in partnership
Leftover fried rice. (Image: Darren Zemanek)

Would you call this food gourmet or garbage?

Broccoli stems, cauliflower leaves, and stale bread sound like a dinner fit for Charlie Bucket, but earlier this month chef John Howie (Seastar, John Howie Steak) showed a group of diners how food waste can go from trash to table. The event, part of a King County program called “Food Too Good To Waste,” showcased ways that everyone can prevent food waste.

While the average American tosses 290 pounds of food each year, one in six people don’t know where their next meal is coming from. “We have enough food in this world to feed everyone,” explained chef Howie, “we just have to get it into the right hands.” The program’s manager, Karen May, explained that one-third of the household garbage going into King County’s landfill is food waste. Participants in the dinner offered ideas on how that happens: the waste comes from buying in Costco sizes, getting too busy to cook, kids refusing what’s on their plate, and a lack of awareness about use-by dates on packaging (hint: it’s still safe to eat).

The menu (recipes are linked!) began with “ugly” vegetables in soup and moved onto a bright salad of broccoli stems, cauliflower leaves, and quinoa. For the main course, leftover rice got transformed into fried rice with scraps of breakfast meat—ham, bacon, and sausage. Dessert involved stale bread turned into bread pudding with over-ripe apples and pears, doused in bourbon sauce. “What you do with the leftover whiskey at the bottom of the bottle,” said Howie, before the crowd laughed at the thought of leftover whiskey.

But as good as food waste can be in the hands of a professional chef, what can everyday people do to transform the fruit rotting on the counter and the veggies turning in the fridge into food? We’ve all been there, and after this amazing video illustrating the issue made the crowd ooh and aah—after all, the average family of four spends $1500 a year on food they never eat—the experts offered their suggestions.

How to avoid food waste:

From Chef Howie

  • Cut and freeze any vegetables on the verge of going bad.
  • For fruit, dehydrate it. Without a dehydrator, put it in an oven at 200 for 4-5 hours.
  • If you buy a whole bunch of rosemary for a recipe, hang the rest and you’ll have dried herbs for next time.

From May, the program director

  • Chop vegetables when you buy them so they are ready to use.
  • Schedule a “leftovers night” where you use up all the rest of the week’s leftovers.
  • Make an “eat soon” box so you know where to reach first when you’re hungry.

Want to learn more? Check out RecycleFood.Org