Ugly Food

What’s the big deal with food waste? According to an article by the New York Times, in the United States it is estimated that consumers account for 40% of food waste per year. While it seems obvious that you should prepare and eat what food you buy and throw less out, there are other forms of food waste you may not have thought about.

A funny-looking but perfectly tasty shiitake from  Possum Bottom Farms . Photo by Possum Bottom.

A funny-looking but perfectly tasty shiitake from Possum Bottom Farms. Photo by Possum Bottom.

If you’re a meat eater, do you eat the whole animal? Not at one go, of course! But, over time, do you eat things like feet, organ meats, and skin? Many of us turn up our noses at such parts, but they have beneficially different nutritional qualities, higher nutritional levels, or both.

Plants have some less popular parts also. Onion skins, carrot tops, peels of all sorts - what do you do with those?

This Saturday, September 29th, the market is having a fundraiser to highlight those often unwanted foods: The Ugly Dinner. The dinner is going to help us cover operating costs and fund some upcoming initiatives, but it will also highlight the problem and solutions of food waste. Find tickets and more information via Eventbrite here.

Main Street Farmers Market’s Manager, Holly Martin, whose background is in food banking and nutrition education, has been following the food waste conversation for a few years and read about chefs taking part in food waste dinners across the country.  “I thought it would be a great way to engage our customers and the community to realize that even though food waste is a gigantic, complicated problem, improvements can be made on a small scale, even household by household. Everyone I spoke to about this food waste dinner idea loved it and then I met Shane Stone, a chef that is a customer of the market; he was willing to help make it happen in any way possible. So The Ugly Dinner was born. It’s been a great community collaboration.”  

Chef Shane Stone of High Haute Foods is leading the culinary side of the evening, and Ocia Hartley of Syrup and Eggs is hosting the event at the old fire hall in St. Elmo. The menu will be a four-course meal, accompanied by cocktails from The Mad Priest and the Bitter Bottle, and beer from Heaven and Ale. The cocktails will reflect the theme of the night. Stone says, “I think this is the most exciting thing I’ve done in my career as a chef.” Hartley says, “ ready for a delicious dinner, drinks, friends and a new way of looking at the world of farm fresh foods.”

Many of our farmers and vendors at the market are equally committed to reducing food waste. Farmers pick up spent grains from local breweries and produce pressings from juice bars to feed their animals, for example.

Jessie Temple of Feathers & Fruit is dedicated to reducing food waste. Only recently a farmer, Temple has been working in the restaurant world since she was a teenager. There, she sees so much that can go to waste: whole meat-lovers pizzas, gallons of scraps, 200 lbs of bagels, and more, every day. She brings home some of that perfectly good restaurant food that is destined for the trash can and feeds it to her laying flock and goats. Her most recent partnerships are with The Juice Bar at Gunbarrel and Wheeler’s Orchard who provide her with the leftovers from juice pressings. If she has more than her animals can eat, she contacts those that she knows can use it or puts out the call on Facebook. Says Temple: “I love the Slow Food movement, but I wish there was an Ugly Food movement”. Well, Jessie, you’re in luck because there is!

This “ugly” zucchini is quite pretty to me. Zucchini and photo by  Feathers & Fruit  / Jessie Temple.

This “ugly” zucchini is quite pretty to me. Zucchini and photo by Feathers & Fruit / Jessie Temple.

What can we, as consumers, do to reduce food waste at home? Branch out! Look at what you are throwing in the compost and trash and look into ways to use or reuse (e.g., broth with cooked bones). I touch on this idea with vegetables in my Baked Chard Stems post, but there are other recipes on the blog as well. Make it easy on yourself and follow one of my tips from Root Vegetable Soup: “Before I started chopping veggies for this soup I browned veggie scraps from the freezer and simmered them in water. I had stock that was ready when the soup veggies were done sautéing.” You could also start your meal prep a little early and get a simple veggie stock made from the vegetables you’ve prepared for that night’s meal.

Also, as Temple and the NYT article both point out, one way that Americans unintentionally waste food is by thinking of the “sell by” date on foods as a “spoils by” date, potentially throwing out food because of an assumption rather than a need. Care and cleanliness are needed when handling food, but we do not need to automatically throw out every cracked egg, bruised or wilted produce, or any food that is not supermarket-perfect. Many of us began our food journey in supermarkets and have to make the mental transition to food that is not all the same size, shape, or color, and perhaps with holes, spots or other blemishes and that is still okay. You can do this! Many familiar and also world famous dishes are made with ugly foods: panzanella salad, shepherd's pie, French Onion soup, arancini, and ratatouille to name a few. It’s a journey, and one I recommend relationships with your farmers to help you along.

Ugly Daikon by Jessie Temple

Ugly Daikon by Jessie Temple