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Squeezing Profit from Food Scraps

Wait! Don’t toss out those carrot tops, potato peelings, or salmon skins. A tasty future could await these otherwise doomed — but edible — items.
According to a report by the National Resources Defense Council, an organization dedicated to safeguarding the environment, up to 24 percent of produce grown in the United States is discarded each year — unharvested, unsold, or thrown away. Why? Because it might be the wrong size, shape, or color to attract buyers. Or it’s considered waste — what’s left over after chefs cut up carrot and celery sticks or watermelon cubes and toss the scraps into the garbage. All this ends up in dumpsters and — ultimately — creates huge amounts of greenhouse gases in landfills. The same goes for corn husks, potato peelings, coffee grounds, and chicken and fish skins. But fortunately, many savvy chefs, restaurateurs, purveyors, lobbyists, and perhaps the U.S. Congress are addressing this wasteful practice.

A recent CBS News segment…
…featured a video of Danish-born chef Mads Refslund, formerly with Acme (in New York’s SoHo). Now, he’s planning to open Fire & Ice in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg  neighborhood. In this enlightening clip, Refslund demonstrated how he transformed everything from corn husks to salmon skin to cucumber peels into mouthwatering dishes that can help feed hungry people. “I think it’s important to use everything on the animal, or the fruit, or the vegetable,” he says. “I believe we should not throw so many things away.”
Refslund has also hooked up with “professional forager” Tama Matsuoka Wong in a new book, “Scraps, Wilt & Weeds: Turning Wasted Food Into Plenty.” The book outlines techniques to turn discarded items like cabbage cores, potato skins, and coffee grounds into tasty creations.
Locally, several companies are transforming otherwise discarded leavings into juice and other products. Among them is MISFIT Juicery, a Washington D.C. company located near Union Market. The cofounders are Ann Yang and Phil Wong. Their thrifty enterprise sells delicious juice squeezed from peelings and other scraps, as well as fruits and vegetables which are oddly shaped, too brown, twisted, or bruised. The discarded produce comes from local farms and various retailers and might include pre-cut veggies left over from salad bars and catering events.

To do this, MISFIT partners…
…with Baldor Specialty Foods. In its processing facility called SparCs — scraps spelled backwards — Baldor cold-presses fruit and vegetable trimmings, tops, and peelings. The juice flows into 12-ounce bottles which are sold on-line and in supermarkets, such as Whole Foods. Flavors include Strawberry/Lemon/Ginger (my favorite) and Pear/Cucumber/Spinach/Lemon. Each bottle, we’re told, contains 70 to 80 percent fruit and/or vegetable scraps.“We don’t see ourselves as a cold-pressed juice company,” states co-founder Wong on the company’s website. “Rather, a company fighting food waste. The vehicle for that is cold-pressed juice.” For more information visit www.misfitjuicery.com

This scrappy solution is…
…apparently catching on. At Service Bar DC, located on the bustling U Street corridor, chef Jerry Zawacki, known for his fried chicken-in-a-cone, is implementing “zero-waste.” For this innovative program, discarded bar ingredients head for the kitchen and vice versa. “We’ll make nitro sorbet out of cherries our bartenders use in their cherry soda,” Zawacki explained. Service Bar DC is located at 926 U St., NW; call 202-462-7232 or visit www.servicebardc.com.

Food and farm lobbyists…
…are getting in on the act. This summer, representatives from the Food Policy Action Education Fund (FPA-EF) prowled the halls of Congress with top chefs and other food waste advocates, hoping to educate lawmakers on waste reduction opportunities. This “day of action”  was part of the FPA-EF’s “Plate of the Union” farm bill education campaign, a joint project with the Environmental Working Group. The activists visited Congressional offices to urge support for date labeling reform, farm bill measures, and other federal tools to reduce food waste.

“Forty percent of the food…
…produced in the U.S. is never eaten,” said Tom Colicchio, chef and FPA-EF co-founder. (He was also executive chef and co-founder of New York’s Gramercy Tavern and has appeared on numerous cooking shows.)
Among advocates joining Tom Colicchio was the Natural Resources Defense Council, ReFED, Baldor Specialty Foods (which partners with MISFIT Juicery), and Stephanie Barrett (Glen’s Garden Market, with locations in Shaw and Dupont Circle).
For more information and tips on reducing food waste in your restaurant or food business, go to  the NRA’s Conserve Program at: conserve.restaurant.org. A related initiative can be found at: www.foodwastealliance.org.

CULINARY CORRESPONDENT | Celeste McCall
CELESTE MCCALL is a Washington, DC food and travel writer.

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