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Stem-to-Leaf Cooking

A delicious way to reduce food waste...with recipes!

Summer intern Erica Oliner, a Culinary Institute of America graduate, wrote the following essay about reducing food waste...and shares some delicious recipes at the end.

We live in a busy world. Especially here in NYC, it is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle and forget to do one simple, important thing: eat. Since we often forget to eat, we also forget—or don’t have time—to grocery shop and cook. And, when we finally do go to the grocery store, despite good intentions, we may not make the best decisions. We may try to eat right by grabbing fruits and vegetables instead of chips, and we often grab pre-cut fruits and vegetables instead of whole produce. These items can certainly save time. However, they can also be a lot more expensive than purchasing whole, unprocessed produce. And whole fruits and veggies have an added bonus few of us think about – the peels, leaves, roots and other parts that we often throw away. Practicing what I like to call stem-to-leaf cooking is a great way to save money, and take positive step in reducing our nation’s growing food waste problem.

In the United States, about one third of all food is wasted. Consumer waste is the largest single contributor to total food waste, comprising 40%—individuals waste more food than the farm, the delivery truck, or the restaurant. This creates a multitude of problems. From a social perspective consumer food waste is problematic. Consumers throw out edible food while others go hungry. Wasted food is also an economic issue. When you throw food in the trash, you may as well picture dollar bills piling up in the bin.

For me, however, food waste is primarily an environmental issue. Food waste that is not composted ends up in landfills. Food breaks down to produce methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Such a large problem must require a large, complicated solution, right? Actually, it doesn’t. The answer is to simply eat the foods we purchase!

Why don’t we consume purchased food in the first place? There are several reasons. First, in our country it is culturally acceptable to throw food away. Second, a majority of food is thrown away because of poor planning, lack of knowledge, or simply the result of our busy lives. We may forget about the groceries we purchase and allow them to rot. Or arbitrary date labels may lead us to think food is spoiled when it is not. Cultural norms also dictate which portions of food we think are “inedible.” Many fruit and vegetable peels, pulps, seeds, leaves, and stems are both edible and delicious. Many foodies will have heard of nose-to-tail cooking: how about stem-to-leaf? Where nose-to-tail makes use of the entire animal, stem-to-leaf makes use of the entire plant.

I first learned about stem-to-leaf cooking in culinary school during my five-month restaurant internship. I worked in Tennessee and was exposed, for the first time, to the southern practices of pickling and preserving. I learned that there are ways to use produce past its prime and that parts we customarily throw out are actually delectable. The traditions of southern regional cuisine helped me become conscious of a widespread complex problem and gave me the knowledge and skills to find a solution.

Unfortunately, I can use all the fennel tops, broccoli stalks and potato peels I want, but if I act alone, I will make little impact. That’s where you come in. If we all start using and consuming our produce scraps, stem-to-leaf cooking will become common practice. Together we can change social norms and help to fight the food waste epidemic. Luckily for you, this chef has gotten you started with some food scrap recipes here. Food waste is everyone’s problem. Everyone needs to be a part of the solution. Stem-to-leaf cooking is an easy, fun and delicious way we can all help make a change for the better, and even save money in the process.

Erica's stem-to-leaf recipes:

Carrot top pesto

Crystallized Grapefruit Peel

Espresso Ground Toffee

Fennel Top Cake

Ginger Pickled Watermelon Rind

Potato Peel Chips

Published Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016

Stem-to-Leaf Cooking

Summer intern Erica Oliner, a Culinary Institute of America graduate, wrote the following essay about reducing food waste...and shares some delicious recipes at the end.

We live in a busy world. Especially here in NYC, it is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle and forget to do one simple, important thing: eat. Since we often forget to eat, we also forget—or don’t have time—to grocery shop and cook. And, when we finally do go to the grocery store, despite good intentions, we may not make the best decisions. We may try to eat right by grabbing fruits and vegetables instead of chips, and we often grab pre-cut fruits and vegetables instead of whole produce. These items can certainly save time. However, they can also be a lot more expensive than purchasing whole, unprocessed produce. And whole fruits and veggies have an added bonus few of us think about – the peels, leaves, roots and other parts that we often throw away. Practicing what I like to call stem-to-leaf cooking is a great way to save money, and take positive step in reducing our nation’s growing food waste problem.

In the United States, about one third of all food is wasted. Consumer waste is the largest single contributor to total food waste, comprising 40%—individuals waste more food than the farm, the delivery truck, or the restaurant. This creates a multitude of problems. From a social perspective consumer food waste is problematic. Consumers throw out edible food while others go hungry. Wasted food is also an economic issue. When you throw food in the trash, you may as well picture dollar bills piling up in the bin.

For me, however, food waste is primarily an environmental issue. Food waste that is not composted ends up in landfills. Food breaks down to produce methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Such a large problem must require a large, complicated solution, right? Actually, it doesn’t. The answer is to simply eat the foods we purchase!

Why don’t we consume purchased food in the first place? There are several reasons. First, in our country it is culturally acceptable to throw food away. Second, a majority of food is thrown away because of poor planning, lack of knowledge, or simply the result of our busy lives. We may forget about the groceries we purchase and allow them to rot. Or arbitrary date labels may lead us to think food is spoiled when it is not. Cultural norms also dictate which portions of food we think are “inedible.” Many fruit and vegetable peels, pulps, seeds, leaves, and stems are both edible and delicious. Many foodies will have heard of nose-to-tail cooking: how about stem-to-leaf? Where nose-to-tail makes use of the entire animal, stem-to-leaf makes use of the entire plant.

I first learned about stem-to-leaf cooking in culinary school during my five-month restaurant internship. I worked in Tennessee and was exposed, for the first time, to the southern practices of pickling and preserving. I learned that there are ways to use produce past its prime and that parts we customarily throw out are actually delectable. The traditions of southern regional cuisine helped me become conscious of a widespread complex problem and gave me the knowledge and skills to find a solution.

Unfortunately, I can use all the fennel tops, broccoli stalks and potato peels I want, but if I act alone, I will make little impact. That’s where you come in. If we all start using and consuming our produce scraps, stem-to-leaf cooking will become common practice. Together we can change social norms and help to fight the food waste epidemic. Luckily for you, this chef has gotten you started with some food scrap recipes here. Food waste is everyone’s problem. Everyone needs to be a part of the solution. Stem-to-leaf cooking is an easy, fun and delicious way we can all help make a change for the better, and even save money in the process.

Erica's stem-to-leaf recipes:

Carrot top pesto

Crystallized Grapefruit Peel

Espresso Ground Toffee

Fennel Top Cake

Ginger Pickled Watermelon Rind

Potato Peel Chips

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