Chef Dan Barber shares his thoughts on why eating 'waste' is not a passing trend, but an ancient practice that needs to be revived.
For the past six weeks, American chef Dan Barber has been feasting Londoners on their own food waste. Ingredients collected from food purveyors around the city and neighboring countryside have been transformed into unusual and delicious dishes at the hands of world-renowned chefs at a pop-up restaurant called WastED – dishes such as burgers made from leftover juice stand pulp and fish-and-chips made with fried sardine bones, salmon ribs, cod skin, and foraged seaweed. It’s an ingenious idea that met with great success and good reviews, but sadly closed its doors (as planned) on April 2.
Barber’s mission to convince people to eat their scraps is not restricted to highbrow dining, however. It’s now up to diners, chefs, and curious readers to carry the torch forward, applying the principles modeled at WastED to cooking elsewhere.
In an article for The Guardian, Barber makes an interesting point. Despite the fact that we treat nose-to-tail and root-to-fruit cooking as hot new culinary trends, they are actually ancient. We modern cooks and eaters, rather, are the ones who have lost our way, and it’s time we returned to an older way of using and respecting food in its entirety:
“The greatest food cultures in the world evolved in exactly the same way: applying culinary technique to elevate the uncoveted, making the most complete and delicious use of every ingredient. For centuries, that’s defined the cook’s craft – not just because it didn’t make sense – economically or ecologically – to throw things away, but also because, through creativity and technique, people were able to unlock incredible flavour.”
Barber points out that ingenious reuse and the reworking of scraps has been the foundation of many traditional dishes, from bubble and squeak (leftover beef) and Marmite (leftover brewer’s yeast) in the UK, to coq au vin (making use of a tough old rooster) and bouillabaisse (unwanted fish) in France. Incorporating food scraps – although back then, these would have just been food – is a huge part of our culinary history that we should embrace.
How do we do that? Barber insists that the first step, absolutely, is to start cooking. Then move away from protein-centric dishes, while incorporating more whole grains into your diet. He told the Borough Market in an interview:
“It makes no sense for you to be producing vast quantities of wheat and feeding it to animals. One could argue that that doesn’t count as food waste—if you’re feeding it to animals, you’re not throwing it away—but if you look at the inefficiencies of feeding wheat to animals, compared with the efficiencies of feeding it to people directly in the form of beautiful bread, you end up seeing what an incredible waste it really is.”
He’s no vegan, though, as he suggests eating male dairy calves as veal, rather than slaughtering them immediately:
“Of the very little veal you do eat, most of it is actually imported, which is an irony, and really not a very nice one. Your [British] dairy farms have births every spring, summer and fall, and 50 percent of those births are male. What happens to those male dairy calves? It’s not a pretty picture.”
Although WastED is no longer delighting and daring diners to eat in ways they never have before, Barber’s influence will, hopefully, inspire us to keep fighting against the ingrained system of excessive waste and continue seeking creative ways of incorporating scraps and rejects into our diet.