It’s estimated that between 30-40% of our food is wasted. Food waste presents a variety of challenges: environmental, social, economic, and ethical. Some cities are tackling the issue head on, including Seattle, which is requiring residents to separate food waste from garbage. Seattle’s citywide compost program was started in January; sanitation workers who find food waste in garbage cans use red tags to identify the offenders. Composting is moving into the cultural mainstream quickly.
But mandated composting reflects a deeper shift in the mood of the nation’s cooks, one in which wasting food is unfashionable. Running an efficient kitchen — where bruised fruit is blended into smoothies, carrot tops are pulsed into pesto, and a juicy pork shoulder can move seamlessly from Sunday supper to Monday’s carnitas to a rich pot of broth for the freezer — is becoming as satisfying as the food itself.
Severson dips back into history to explore the deeper roots of today’s “pursuit of thrift and efficiency,” noting that:
To be sure, the cook’s pursuit of thrift and efficiency is not new to American food culture. Sausage, home-churned butter and fermented cabbage were as much delicious foundations of farm life as they were essential to Depression-era survival.
Homemakers during World War II considered themselves soldiers of the kitchen, with conservation their battle cry. In the 1970s, ecology drove the urge to make good use of kitchen waste.
Again, the trend is not just limited to home cooks: restaurants are fully engaged in the effort, as well. Consider Greenwich Village’s Blue Hill restaurant. It features a pop-up menu in which every dish is based on waste. Blue Hill’s chef, Dan Barber, says this:
“The best restaurants today are focusing on how to utilize what’s unknown and largely uncoveted,” Mr. Barber said. “That has turned dining on its head so fast we tend to not even recognize it.”