World Leaders Fed Lunch Made of ‘Trash’ at UN

This story is part of Treehugger's news archive. Learn more about our news archiving process or read our latest news.
Public Domain. Pixbay

Vegetable scraps and cow feed were on the menu ... and they likely tasted delicious.

This past weekend French president Francois Hollande and Peruvian president Ollanta Humala led a lunch at the United Nations in an effort to build momentum for the year-end UN climate negotiations in Paris.

But there was a decidedly novel twist to the menu.

In an effort to shine the spotlight on our prodigious waste of food and its role in climate change, every morsel was created using food that would have otherwise ended up in the trash. A vegetable burger was made of leftover juice pulp and rejected vegetables, fries were made from cow feed, the “landfill salad” was made with vegetables scraps and the liquid drained from canned chickpeas.

"It's the prototypical American meal but turned on its head. Instead of the beef, we're going to eat the corn that feeds the beef," said Dan Barber, the innovative sustainability champion and New York chef who co-owns the Blue Hill restaurant.

"The challenge is to create something truly delicious out of what we would otherwise throw away."

Along with former White House chef, Sam Kass, the two garbage gourmands made a strong statement about the 28 percent of agricultural lands across the planet that produce food that is lost or wasted. The annual equivalent of all that loss adds up to 3.3 billion tonnes of carbon responsible for climate change. If food waste were a county, it would be the biggest emitter of carbon after China and the United States.

The litter lunch was the brainstorm of Kass, who thought of it when we learned about the upcoming Paris talks which are meant to come to terms with a comprehensive international agreement to tackle climate change.

"Everybody, unanimously, described it as the most important negotiation of our lifetime," Kass said. But food waste "was not something that was being discussed at that point, except in small environmental circles."

"It's just unthinkable, the inefficiency in our system, particularly when you look at something of this magnitude," Kass said.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters after that the lunch highlighted how food waste was "an often overlooked aspect of climate change."

"That is shameful when so many people suffer from hunger," said Ban.

Barber smartly notes that a “waste dinner” would have been impossible in the 1700s because there would have been no waste leftover to use.

"The Westernised conception of a plate of food is enormously wasteful because we've been able to afford waste," he said.

Barber has been a tireless advocate for sustainability about the things we eat, and hopes that events like this could lead to changing attitudes about food.

"The long-term goal of this would be not to (be able to) create a waste meal," he said. "You don't do that by lecturing – you do it... by making these world leaders have a delicious meal that will make them think about spreading that message."