Nothing Wasted at NYC’s 2017 Food Waste Fair
Thousands of business owners, food and sustainability professionals and environmentally minded New Yorkers gathered at the Brooklyn Expo Center for the 2017 NYC Food Waste Fair to explore solutions for the 650,000+ tons of food scraps produced by NYC businesses annually. Attendees wore environmental goals on their sleeve, literally: Fair visitors were given oversized bright orange reusable bags to wear, emblazoned with “0 x 30” to represent NYC’s goal to send zero waste to landfills by 2030.
The Food Waste Fair smartly divided its offerings so that each attendee could create their own agenda based on their needs, with different workshop tracks focusing on prevention, recovery and recycling, and panel discussions featuring experts and city government officials who addressed these subjects and others—like how to comply with laws and regulations, and tips on how to achieve tangible, cost-effective results—throughout the day. The exhibit hall showcased dozens of vendors offering sustainability services.
At midday a plenary session on the main stage featured a cooking demonstration from some of the sustainability arena’s top chefs. Jehangir Mehta, owner and executive chef at NYC restaurants Graffiti, Graffiti EARTH and Me & You, described finding new ways to use scraps from area businesses at his restaurants, such as used espresso beans and grounds from Birch Coffee. He also purchases what he described as the “wonky-looking” vegetables from farmers, who otherwise can’t sell them because they don’t meet the cosmetic standards of most stores and consumers, and even uses all pre-owned silverware. He suggested the audience “live a third-world life with first-world ingredients,” and passed out samples of a spiced coconut soup he made with food scraps during the demo.
Joel Gamoran, the national chef for Sur La Table and host of the TV show “SCRAPS,” followed and demonstrated how to make meatballs with herb stems while giving “new use” ideas for what are usually the leftover parts of herbs and vegetables, like frying the hairs on the bottom of scallions for a crazy crispy texture, or adding mint stems in stir-fry (“It is so good it’s insanity!”). Gamoran also made biscuits using spent grain from RISE, a vendor at the Fair that takes used barley from local breweries to create a barley flour.
In the exhibitor area, RISE passed out samples of chocolate chip cookie bars using their spent-barley flour, which brought a nutty, rich flavor to the dessert. RISE receives barley from some of NYC”s favorite breweries, like Sixpoint, Greenpoint, Three’s Brewing and more. TOAST beer showcased another way breweries could contribute to the sustainability cycle: It brews its beer with surplus fresh bread like unsold loaves from bakeries and unused crusts from sandwich makers, then donates all profits to Feedback.
NOMAD Trading Co. offered samples of hibiscus-flavored Cascara tea, which at that point had only been on Brooklyn shelves for five weeks. Cascara is the antioxidant-rich and naturally caffeinated dried coffee fruit typically discarded during coffee production, which creates billions of pounds of waste annually. Upon learning this, NOMAD was founded to purchase the leftover Cascara from small farmers around the globe to help reduce that waste and give them a new source of income.
One of the most talked-about vendors at the fair was a surprising one: The Economist magazine. The Economist handed out scoops of organic Van Leeuwen ice cream topped with roasted crickets and mealworms, not the typical sprinkles American palates are used to. Attendees’ faces twisted and squealed as they tasted these insects for the first time. The reason behind the initiative can be explained by a video The Economist posted a few years ago, suggesting them as a way to boost the food supply and feed people sustainably as the human population continues to grow. They are protein-packed (according to the magazine, a small serving of grasshoppers can contain about the same amount of protein as a similar sized serving of beef), cheap and more sustainable than livestock production, which accounts for nearly a fifth of all greenhouse-gas emissions.
(Yes, I tried them! And yes, I made very weird faces. But I was pleasantly surprised by their nutty flavor and would be open to eating them again. Nice one on The Economist for knowing most people can’t resist free ice cream, even when it’s topped with crunchy bugs.)
Big or small, everyone at the NYC Food Waste Fair walked away with new knowledge about how food can be used to help the environment and feed more people.
“Everyone should understand food systems… it’s important for us all to know how the world around us works,” said David Epstein from NOMAD Trading Co. “The more people know, they more they can help make it better. Being at this fair and seeing how people are working together to problem-solve and make our future better has been utterly incredible.”
Jill Strominger writes (and thinks) mostly about food, music and travel. Her work has also appeared in Paste Magazine and Stock and Barrel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @jillstrominger.