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How Can You Change Someone's Mind About Food "Waste"? Cook For Them

January  6, 2017

This past week, Baldor Speciality Foods, the leading processor and distributor of fruits and vegetables in the Northeast, accomplished a landmark goal in the reduction of food waste: The Bronx-based company became the first U.S. wholesaler to completely eliminate organic waste from its production facility. Now, 100% of what was once discarded when Baldor sliced, peeled, and otherwise prepared the produce for their Fresh Cuts program (think, naked carrots with their tops lopped off) are repurposed for human or animal consumption.

These, as Baldor calls them, SparCs—that's "scraps" spelled backwards, and part of sustainability director Thomas McQuillan's effort to rebrand the typically-discarded produce matter we call, and treat like, "waste"—are sold at a fraction of the price of their typical value. Those that are edible for humans go to the New York cooking school and restaurant Haven's Kitchen or to MISFIT Juicery in D.C. Those that humans can't consume (think cantaloupe rinds and mango pits) still make good food for pigs, chickens, or the compost pile.

But well before McQuillan was making news or working in the food services industry, he was developing his skills as a home cook. After spending two years of high school in a vocational program for food, during which he devoted half of his time learning cooking techniques in a restaurant kitchen, he stayed involved the industry and was eventually able to leverage his knowledge of cooking into his business experience.

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It's logical, then, that when McQuillan first realized how important it was that Baldor put this "waste" to use—not just for environmental purposes, but also for financial ones (from a business strategy standpoint, it's smarter to make money from all parts of produce rather than pay for disposal)— he took to the kitchen, and not only to the boardroom, to convince his colleagues.

"I started cooking with it," he told me, "so that it couldn't get sent away to sanitation." McQuillan's philosophy is to not just give people an understanding that something is edible and can be delicious—but to actually show them.

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“He mixed in coffee grounds, egg shells and all the scraps from vegetables, peels from fruit, it was fantastic how big and tasty those gardens were. He taught us very well! ”
— BerryBaby

One of the first dishes McQuillan made at Baldor was inspired by the sweet potato processing machine, which washes the tubers with a jettison of water and then peels them. McQuillan made a sweet potato gratin, and served it to visiting chefs, by simply incorporating those otherwise-discarded peels. The president of Baldor went in for seconds. (If you want a recipe for just the peels, we've got that, too.)

If I’m invited over to a friend's house, I look in their fridge and make dinner from what they have.
Thomas McQuillan

When summer came, McQuillan started taking home tomato tops—previously tossed when Baldor prepared sliced or diced tomatoes for retail—to turn into sauce: "My tomato sauce became exclusively made by the top of tomatoes in fruit production."

Some day—and not too far off—McQuillan speculates that we'll see tomato tops, carrot peels, and asparagus bottoms (which can be dehydrated in a low oven overnight, then ground into a powder and used to bind meatballs or partially replace flour in a pizza dough)—as valuable ingredients, both in terms of nutrition and taste. And we'll stop throwing them away by default. After all, there was a (sad) time when potato skins were discarded rather than filled with bacon and cheese and served as bar snacks.

But it's not only in the work setting that McQuillan enacts his philosophy. He turns his job into what he calls "a fun project" after hours, too: "If I’m invited over to a friend's house, I look in their fridge and make dinner from what they have. And I'll show them how many things they can create out of what's in the refrigerator. Chances are, you don’t need to go to the grocery store — you can make a meal of what you already have."

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • BerryBaby
  • Radish
  • Smaug
  • Cassy L.
    Cassy L.
  • Gardener-cook
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


BerryBaby January 8, 2017
I know many farms and companies that do that here in Oregon. Nothing goes to waste. We were brought up in the 50's and had a huge garden. We harvested and ate purely organic, which we didn't know would one day be the thing to do. No chemicals, just water and a good compost that our dad had going all year long. He mixed in coffee grounds, egg shells and all the scraps from vegetables, peels from fruit, it was fantastic how big and tasty those gardens were. He taught us very well!
Radish January 8, 2017
All this is cracking me up. I did make a resolution this year to throw away less food and along that line I am going to be a more careful shopper and plan my meals, but tomato tops ? Oh please. I suggest a compost pile or worm bin for people.
Gardener-cook August 6, 2017
Try sprinkling some chopped tomato leaves on a tomato tart or soup, or use a few leaves to season a roasted tomato sauce, and you might change your mind.
Smaug January 6, 2017
Modern industry continues to make tiny strides toward understanding what virtually everyone knew 200 years ago, so I guess that's good.
Gayle M. January 6, 2017
That's right Smaug - But is good we are rediscovering these things.I come from a farm family. My dad passed away at age 92 in 2012. I remember one of my last conversations with him when I was very excited about the Farm to Table movement here in Vermont. He smiled and showed me a photo from the original farm stand - about 1925-1930 . Sign above the market - Farm to Table :) . Not 200 years ago , but drives the same point home.
Gayle M. January 6, 2017
And little to nothing was ever wasted in our home. There is always soup !
Cassy L. January 6, 2017
Great read, Sarah! Food waste is real, and it's great to read about the big strides we are making in eliminating this problem! We also wrote a blog about food waste, trash fish, and ugly fruit. Take a look if you get the chance!