By Leora Watson
Food waste is a problem in America, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. And from the United States Department of Agriculture, food waste is estimated to be 30 to 40% of the food supply.
Approximately 113 billion pounds and $161 billion of food is wasted, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service in 2010.
How is this problem tackled locally? What do food providers and restaurants in Bellingham do to reduce food waste and approach this issue?
Emile Diffely opened ANMLY Café, located on Commercial Street, a little over a year ago with the mission to be a waste-free establishment. ANMLY Café aims to reduce single-use items such as paper coffee cups, straws and napkins, but still focuses heavily on reducing food waste, according to Diffely.
ANMLY Café operates like a restaurant when it comes to how they prepare and sell food. Food is made to order and the café does not sell prepackaged or premade food, Diffely said.
In order to reduce food waste, Diffely said he is comfortable taking an item off the menu for the day if supplies run out.
“We keep our prep schedules very organized and very tight in the sense that we lean towards running out of things in opposition to having excess,” Diffely said.
Another way that ANMLY Café approaches the issue of food waste is by making food out of scraps and not throwing away food that is still edible.
“We try to use food scraps as best we can, so if that's making vegetable stock out of something or we use fresh bananas on some dishes, but as they turn brown we use them in our baking,” Diffely said. “Even the heels of bread we make into bread pudding — anything that is edible we will use in some fashion.”
If anything is thrown out at ANMLY Café, it is always composted. Coffee grounds, leftover food that a customer doesn't finish or food scraps that cannot be used in other dishes, such as an avocado pit, all get industrially composted.
Diffely said that a lot of ANMLY Café’s customers like the business because it is environmentally aware and the café makes such a large effort to be waste free.
“Really, our goal is to reach people that aren't on the sustainable track,” Diffely said. “We want to inspire and change people’s ways that aren’t necessarily on the same page, but still do love our customers that share the same core values.”
Alicia Deaton is the front end assistant manager at the Cordata Community Food Co-op and has worked there for five years.
Deaton said the co-op has various ways to deal with food waste, from donating food to organizations, composting and using a community food-scrap bin.
“Any food that is still good enough for human consumption, we have food boxes in our produce cooler that is picked up several times a week,” Deaton said.
According to Deaton, food is either donated to the Bellingham Food Bank or the Miracle Food Network, a nonprofit organization that distributes food surplus to communities in need. Deli food in particular that is not sold is given to the Miracle Food Network.
The co-op also has a community food-scrap bin in their produce section. The bin is for when employees are prepping the produce and need to discard scraps, such as wilted leaves or bits of produce that people take for their animals, Deaton said.
“The box is available for really anybody in the community who are like, ‘Oh hey, I have animals who will eat this,’” Deaton said.
People will take the scraps for their pet guinea pigs, farmers will take some for their chickens, and Deaton said she has taken some food scraps for her pet lizards.
Besides donating food and having the food-scrap bin available to the community, the co-op also composts.
“Every department has at least one compost bin in it,” Deaton said.
The co-op has a sustainability coordinator whose job is to reduce the carbon footprint of the store and track the compost and recycling.
“I’m coming from a somewhat bias position since I’ve been working at the co-op and I talk to a lot of people who do strongly believe in [being environmentally aware], but I feel like having lived in other parts of the state we have a lot more recycling and composting options here in Bellingham,” Deaton said.
Having little food waste is on the radar of Brandywine Kitchen’s owners and staff, according to Brendan Connor, kitchen manager at the restaurant.
“We generally have a small bag of trash at the end of the day and a giant thing of compost, which gets removed once a week to be industrially composted,” Connor said.
Connor also said that all cutlery and to-go boxes are industrially compostable in the restaurant.
Connor said they try to vary the days that the restaurant orders from certain farms so that there is an influx of food and no food is sitting there for too long. They never overload on food.
The restaurant uses leftover food from other dishes to make new ones, such as leftover fish from fish and chips to make cod chowder.
Most of the compost at Brandywine Kitchen is unusable food and the restaurant’s goal is to use local ingredients and create as little food waste as possible, according to Connor.