Cooking with Food Waste: Foodie Underground

food waste

ColumnA lot of things we call food waste are delicious, versatile ingredients waiting to be discovered.

We all know about whole animal cooking – the charcuterie movement to prove that offal isn’t awful. Yes, pun intended.

But what about whole vegetable cooking?

I made pesto with carrot tops recently, and while it was very tasty, I think I was exponentially more excited about how I made it than how it tasted (it was delicious). Here was a part of a vegetable that I normally discard as food waste, now at home in a new recipe! The cooking world immediately became my proverbial oyster.

The inspiration to turn food waste into pesto came from the new cookbook, Root to Stalk Cooking by Tara Duggan. No really, aren’t you excited knowing that you can finally do something with chard stalks? And come on, any person that has the genius to soak apple peel in bourbon deserves an award. Thank you Tara.

Beyond the joy of not overloading your tiny urban compost system – there’s eco-issue at play when we think about making use of the whole vegetable: food waste.

Forty percent of all food in the US goes uneaten, resulting in a whopping $165 billion in food waste each year.  The average American throws out 20 pounds of food per person every month. In 2011, 36 million tons of food waste ended up in landfills; the single largest component of US municipal sold waste. That’s bad on a variety of levels, from environmental (contributor to climate change) to social (while we’re busy wasting food, many people are starving).

Not everyone can, or if they can, is, composting, which is why programs like Hello Compost in New York are commendable, as well as city-wide initiatives that encourage people to put their food scraps to better use. But another part of the solution is being smarter about how we use our food, which is where whole vegetable cooking comes in.

Granted, pickling your kale stalks (haven’t tried it yet, but yes, it can be done) isn’t the end-all solution for our food waste problems. There are a whole lot of things that need to change, from inefficiencies in the food delivery system to a better understanding of food expiration dates. But every step in the right direction is still a step, and maximizing what we get from our vegetables is all part of it. To be able to waste food is, ultimately, a luxury that many others can’t afford.

With that in mind, shouldn’t we challenge ourselves to make better use of the ingredients that we have at home? Cooking is fun, and using a “throw away” ingredient in a delicious way can give a bit of an adrenaline kick. So be bold, be creative, and never throw a carrot top away again.

Related on EcoSalon:

Food Waste: The Average American Throws Out Every Other Piece of Food

Hello Compost Turns Food Waste Into Fresh Food for NYC Families

This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’ weekly column at EcoSalon: Foodie Underground, an exploration of what’s new and different in the underground movement, and how we make the topic of good food more accessible to everyone. More musings on the topic can be found at

Image: Anna Brones

Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.