There’s been an uptick in home-cooked meals in my life over the past couple of years. (Quarantine cooking, anyone?) As my cooking increased, so did the food scraps. And while using my trusty compost bin has kept most of my unused food from heading to the landfill, I’ve made it a goal to get more scrappy with my cooking to cut back on food waste.
Finding creative ways to reduce food waste is something that teams at Google have been thinking about for years — especially with its recent pledges to cut food waste in half for each Googler and send zero food waste to the landfill by 2025. If they can figure out how to work with suppliers, chefs and Googlers to reduce food waste across offices in 170 cities — surely they could help me do the same in my kitchen. So for Stop Food Waste Day, I chatted with the chef behind Google’s food program, Michael Kann, to hear what Google is doing to cut back on food waste and learn tricks the rest of us can adopt at home — including scrappy recipes straight from Google’s kitchens!
Before you joined Google as the Global Culinary Strategy & Development Lead, your career spanned everything from working as a chef and training chefs to feeding entire student bodies at universities and airline passengers at cruising altitude. How have you thought about food waste in all these roles?
Food waste is a top focus for chefs — whether it’s because of the cost of goods or the environmental impact — and it’s something we take personally. There are techniques that culinary professionals use to reduce food waste no matter how many people they’re cooking for — everything from using as much of the product as possible during prep to coming up with inventive recipes that make the most of ingredients.
At Google, my focus is on infusing these strategies across our cafes and suppliers. My team and I also look at how technology — like Leanpath which helps chefs track what food is going to waste — can help our cafes reduce food waste.
For the home chefs, what tricks and tips can minimize our personal food waste?
Careful planning, prep and organization are the most important steps in reducing waste at home.
Plan out what you are making for the week so you buy only the ingredients you need, and leave days open for leftovers. When it comes to prepping the food, consider how you can do so in a way that maximizes how much of the piece of produce you use. For example, people often cut the entire top off a tomato instead of coring it. If you core it first, you can use the slices for dishes like sandwiches, and the rounded ends can be diced and made into something like salsa.
Get organized with how you store leftovers and new groceries. The first-in, first-out (FIFO) organization system used in most professional kitchens works great at home. First, label or mentally keep track of leftovers and find the expiration date on groceries. Then keep the items that expire first in front, so you’re more likely to grab them and use them.
Now for the tasty part, what are your favorite recipes that feature commonly scrapped foods as ingredients?
Stocks, stocks, and more stocks. Making vegetable stock is a great use of what might otherwise be wasted — like carrots nubs or celery ends. But never use the skins of carrots or onions — it will make your stock bitter.
Broccoli florets are a highly desired vegetable — when I worked at a university it was the most eaten vegetable. But it’s important to plan the menu for the rest of the plant that’s often forgotten: the broccoli stalk. A broccoli soup is a go-to standard, but I also enjoy a great broccoli slaw. This Broccoli Stalk Salad recipe — from Dana Gunders, a national expert and strategic advisor for food waste reduction and author of Waste Free Kitchen Handbook — makes a tasty slaw simply from shredding broccoli stems and carrots. You can also check out her Talks@Google for a kitchen demo and more tips.
On the more creative side, you can pickle things you’d typically toss — like cantaloupe rinds. Just cut them into strips, pickle them, and add them as a fun accouterment to any meal.