The Food Network's The Big Waste

I am a big foodie. My husband and I will spend weekends planning meals, research restaurants we want to try, organize vacations around types of food we want to have, know chefs by face like celebrities (yes, we're dorks). I'm trying to raise our kids not only with an open mind to try new foods but to be very conscious of the foods they're eating. Ironically, it was the satire site "Food Network Humor" that called my attention to a show that to my knowledge, got very little advertising, even on its own network. But this show has raised my consciousness to another area of food and hunger that we all must be more cognizant: waste.

The theme of the show The Big Waste was to ask two sets of Food Network chefs to prepare a meal with ingredients that were considered waste. I'm not talking about green bologna sandwiches. Even these chefs, with decades of experience in the restaurant industry, were genuinely shocked by the sheer volume of perfectly good foods that are thrown away daily. In an age where one in four children go to bed hungry, it's hard not to be shocked at the routine waste that could answer so many needs.

Enormous food waste is the result of the old way of thinking about the agricultural economic model.

  • When food prices fall below expectations or are driven lower by “Big Ag”, small farmers see themselves as having no choice but to waste tons of perfectly good food because the cost of bringing that food to market would generate an economic loss.
  • As seen on "The Big Waste", grocery stores routinely throw away tons of perfectly good produce and meats due to small imperfections in appearance. Some store chains such as Whole Foods takes some of this excess product and gives it to local food pantries, but most of it ends up in landfills and compost heaps.
  • Many distributors of food products routinely waste hundreds of tons of food product as a means of price control and profit protection. When these distributors find themselves with excess product with a low shelf life, they would prefer to throw it in the garbage than to sell it at a discount in order to protect the original price of the product.

One of the segments of The Big Waste involved chef Bobby Flay going to a pick-your-own farm and discovering that waste accounts for 40-50% of the crops, because too often, customers will cut produce and then see some small imperfection, or a better/larger example of the produce and toss the rejected produce back on the ground. A small grocery in NYC acknowledged that they routinely throw out around eighty pounds of produce daily because they know customers won't select the produce with cosmetic imperfections, broken stems, etc. Eggs are thrown away because of discoloring on the shells, or that they're too large or small for egg containers. Whole chickens are discarded because the skin breaks or bones are broken during the butchering process. All told, some 27 million tons of perfectly edible food is thrown away every year.

I've searched through the Food Network site in vain to find when the show will re-air. Unfortunately and quite inexplicably, Food Network is not promoting this show at all. I can't find clips on Hulu or YouTube either. But please, if you want an eye-opening experience, find this show. And the next time you're in the grocery store, don't be afraid of a little blemish. If more people paid less attention to cosmetic appearances and more to nutritional content, it would be better for all. CookingMatters offers ten additional tips to help individuals waste less food.


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