Cafeteria, businesses work to combat waste

Joey Harris, Page Editor

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Mistakes turn into meals for junior Jack Joselit and his coworkers when he works as a carry-out staff member for Kamehachi, a sushi bar. The food that does not meet the visual standards to serve to customers is available for employees to eat. But there are often too many leftovers for the staff to finish, leaving much of the food to become waste.

“[Once] there was this really big order with a lot of different rolls, and they wanted it all with black rice, but we did it all with white rice,” said Joselit. “[So] we had a ton of extra rolls of sushi, but no one wants to eat [that much].”

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, an estimated 30 to 40 percent of the food supply in the United States is wasted. Some businesses and restaurants, as well as the Glenbrook North cafeteria staff, are working to combat this waste. One of these businesses is called Imperfect Produce, a company based in California that expanded to the Chicagoland area in December 2017.

Sean Pollock, customer care lead for Imperfect Produce, said in a phone interview that the company buys foods which would usually get thrown out by farmers because they do not meet visual standards of grocery stores. Imperfect Produce will then deliver custom packages of what they call “ugly” fruits and vegetables to their customers. Although this food is healthy to eat, most grocery stores have strict aesthetic requirements for their produce, and much of the food that does not meet these standards ends up in landfills.

“You go to the produce section [at grocery stores], and it’s almost comically beautiful.

“One of the [customers’] biggest complaints is that [our] produce isn’t [ugly] enough,” Pollock said.

Prior to working for the company, Pollock was a customer of Imperfect Produce. He said when he received his first package, he was surprised by how normal the food looked, even though it would have otherwise been discarded in the food supply.

“Maybe the sweet potatoes were a bit big,” Pollock said.

While Imperfect Produce works to combat food waste at farms and grocery stores, Holly Kraus, Quest administrator for GBN, attempts to counter food waste in the cafeteria everyday. Kraus said the kitchen uses a chart to balance meal production with meal consumption.

“If a server made 10 pizzas and that day there [were] three pizzas left over, we would say, ‘Tomorrow, make seven [pizzas], and if [before lunch three] you notice you need one more, have it prepared [for the last lunch],’” she said.

According to Kraus, she plans the daily menus so similar ingredients can be used on different days. This way, food does not sit for too long without being used.

“I’ll serve roast beef one day, so the next day I’ll make beef barley soup,” Kraus said.

Eddie Benitez, owner of La Taquiza y Mas, said it is often difficult to decide how much food to prepare in the kitchens of newer restaurants because if not enough is prepared, they can fall behind their orders, but if they prepare too much, it ends up in the trash.

“When you grill meat, if you don’t sell it within an hour, it doesn’t taste the same,” Benitez said.

Benitez believes his restaurant will become more efficient in dealing with food waste as his staff gets more experience in the kitchen.

“It’s about getting to know the restaurant and getting to know what sells and what doesn’t sell.

“Obviously the less you waste, the more money you get to keep,” he said.

Joselit said the most food is wasted when the staff at Kamehachi has to hurry on orders.

“It can kind of pile up if it’s a really busy night,” he said.

According to Kraus, the system she uses to track food waste at GBN has been the best method for keeping prices low and getting the best food possible to students.

“[When we buy food], we only take enough for one or two days.

“The goal is to try to sell out so [students] have fresh products every single day,” Kraus said.

Joselit said he feels guilty seeing edible food go to waste.

“I know … that there are people out there that don’t have enough to eat, whether it’s in our community or somewhere across the world, and [it makes me feel bad] to know that there is extra food sitting there that’s labeled as a mistake that no one is going to eat,” Joselit said.

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