The Big Waste

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a huge fan of the Food Network anymore. The quality of their programming, with the exception of perhaps one or two programs (i.e., Chopped, Secrets of a Restaurant Chef), has gone down dramatically over the years, leaving us now with a lot of “competition” programming as well as very few programs offering how to cook quality, healthy meals.

However, this past Sunday night, there was an impressive program on called “The Big Waste,” which was very enjoyable as well as an eye-opener to the problem of food waste in this country. The program was set up as a competition between two teams of two chefs, and the challenge was to make a three course meal for 100 consisting only of foods that were unwanted or deemed unfit to be sold (i.e., food that was heading for the trash or compost pile). I kind of wish that it was less of a competition and more of a documentary, but I still learned a lot from watching it.

The chefs went to different markets, shops, and farms to collect food. They had expected to get scraps of meat or vegetables, but instead they got a lot more than they bargained for. The food industry in the US throws out a LOT of food as waste — to the tune of 27 million tons of edible food being tossed, sometimes for reasons as inconsequential as a bruise or a spot on an otherwise perfect fruit or vegetable. This figure is totally shocking and heart-breaking to hear when you know that hunger is a big problem in this country. Even throughout the world as a whole, one-third of food is wasted — this includes markets, farms, factories, restaurants, and homes.

One of the chefs collected bushels of perfectly good corn that was going to be discarded simply because the wind knocked down the stalks. Another chef collected coolers full of fresh chickens that could not be sold simply because the skin was torn or a leg/wing was broken during the slaughtering process — she was told that American consumers would not consider buying these chickens because they might think that the bird had been sick. (Sidenote: the chicken farm was a small one, where it is too expensive to further break down these chickens and sell them as parts. Larger processing facilities do, in fact, do this.) A third chef collected dozens of fresh eggs from a henhouse because they didn’t conform to a standard size (some were too big and some were tiny) or a standard color (some were blue), but otherwise perfectly good.

The chefs also met a man who calls himself a “freegan” (a new word that I learned), who dumpster-dives for his food. Food establishments often discard food that is in perfectly good condition, many times because it is approaching its “sell by” date or where the packaging has been damaged. Freegans find these foods in the garbage of these establishments, believing that they are keeping edible food from adding to landfills and that can also feed people who might otherwise go hungry.

After watching this, I will be looking at foods, especially fruits and vegetables, from a different perspective now when I go to the market.

It was difficult to swallow some of the facts that were presented. This was such an informative program, however, that I highly recommend watching it when it re-airs again this weekend.


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