If you grew up in a household like mine chances are good you heard your parents say, “eat all your vegetables,” “finish your dinner,” or “don’t leave the table until your plate is clean.” As much as my parents tried, these statements never prompted me to be a part of the “Clean Plate Club.” Now that I have kids of my own and a career in food banking however, I realize my parents were never really concerned about me eating all the food on my plate but instead were trying to teach me not waste the food we had.
Food waste can be a very real problem for food banks and community kitchens. Caridad Community Kitchen (Caridad) – a program of Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona – produces over 15,000 hot meals and sack lunches per month to people facing hunger in Tucson, Arizona. With that much food leaving our kitchen there is bound to be waste, but with knowledgeable staff and solid community partners we work hard to use every bit of food we receive in creative ways so that we can get more food to more people.
At Caridad, we have a culinary training program along with our meal production program. The chefs that lead both these aspects are amazing, and they teach students how to be resourceful and make smart food purchasing decisions. Students learn that purchasing whole chickens is more affordable per pound and after breaking down the whole bird for all useable meats, there is still fat and skin to render and bones for stock and sauce making. Students use local produce from our Food Bank’s farmers markets but rather than compost stems and trimmings, they learn that stems from chard and kale are wonderful in stir fry and soups. When sandwich bread gets a bit stale or the ends start to pile up, students and chefs prepare homemade stuffing and croutons. By using our food resources wisely, donated and purchased product goes a lot further.
Partner organizations play a critical role in helping Caridad reduce waste. Distributing meals to over 12 different partner sites, we rely heavily on client feedback such as likes and dislikes, food that was well received and food that was passed over. Partner sites that distribute sack lunches have started to make certain foods optional, instead of an automatic addition, allowing clients to have a choice which leads to less food in the trash. These small changes make for large impact when it comes to wasted food and wasted money. And finally, when we’ve used or repurposed all that we can, we compost! The City of Tucson and the University of Arizona have created a partnership to allow businesses and organizations to compost with regular pick-ups, much like trash and recycling. Our scraps of just about everything go to a local farm co-op and are made into soil. This soil is then used to grow food in and around Tucson, both in backyard gardens and on production farms.
If I had known when I was growing up that the ”Clean Plate Club” was less about eating all the spinach on my plate and more about taking less and wasting less, I would have joined the club long ago!
Kristen Culliney is program manager & life skills instructor for Caridad Community Kitchen, a program of Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona.
*Photos courtsey of Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona.Tags: Innovative Solutions to Hunger , Our Response , Arizona , Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona