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Allison Aubrey, NPR
Allison Aubrey, NPR
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How these Massachusetts farmers are turning manure and food waste into power
Over the next year, the average American household of four will spend roughly $1800 on food they don't eat. Why do we throw away so much in the kitchen, and how can we cut those losses? Now, the culinary industry is tackling those questions. NPR’s Allison Aubrey talks to scientist and cookbook author Dana Gunders about reducing food waste for the second installment in our special series.
On a day when families across the country gather for a Thanksgiving meal, it's worth noting that, over the next 12 months, the average American household of four will spend roughly $1,800 on food they never eat.
Special correspondent Allison Aubrey of NPR talks to scientist and cookbook author Dana Gunders about why Americans waste so much in the kitchen. And she gets some lessons on how to cut those losses.
It's the latest in our special series on food waste.
Celebrity chefs share tricks of the trade, how to waste less in the kitchen. It's part of a 20-city tour under way the James Beard Foundation kicked off here in New York City.
One of our key priorities is the reduction of food waste.
Esther Choi is chef and owner of Mokbar, a Korean restaurant in Brooklyn.
Tonight, she serves up a traditional Korean rice dish she calls Buddha Bibimbap.
So all the vegetables are dehydrated. They will last like a year. So it's a great way to not waste, like, extra vegetables.
And what's the easiest way to do that?
If you just turn on your oven at like 150 to 200 degrees and leave the vegetables overnight, then they will dry up.
Teaching people how to do this at home is the goal.
So what I have here are some herbs that would normally be wasted.
The foundation has launched a social media blitz, with chefs online and Instagram cooking up waste-free recipes. And the Beard Foundation is not alone in its effort.
We waste 50 percent more food today than we did in the 1970s.
Dana Gunders, who authored a report in 2012 quantifying just how much food goes to waste, says there's a reason why consumers need to be part of the conversation.
We, in our homes, actually make up the biggest source of all the food that is going to waste.
Forty-three percent of the food that Americans waste each year comes from what we toss at home. That's double the 18 percent that restaurants waste and the 16 percent grocery stores throw out.
All told, America's food waste bill adds up to $218 billion. According to the USDA, this would be akin to filling the Willis Tower in Chicago about 44 times. When food rots, it releases methane gas. And climate change experts estimate that food waste is responsible for up to 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.
So, according to many scientists, reducing it is one of the most effective things each of us can do. Changing the way we shop and cook can make a difference.
Beets, if you buy them in a bunch, you can actually use those beet greens, cut them up, and saute them.
Here's Gunders at Google's headquarters sharing some hacks with employees at lunchtime. She advises corporations and grocery chains on strategies to manage food waste.
And she's also written the "Waste Free Kitchen Handbook." It's full of ways to repurpose food you might have thrown out.
She joined us in the kitchen to show us one of her favorite food waste kitchen hacks.
One of the things I hate wasting the most are avocados.
Ah, look at that. It's really gooey and dark. You're not going to eat that, are you?
It's totally fine to eat. The browning is just from enzymes in the fruit. So, what I like to do is use it in a chocolate mousse.
Ooh, that sounds good.
The cocoa really covers that up.
Take your avocados. Stick them in a food processor.
Then we added five other simple ingredients, cocoa powder, milk, vanilla, salt, and maple syrup.
So, it is going to taste like dessert?
It will, I promise.
Gunders says a large part of the food waste problem here in the U.S. is cultural.
If I walk down the street today and throw some food on the ground, people would think I'm crazy.
But if I throw that same food in the garbage can, people wouldn't think much of it. And I think that signals the cultural acceptability we have right now for food going to waste.
She points to Great Britain as an example of a country that's put a dent in the cultural acceptance of food waste.
Fifty percent of the waste comes from the house. So we have a huge responsibility to sort of curb the waste culture.
The British are spending millions on a decades-long national campaign called Love Food, Hate Waste.
Events to raise awareness showcase chefs that cook up leftovers at public events throughout the U.K. And the result? Consumer food waste fell by 18 percent in Great Britain between 2007 and 2015.
It's created a culture where the cool thing to do, the right thing to do, the expected thing to do for businesses is to reduce their own waste and help their consumers reduce waste as well.
Here in the U.S., three federal agencies have set strategies to help tackle food waste, including new efforts to measure and track the problem.
And at the end of 2018, Congress allocated almost $30 million for grants to states to bolster composting and food waste recovery programs.
Gunders says all this is good, and given how much we waste in our own homes, a cultural shift in our attitudes and in our habits is important too.
It is really difficult to change policy and have that change a culture.
But when you look at campaigns like seat belts…
Safety belts for dummies or people.
… or littering or Smokey the Bear…
Having a campfire means we have to be responsible.
… there is a way for the federal government to support a cultural shift through large campaigns around the country. And we have not seen them support a campaign around reducing food waste yet.
All right. Looks like chocolate mousse.
Ready to try some?
It does not taste avocado at all. It almost tastes like buttery or creamy.
What's amazing is, the avocado actually takes the place of the butter and cream, and so it's much healthier for you.
I'm Allison Aubrey of NPR News, cooking for the "PBS NewsHour" in San Francisco.
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Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News. Aubrey is a 2013 James Beard Foundation Awards nominee for her broadcast radio coverage of food and nutrition. And, along with her colleagues on The Salt, winner of a 2012 James Beard Award for best food blog. Her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also host of the NPR video series Tiny Desk Kitchen.
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