Josh Treuhaft wants to show people how to eat everything by inviting them to dinner. The creator of the Salvage Supperclub, Treuhaft aims to reduce food waste by addressing the problem on a number of fronts.
The supperclub serves up unsalable foods of all kinds, which are collected from farmers markets, co-ops, restaurants and even sometimes friends' fridges. The event not only prevents these items from ending up in the landfill (or compost bin), but also provides guests with the opportunity to learn how to eat unusual, ugly and elderly produce.
The Salvage Supperclub may seem like just another way to eat adventurously in Brooklyn, but Treuhaft’s primary interest is in sustainability. Treuhaft’s masters thesis in Design for Social Innovation at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) focused on food waste. Food waste occurs in every link of the food production chain and according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, 40 percent of food in America goes uneaten.
Treuhaft said that one of the major contributors to food waste is what we’re willing to eat as consumers. “Part of what Salvage Supperclub is all about is showing people in a tangible way that a lot of the stuff that we throw away (or waste in the supply chain) is actually edible food,” he said. “If you could expand that profile of what people see as desirable food, there would be less waste.”
One of the ways Treuhaft hopes to expand our food profile is by serving guests items they might not think are edible, like cauliflower greens, carrot tops and broccoli stalks. “For these next dinners that we’re about to have, we are going to a farm on Monday to do some manual labor. We'll be "harvesting" their edible weeds. It's a win for both them and us,” Treuhaft said. Most farmers don't market these plants and often have to spend time and resources to get rid of them, but many of them are actually delicious and nutrient dense.
Another way to reduce food waste is re-thinking what foods have “gone bad.” For example, one dish at a past dinner was hummus made with carrots that had gone soft. If spinach is looking a little wilted, it can be sautéed. “A lot of people tend to default to throwing it away,” said Treuhaft. Unless it's moldy, it may deserve a second chance.
This is not to say we should be flippant about food safety. As part of his thesis work with food scientists, he learned that often the visual changes that happen to produce as it ages are not caused by the kinds of bacteria that can make you sick. “You can’t look at a piece of fruit and know if there’s E. coli on it,” Treuhaft said. However, washing and handling produce properly, both at the commercial level and at home is important to preventing foodborne illness.
The first Salvage Supperclub was held in March, and has evolved with each meal. “It’s like prototyping,” said Treuhaft. The first dinner was cooked by a friend off-site and served at his studio at SVA. Six events later, and the supperclub meals are cooked by chef Celia Lam and served in an retrofitted dumpster dining room out in the street. “Doing it inside of a dumpster makes a really strong visual impact,” Treuhaft said, "which is good for getting the conversation more firmly into the public discourse."
I asked Treuhaft if he thought the Savage Supperclub could be a model for people wanting to spark a conversation about food waste in other cities. He wants to build tools to make it easier to “eat everything,” and would love to see similar supper clubs popping up in other cities.
“I’m not precious about Salvage Supperclub,” he said. “If there are other people who want to do Salvage Supperclub in their city, I'd love to see that. I think the biggest impact we could have would be to inspire and empower more people to be thinking (and cooking) like this so that everyone everywhere could be better using the food resources that our farmers are growing. I’m happy to help people and tell people what my learning process has been.”
To find out about the next Salvage Supperclub, email firstname.lastname@example.org.