According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, restaurants, caterers, fast food establishments and other food service businesses throw away 86 billion pounds of food each year. In a world with an expanding population and diminishing resources, this level of waste is concerning. This reckless use of the Earth’s resources not only lessens the amount of food available to the hungry, it takes a needless toll on the environment. The energy expended to produce food, from the farm to the shipping to the refrigeration and preparation, most of which comes from carbon-emitting fossil fuels, contributes to global warming and the devastating consequences of rapid climate change. It will require a conscious effort by those in the food-service industry, particularly those in management positions, to reverse this alarming statistic.
Modern industrial farms, through the use of artificial fertilizers and hybrid species, have greatly increased the amount of food that can be produced on one acre of land. This combined with government subsidies has created large surpluses that make food plentiful and cheap. Beef producers no longer need acres of pasture to raise their stock. Corn is inexpensive and energy-dense. It can fatten up a herd of cows quickly in a feedlot pen, and send them to market at a much lower price than grass-fed animals. This abundance of cheap food makes it easy to waste. Foods seen as imperfect, bruised produce or lesser cuts of meat are often tossed out in favor of readily available products that are more pleasing to the eye. Leftovers are often thrown out because there is always fresh food available.
Selecting locally produced foods, which eliminates the energy expenditures of long-distance transportation, is a good starting place. Supporting local farmers will also ensure that your guests be served the freshest products available. Chefs pay close attention to the amount of perishable foods they order. Determining how much you will use on a daily basis is a skill you will develop when becoming a chef. It is tempting to over-order to ensure adequate supplies, but often this will lead to spoiled food that is good only for the dumpster. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 17 percent of restaurant food waste is food that has been served, indicating that portions are too large for patrons to finish. Exercising portion control with menu items can save much of this waste. Creatively using leftovers in a new recipe or donating leftovers to food pantries is another way a chef can reduce food waste.
A comprehensive culinary program will include training in food preservation and in the creative use of food that might otherwise be thrown out. Becoming a chef requires more than learning how to create tasteful and attractive foods; it requires developing a socially aware worldview and acquiring the skills and knowledge necessary to responsibly handle the Earth’s resources.