You’ve heard about Dumpster diving, but how hip are you to Dumpster dining?
Yes, a fair number of Brooklynites may be lamenting the glitzy gentrification of their borough, but one of the hottest places in the borough to eat right now may be a gigantic Dumpster.
Let's pause here for a bit of mocking: Yes, we've gone from Dumpster swimming pools to Dumpster restaurants in fair Brooklyn. I know, I know—is there anything those hipsters won't pay money for if it's wrapped up in just the right shade of cool? Sure, dining on any given New York City sidewalk in late August can mean sipping rosé in the uncomfortably close vicinity of a smelly, seepy pile of garbage. So maybe al fresco dining in the big city is just a little trashy by nature.
However, this is far from some spoof-worthy, roll-your-eyes stunt. The Salvage Supperclubs, hosted by Josh Treuhaft, a recently minted design for social innovation MFA grad of New York’s School of Visual Arts, are bringing awareness to one of the biggest but all too often overlooked social and environmental issues of our time: the problem of food waste.
“People don’t like waste. It’s icky,” Treuhaft told The Wall Street Journal. But, he added, “when you talk about food, people’s faces light up.”
So far Treuhaft has organized seven of the suppers, teaming up with chef Celia Lam, whom he recruited from the Natural Gourmet Institute. Diners pay $50 for a multicourse dinner served inside a (washed-down) Dumpster parked in the street, seated around a table usually assembled from decommissioned scaffolding.
There they dine on dishes that sound like they belong on the menu of any of the legion of trendy eateries that have popped up from Red Hook to Williamsburg—but all the recipes are made from scraps. At a recent dinner, guests were served beet tartare with cashew cheese and radishes, watermelon-rind pickles, beet-green spanakopita, heirloom tomato soup shooters, and peach-peppermint sorbet, according to the Journal.
While no actual Dumpster diving is involved in the dinners, the peaked, past-its-prime food is sourced from farms, farmers markets, restaurants, and home kitchens. Without the intervention of Treuhaft and Lam, it all would have ended up in the trash. Proceeds from the dinners are donated to the nonprofit City Harvest, which itself salvages some 46 million pounds of food a year in New York to help feed the city’s estimated 2 million residents who face hunger.
In the U.S., estimates of the amount of food we waste are staggering: Upwards of 40 percent of consumer food purchases end up in the trash, according to a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council. All told, we're scrapping 133 billion pounds each year, which is like tossing more than $161 billion into the garbage.
That we could feed 25 million additional people if we just cut our food waste by 15 percent, according to NRDC, should itself be enough to prompt us to question the food we throw away—even if that means admitting our mothers were onto something when they admonished us to clean our plates with the old “There are children starving in Africa…."
But food waste isn’t just a social issue. It’s a bona fide environmental concern. All the resources that are used to grow and produce food—from the land gobbled up by farms to the inputs of water and ag chemicals to the energy used to transport food to market—that’s all for naught when the food winds up in the trash. Some 4 percent of our oil consumption, for example, and 25 percent of our freshwater use can be tied to food waste, according to NRDC.
Oh, and when you’ve got more than 30 million tons of food going into landfills, it rots and produces methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. According to the EPA, landfills account for more than 20 percent of human-caused methane pollution.
What's accomplished by throwing a bunch of overwhelming stats at you, dear reader? The good news about food waste is, unlike a host of other social and environmental issues, it’s a problem we all can do something about. You may not be able to afford to switch to a hybrid car or put solar panels on your roof—or spend $50 to eat a dinner of not-quite trash—but it costs nothing to be more mindful about the food we pitch. Heck, it saves money. It’s a logical extension of how much more conscious we’ve become about the food we buy, with farmers markets booming and “locavore” having long entered the popular lexicon. It’s just bringing that same level of awareness to the food we’re throwing away.
A few of my favorite at-home tips, courtesy of NRDC:
• Shop wisely: Plan meals, use shopping lists, buy from bulk bins, and avoid impulse buys. Don’t succumb to marketing tricks that lead you to buy more food than you need, particularly perishable items.
• Learn when food goes bad: “Sell by” and “use by” dates are not federally regulated and do not indicate safety, except on certain baby foods. Rather, they are manufacturer suggestions for peak quality. Most foods can be safely consumed well after their use-by dates.
• Mine your fridge: Websites such as www.lovefoodhatewaste.com can help you get creative with recipes to use up anything that might go bad soon.
• Eat leftovers: Ask your restaurant to pack up your extras so you can eat them later. Freeze them if you don’t want to eat immediately. Only about half of Americans take leftovers home from restaurants.