kale rib stew, was made from repurposed ingredients. Barber also invited a long roster of notable chefs to participate in the project, including Dominique Ansel, Mario Batali, April Bloomfield, and Daniel Humm.
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