More Ways to Use More
You can’t make something out of nothing—scientifically, when it comes to matter, it’s just not possible. Thankfully, there is a vast amount of somethings out there waiting (and needing) to be transformed into something else. It’s just, we don’t always see them.
In our history as culinary animals—spanning geography, culture and about a million years— humans have made the most out of what food they had. Our Co-Founder and Chef, Adam, likes to say that you could blindfold him and have him throw a dart at a map of the world and wherever it hits, you’d be able to find culinary traditions built around maximizing the use of ingredients. To throw away valuable food—on a farm or from a fridge (if one even exists)—is unconscionable.
Today, we find that we have (somewhat arbitrarily it would appear) assigned value to certain parts of plants and animals over others. The most familiar example of this is our reverence for fillet or sirloin steaks, when some of the tastiest cuts are less sexy and perhaps a little more difficult to prepare, but so much more gratifying to eat.
Now what if we take that same approach and apply it to what we grow? We discover that what we see as Broccoli—the crown—is only about 30% of the biomass of that plant, and isn’t the source of the majority of its nutritional value. Yes, we all feel really proud when we use as much of the stems still attached to the florets. But, really, it's the deep green leaves of the plant that are 47% of its biomass, that are the most nutrient-dense… and we never even get to see those. When we ask large producers if we can buy their leaves from them they look at us like we just stepped off an alien spacecraft. And yet big-ag has no problem planting mono-crops of kale that require chemicals, water and labor to produce and harvest, when we could be optimizing our broccoli crops (just one example!) But, yeah, we’re the strange ones.
What’s happening to the broccoli leaves? They get swept up into our broken food system. About 30-40% of food produced in the United States gets wasted—some never leaves the field it was grown in, some rots in an inefficient distribution chain, and some just gets tossed. And we think that figure only tells part of the story—the part we already know how to see. That percentage feels low when we begin to consider that these numbers only address food and ingredients that we’ve societally deemed to have value, and do not consider the total “unseen” value that lies within the food system.
Still, there is time and money and effort being spent on new chemical fertilizers, genetic modification, speed breeding and lab-grown protein alternatives. What if those resources were spent addressing what exists (instead of what’s yet to exist)—fixing our very broken food system? If we just looked more closely at what is already here, we’d see a world of opportunity to rapidly and effectively improve the food system by capturing the lost nutritional value, economic value, environmental value, ad infinitum, that we have available to us.
As a culture (and certainly as corporations) we’ve lost our ability to see food and its value. But chefs maintain a different kind of dialogue with ingredients. It’s Adam’s perspective that’s allowing us to tap deep into what it means to be a chef and the relationship that people have had with their food, as long as we've inhabited this planet. Adam comes from a family lineage of nose-to-tail butchery and charcuterie, and has worked tens of thousands of hours cooking in connection to a farm. A chef’s eye is up to the challenge not only of facing our wasted food, but of changing the way we see it to begin with.
Part of the shift we see in the kitchen is in what words we use. Defining a thing can define how we perceive its utility. So when we talk about ingredients like whey, which gets made as a result of Greek-style yogurt production, we don’t call it a “by-product,” because we don’t see it that way. It’s not extraneous. It’s not less-than. And it definitely doesn't belong in the trash. It’s a “co-product,” equal in value and viability to the yogurt it’s created alongside.
New ways of saying things and seeing things is just part of making this crucial change to how we approach food. Food needs to be tasted and experienced to change minds and hearts forever. We can propose new words. We can talk (or type) til we’re blue. There are no special glasses we can give you. We can’t ask you to stand on your head and squint (though, if you want to, we want photos.) We know that you just need to taste the transformation of unused ingredients to wonder how we ever lived without them.
We are not fans of taglines or pithy reductionist platitudes, and yet “more ways to use more" (of what we already grow and produce) encapsulates both the ethos and the mission of The Spare Food Co. We’ve adopted it, and we’re sharing it.