Thanksgiving, Not Thanks Wasting

Thanksgiving is a holiday centered around food, mounds and mounds of food! Whether you are celebrating with family, loved ones, at home or in a restaurant you undoubtedly will be having your fill of some of your favorite fall foods.

This holiday, filled with its generally seasonal ingredients; root vegetables, gourdes, and brassicas connect us to a time and place at the dinner table. What we gain in seasonality we often lose in perspective. Thanksgiving, a holiday of harvest, abundance and more-often-than-not, gluttony can blind us to the sad state of affairs our food system is in.

This Thanksgiving one in six people across the United States face hunger and in Northeast Ohio 20% of children live in a food insecure household.   We may sound like a broken record but these facts remain at the same time that our nation is literally throwing away as much as 40% of all the food we grow. So what do we do in light of these circumstances?

For one, you can make an effort to support those organizations working to improve food security across our city. The Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland is a fantastic resources with a number of amazing programs that advance food security. One program we are particularly excited about is their forthcoming Food Rescue program which will capture perfectly edible food and direct it to their network of food pantries for those in need. Other organizations whose praise we cannot sing loudly enough are:

·         Catholic Charities Services of Cuyahoga County

·         The Center for Children and Families

·         City Fresh

·         Cleveland Food Not Bombs

·         Perfectly Imperfect

·         Stone Soup Cleveland

·         St. Luke’s Episcopal

·         West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church

Many of the organizations above, notably Cleveland Food Not Bombs, Perfectly Imperfect, Stone Soup, St. Luke’s and West Shore UUC in addition to their efforts of advancing food security are also taking their work a step further and diverting all their scraps from landfills by partnering with us through our collections services. These organizations are deeply committed to combating hunger in the here and now while simultaneously creating the conditions to fully eradicate it.

Today, however, I want to invite you to look into a specific resource in advance of your Thanksgiving meal. If you are anything like me or the family I grew up in, the day before Thanksgiving as well as the day-of Thanksgiving are some of the best days of the year. You cloister yourself in a kitchen, cook nostalgic foods with loved ones, and smell all the smells you haven’t smelled in almost a year. (Sidebar: why do we only eat turkey and stuffing around Thanksgiving? I feel that this needs to change urgently… its so good!) One inevitable outcome of this work is that all-too-often we overcook, we make way too much food for not nearly enough people, and before you tell me ‘but, Dan, the leftovers as the best part about Thanksgiving!’ I won’t argue that. Instead, I will point to some numbers. For all those leftovers we plan on eating, a lot of them end up in the back of our refrigerator uneaten and then pitched days later. An estimated $277 million worth of turkey, for example, ends up in the trash after Thanksgiving. All said, we will waste about 172 million pounds of turkey, 14 million pounds of dinner rolls, 29 million pounds of vegetables, 30 million pounds of gravy, 40 million pounds of mashed potatoes, 35 million pound of cranberry sauce and 38 million pounds of stuffing… on Thanksgiving alone!

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I say this not to shame you or make you feel bad. This problem is avoidable with the right planning which is why I want to introduce to you the Guestimator! This amazing tool developed by the team at Save The Food will help you in your quest for minimizing food waste at Thanksgiving, simply enter the number of small, average, and big eaters you expect to be feeding, the number of leftovers you want – because lets be honest, leftovers are almost even better than the Thanksgiving meal itself – if any, the kind of menu you plan to make – classic, veggie focused, or a mixed bag, and BOOM, it generates exactly how many servings you will need to satisfy your Thanksgiving needs!

 

So yeah, eat until your hearts content, enjoy your food, because you should, just don’t waste it. If you do have left overs, eat them, and if you can’t pop by our facility and have the composted.

Full Circle with: Dave Kocab of the Black Pig

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Sometimes you stumble upon your passion by accident. Such was the case for David Kocab, Head Chef at The Black Pig in Ohio City, who up until he started working in kitchens didn’t really have any idea what he wanted to do. “I just kind of haphazardly found myself in kitchens, and I liked it, it was really comfortable for me. I ended up just being naturally good at it when I hadn't really found anything like that in my life before.”

Once David made the decision that he wanted to pursue a career as a chef, culinary school seemed like the logical next step. About a month later he moved to Portland to do just that. “It was great cause I finally found schooling that I liked. I felt like that annoying 5th grade kid that's like "oh, I love school, I'm here to learn today", but I felt like that! Finally! It was really nice! I lived out there for three years. It was really cool because you see how integrated food and agriculture is into society, into the communities and everything. And up until I left Cleveland, there was no emphasis on supporting local agriculture. Maybe Karen [Small] was the only person doing it before I left.”

Eventually, Cleveland was calling out to David, and he was listening. He moved back in 2013 after a brief stint in LA, and started working with Karen Small at The Flying Fig, then The Greenhouse Tavern and a string of other places until he eventually landed his first job as Head Chef at Trentina. His time there really allowed him to hone in on his farm to table passion. “It’s a small restaurant with 35 seats and a tasting menu, so I was able to focus on quality over quantity. It was great, I got to work with whoever I wanted to work with locally. And it introduced me to so many more people locally that have an appreciation for that kind of thing.”

Over the years, educating people through food has become super important to David and he’s made it the cornerstone of his mission since he started as Head Chef at The Black Pig a little over a year ago. Those of us who are involved in food systems work recognize the need to create engaging conversations with consumers to help them understand the intricacies the food system and how it affects them. That is particularly true when it comes to food waste, which could possibly be the least understood part of the food system and is also an integral part of David’s mission.

“Locally food waste is not talked about enough. I think it's talked about nationally but I think it's talked about in a way that is not receptive for people to care. Cause it's always shaming us, and people do not respond well to that. It’s great to have a partner like Rust Belt Riders because they're bringing up a topic of conversation and changing a social norm essentially. They influence it to the point where we're all thinking about food waste now, whether it's actively thinking about it or subconsciously thinking about it. It's got to start somewhere.”

While the farm to table movement has made a lot of progress over the last several years, we still have a long way to go. Creating an atmosphere that is built on responsible sourcing and solid sustainability practices is no easy feat, and it requires real dedication. “As a chef you know that you could put lobster mac or a caprese salad on the menu in February and it'll sell out. But even though this is a business, it's not all about that. I like the path that I've chosen, the people I've chosen to put myself around. We don't play that way because we don't have to. We're a small independent restaurant, we have certain ethos and beliefs and we can push those out there because we know enough people will support us. After seeing how food can affect a society and a community, as I did in Portland, I feel like there's a lot of societal correlations that can be applied here. For me, I'm always trying to make Cleveland better. And right now, a huge way to make Cleveland better is to strengthen the community.”