Plated food

Creating a delicious meal for a delegation of world leaders is basically my worst nightmare. I’m not exactly a whiz in the kitchen – I’ve cooked chicken upside down and made cakes where I’ve completely forgotten to add the flour. And when VIP’s are on the way, the pressure triples. Everyone knows that important guests means it’s time to haul out the big guns. The whitest tablecloth, shiniest silverware, best wine, and…landfill salad?

Nope, this isn’t another one of my culinary disasters, it’s just one of the items on the menu at a recent lunch at the United Nations. This perception-altering meal was created by Dan Barber, chef, sustainability enthusiast and co-owner of the Blue Hill restaurant where the UN luncheon was hosted, and Sam Kass, white house chef.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns
The special UN luncheon was hosted at Blue Hill at StoneBarns in New York. Image courtesy of ulterior epicure.

So why the landfill salad? Well, this unique menu was designed to feature dishes made entirely from food that would otherwise be going to waste – things like rejected apples, vegetable scraps, and feed corn. The idea wasn’t to turn the delegates’ stomachs or ruin their appetites, however – just the opposite. The goal was to bring attention to the vast problem of food waste in our world while demonstrating that our perception of waste is completely flawed.

This issue goes beyond throwing out stale bread or letting that coleslaw curdle in the back of your fridge. Currently, 28% of food grown in the world is wasted or deemed not good enough to even be harvested. If food waste were a nation, it would account for the third-highest levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

Redefining our ideas of “waste” food is key to turning these statistics around and drastically reducing the amount of waste in the agricultural and restaurant industries. This initiative was developed to do just that, by taking ingredients – perfectly good food! – that any other day would have been sitting in a garbage pile, and proving that it’s good enough to be served to anyone (world’s leaders included).

The message seems to have been well received by those attending the lunch, with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon telling reporters that the issue of food waste is “an often overlooked aspect of climate change.”

And although you may not be Dan Barber or Sam Kass, (I know I’m certainly not) there are still steps we can each take to reduce waste in our own kitchens. Get started with this article on 5 easy ways to reduce your food waste, or get inspired by reading up on  how  US companies are taking steps to be on the forefront to tackle this issue.

Next time I burn boiling water or cook already-smoked salmon, I’m going to take small pleasure in the fact the some of the world’s most powerful figures once sat down and feasted upon burgers made from vegetable scraps and ketchup concocted from bruised beets. Bon appetit!

Feature image courtesy of Jen R

By Madeleine Somerville

Madeleine Somerville is the author of All You Need Is Less: An Eco-Friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity. She is a writer, wannabe hippie and lover of soft cheeses. She lives in Edmonton, Canada, with her daughter. You can also find Madeleine at her blog, Sweet Madeleine.