2019 NYC Food Waste Fair

Recently I attended the 2019 NYC Food Waste Fair. We learned about redefining what is considered “food waste,” zero waste goals, and moving towards more sustainable and compostable packaging.

Revisiting the NYC Food Waste Fair

Two years ago I attended the first NYC Food Waste Fair. The Fair brings together the food service and waste management industries to discuss innovative solutions for reducing urban food waste. There were many great discussions and panels. However, my most important takeaway from that first conference was learning how restaurants can effectively partner with food rescue organizations. Specifically, I got the contact information for an organization called Rescuing Leftover Cuisine. We now work with them on a weekly basis to donate excess bread and produce.

Each month RLC sends us a report which shows how many pounds of food we donate. It also details the approximate number of meals it contributes towards at a nearby Salvation Army food pantry. Although we only donate once per week, it is encouraging to see through the data collection the impact on carbon emissions and on people’s food security in our neighborhood.

View of the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Brooklyn Grange Urban Rooftop Farm.
View from the conference of the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Brooklyn Grange Urban Rooftop Farm

Redefining “Food Waste”

I was happy to see more food rescue organizations represented at the 2019 NYC Food Waste Fair. Hopefully even more food service partnerships were formed again this year. After all, diverting fresh food to charitable organizations to feed people is the first line of defense against food waste. However, at this year’s conference the key takeaways for me were focused on zero waste food service, packaging, and urban organics disposal.

The conversation began with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. Enthusiastic would be an understatement to describe his opinions on what the borough can do to take direct action on the issue of food waste. In summary, his message was that we as industry leaders need to redefine “food waste” for the public. The public needs to see food waste not as a disposable entity to put in the trash. It is an invaluable resource for our personal health, community wellness, and environmental renewal. Thus it is everyone’s responsibility to procure, consume, and dispose of food in the most sustainable way possible.

Stopping Food Waste Before It Begins

The first panel of the day this year was an inspiring lineup of food industry movers and shakers. These people use traditional methods to prevent food waste. The panel included Happy Valley Meat, one of our local beef vendors. Dan Honig, our sales representative, explained a new zero-waste product they are launching. It is composed of  ground miscellaneous cuts of beef left over from the animal after primals are sold. This ground beef is then blended with finely chopped “ugly” (not retail salable) mushrooms from nearby Pennsylvania farms. The mushrooms add an umami flavor to the ground meat. They also reduce the amount of beef the customer is consuming.

This is an example of a beef company taking responsibility for the high carbon emissions of their industry. They came up with a creative solution that benefits all parties involved. The customer is given a delicious and healthier product, the farmers are able to utilize all their products, and carbon emissions are reduced.

What Is Zero Waste Food Service?

The next panel was a powerhouse of female chefs and restaurant operators. They described their own creative solutions within the food service industry. Dianna Rose of Jars of Delight and Chloe Vichot of Ancolie are spearheading the use of reusable jars in food service and catering. Camilla Marcus of West-Bourne is pioneering a mission to make her restaurant “certified zero waste.” This means less than 10 percent of waste from her property goes to the landfill. She and her staff must take great care in every aspect of food production and service to ensure they meet this goal. All in all, they all carried through a message of changing the dialogue towards zero waste with their customers through their service models. The goal is to change the conversation throughout the industry to move food service as a whole in this direction.

4 female chefs and restauranteurs speaking at conference.
Powerhouse panel of female chefs and restaurant operators, setting the new standard for sustainable food service

Keynote From Baldor Specialty Foods

Thomas McQuillan, Vice President of Corporate Strategy, Culture and Sustainability at Baldor Speciality Foods, was the keynote speaker. Baldor is another vendor of PRINT’s. I always knew from attending Baldor’s events that they have various sustainability initiatives in their organization. Yet it wasn’t until I heard Mr. McQuillan’s keynote that I understood the larger impact they are making by combatting food waste.

Several years ago Baldor wanted to find an outlet for expired vegetables and food scraps from their cut and prepped produce. These items were not ideal for human consumption. They then thought about animal feed and partnered with a New Jersey feed producer. The feed producer takes these organics and incorporates them in pellets. By creating this solution, and in addition to their compost program, they are now able to divert 70 percent of their food waste from the landfill. This is compared to 20 percent several years ago. It is a unique regional model that can serve as inspiration to food distributors across the nation.

Thomas then said that the next large waste issue they would attack at Baldor is packaging. They’ve started conversations with suppliers about how they can move towards more sustainable, compostable, and reusable packaging. This will move the industry even closer to zero waste.

Takeaways from the 2019 NYC Food Waste Fair

Overall all it was an inspiring day with an urgent message to make change and act now. When you see all the various industries making real change in this moment, it instills hope that New York City can be an inspiration for other large urban populations around the globe. We can inspire large-scale change for urban food waste systems, and sustain green urban environments where future generations can continue to grow and prosper.