How NYS Restaurants Are Reducing Food Waste This Holiday Season

New York is combating a food waste crisis, with many establishments throwing away countless tons of food each day. This issue is exacerbated during the holiday season. Fortunately, the restaurant industry is helping New Yorkers reduce this through a variety of practices.

Many of these practices promote crop diversity, an essential part of efforts to combat climate change. Experts say diversifying the crops that are currently being grown can insulate us from effects of climate change, since single crops can be wiped out by extreme weather patterns and climate events, and diversified farming can help restore degraded soil.

There are over 20,000 species of edible plants in the world, yet fewer than 20 species now provide 90% of our food.

The restaurant industry is working to change this.  Chefs are creating menus that support crop diversification.  Maintaining agricultural diversity is a key element in the battle against climate change.

In an event last fall, New York chefs created recipes using unusual but tasty plants such as a salad made of sugar kelp and moringa, tortillas made of teff, an African cereal, and a vegetarian burger bun made with kernza, a grain known for long roots that can stabilize soil to sequester carbon and prevent runoff.

Others are working with plant growers to breed new, tastier vegetables, using traditional breeding methods. One example is honey nut squash (a cross between a butternut and a honeycup squash).  New vegetable breeds are a form of crop diversity on farms.

Restaurants up and down the food chain are embracing the farm-to-table movement, which has moved from high-end restaurants to mass-market chains like Chipotle.  Restaurants buying locally are cutting transportation costs, which account for about 15% of greenhouse gases caused by the food system. This is particularly true of produce, whose food miles consist of up to 50% its total transportation. Buying local produce preserves genetic diversity because smaller farms grow many different varieties to lengthen their growing season

The result of all of this are some mouth-watering alternatives. Take the Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture. This program is designed to breed diverse lines of delicious carrots that thrive under organic growing conditions and includes tasting programs. One was at Sylvester Manor Education Farm, a non-profit organic farm and educational center on Shelter Island in Suffolk County, NY.  Part of the project included chefs and flavor scientists creating a variety of recipes, such as pesto made of parsley, fennel, and other savory greens in the carrot family. Their creators worked to bring out the unique flavors of the carrots, with an intent to highlight the breeding work behind them.

This isn’t all the restaurant industry is doing to preserve the environment. It has instituted a variety of sustainability practices, many laid out by the Green Restaurant Association’s certification standards. And each year, the National Restaurant Association covers the latest trends in the industry’s sustainable practices. This year’s included using energy-saving equipment, reducing waste–with about one in five restaurateurs donating leftover food to charities–and saving water, with about one in four high-efficiency pre-rinse spray valves and faucet aerators and half using low-flush toilets.

NYLCV will continue to advocate for sustainable food growing and waste reduction practices.