Recipe Tracker: Cooking Out of the Box

Recipe Tracker: Cooking Out of the Box

Have you ever had a compost bin full of bits and druthers that you think are almost edible? You know, the thin peels of broccoli or carrots or apples? What about a refrigerator drawer with wilted greens or the selection of cheeses you got for that cocktail party a month ago? Do you just chuck them out, concerned that they’re not fresh enough to use or be delicious?

And what about the money you spent on those ingredients? Or the costs of producing them? Does tossing no-longer-fresh food take a toll on your grocery budget, as well as your environmental conscience?

As landfills are increasingly brimming with food that was produced but never consumed (for a variety of reasons), it may be time to reconsider the ways in which we assign a value to ingredients. After all, in less affluent eras — or areas of the world and the U.S. — people couldn’t afford to waste food products that could still contribute to a tasty and nutritious meal. Think of it as a really good time to figure out how to be creative with your organic kitchen matter.

The good news is lots of people, including some of the world’s best chefs, are working on ways to address this very issue. In fact, two recent cookbooks — or, let’s say, sources of recipes — approach the notion of creating a dish from opposite ends of the spectrum. One, “Bread is Gold,” by the world-renowned chef Massimo Bottura, is a collection of recipes and stories by and about a variety of chefs who were called to cook using only products that arrived at a pop-up soup kitchen during the 2015 Milan World Expo as excess, day-old or deemed insufficiently fresh to sell.

The Expo’s theme, “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life,” spoke directly to Bottura, who worked with a parish priest in the city to transform an old theater into a dining hall that could accommodate, restaurant-style, 100 guests each day — serving lunch to area school children and supper to local homeless people.

For the fancy chefs who came to Milan to cook for a day or two at the Refettorio, their constrained ingredient lists were the catalysts to their creativity. Deliveries included days-old bread, produce in various states of maturity or discoloration, cheeses and other dairy products that were nearing or past their sell-by dates. Each day’s supplies were different and unpredictable. After the initial shock of the arbitrariness of that day’s delivery wore off, the enterprising chefs got straight to work, creating delicious and comforting meals for their guests.

“Something of apparently no use could become a secret weapon in the kitchen, a super power that could magically transform a dull dish into a vibrant one,” Bottura writes about the solution Chef Cristina Bowerman devised for using the outer — and often discarded — leaves of vegetables: Dry them and grind them into intense powders that add stealthy flavor to dishes. (She’s not the only one who makes savory powders from dehydrated vegetable peels; read on.)

The chefs wasted nothing because very little was available to start with. Even banana peels were used to make a chutney. It was a revelation, even to one of the world’s top chefs, Bottura. “If you open your mind and start thinking differently about ingredients, then you no longer have to throw away a banana peel ever again,” he writes.

“Bread is Gold” shares stories and recipes by chefs who fed hundreds of people using food deemed unfit to sell. The key to success? Human chefs who applied their knowledge and experience to effect a delicious outcome.

Chef Massimo Bottura

By contrast, for Chef Watson, developed by IBM — yes, that Watson — the sky’s the limit when it comes to ingredients. Through machine learning and algorithms, an online app called Chef Watson will take in up to four ingredients that you suggest (whether or not you see how they might result in something delicious) and output a set of instructions that it “believes” will create an edible dish. Chef Watson offers a never-ending source of combinations for any ingredient under the sun. [Editor’s note: Alas, IBM closed its Chef Watson site in June 2018.]

The computer ingested the entire archive of Bon Appetit magazine, as well as a huge dataset of different ingredients and their detailed flavor profiles. From there, Chef Watson learned to recognize synergies — ingredients that seem to go well together (understood perhaps by frequency of pairing or through the logic of their marrying profiles). Garlic and tomatoes. Mushrooms and butter. Pork and apples.

As the recipe appears on screen it displays three graphic measurements — synergy, pleasantness and surprise — that help the user determine how the hypothetical dish might turn out. Just as constraints fueled the chefs at the Milan Refettorio, the search for novelty drives Watson’s recipes.

While the platform is available online for anyone to use, Chef Watson has been on a few roadshows, employed by featured chefs to make novel dishes. The chronicle of these events is a book called “Cognitive Cooking,” another collection of experiential narratives and try-it-yourself recipes.

“Cognitive Cooking” shares stories and recipes by IBM’s Chef Watson, which generates recipes from any combination of ingredients. The key to success? Human chefs who applied their knowledge and experience to effect a delicious outcome.

If you have unused ingredients lingering in your fridge and pantry, don’t toss them — type them into Chef Watson’s ingredient fields and await a recipe generated just for you. You can refine outcomes through filters such as cuisine type, dish type or even holiday. Dinner solved!

Central to the recipe successes shared in the book are the chefs — the human cooks — whose expertise and creativity helped shape Watson’s “suggestions” of unusual ingredient combinations into viable outcomes. For instance, an early trial was a pastry recipe for Spanish Almond Crescent. But the ingredient list included more liquids than would work to make a stable dough. A chef at the Institute of Culinary Education tweaked the recipe, substituting some ingredients for others to ensure a satisfying outcome but still maintain the flavor profile Chef Watson suggested.

“This is the nature of the human-machine collaboration,” the book notes. “The computer doesn’t dictate. It suggests.”

For IBM Watson Group Engineer Florian Pinel, Chef Watson has great potential to help people eat more healthfully by personalizing recipes according to dietary constraint and personal preference. It also could help reduce food waste by making suggestions based on what lurks in your refrigerator, finding ways to use the last of those beets along with the remains of the star fruit and ground pork you bought for last weekend’s cooking project.

“People can create new, personalized recipes on the fly,” Pinel said in a 2014 TED@IBM talk. “People can cook food that’s flavorful and healthy without ever eating the same thing twice.”

Whether you come to your starting line with leftovers and remainders or a motley collection of ingredients for your next unique Watson creation, a key component is a human willingness to see the value in every piece of the puzzle. Whether it goes into tonight’s dinner or becomes part of the stock for tomorrow’s sauce, just about every edible thing on Earth has a value that should prevent it from simply being next week’s landfill fodder.

IBM engineer Florian Pinel talks about the thinking behind Chef Watson in this 2014 TED@IBM Talk.

That’s certainly the philosophy that drives Chef Ian Thurwachter of Intero, an Italian-themed fine-dining restaurant in Austin.

Fine-dining restaurants are often known for their pristine ingredients and precise techniques, the combination of which should result in a mind-blowing dining experience that’s hard to replicate at home. But often, there’s a cost to this level of quality, and it’s not only found in the prices on the menu.

For example, to create carrot brunoise, the delicate ⅛-inch dice that often garnish soups or stews, one must start with an irregular, round vegetable and make it square. In the same vein, to get to the heart of a broccoli stem, arguably the sweetest, most tender and delicious part of the green brassica, the outer peel must be removed first.

In both instances, once you’ve finished cutting and have the finished ingredients, ready to sprinkle or roast or puree, you also have a pile of peel and other trimmings — byproducts that often end up in a compost bin, or worse, the garbage.

Not so at Intero, where Chef Thurwachter operates a no-waste kitchen in which every stem, peel, animal organ, off-cut of meat or other commonly tossed odd and end is put to flavorful use.

Chef Ian Thurwachter. Photo by Kenny Braun.

This Intero dish features a pesto made from radish tops, carrot tops and almonds. Extra carrot greens top the dish as a leafy garnish.

Yum Yum powder (dehydrated fermented broccoli scraps) sprinkled over a dish that highlights the rest of the broccoli plant, grilled florets and thin slices of pickled broccoli stem.

A branzino fish entree dusted with lemon powder.

Take the humble, fibrous broccoli peel. At Intero, they pack it with salt and sugar and leave it to ferment for several days. “It balloons up, is intensely pungent, with a very off-putting smell. But the flavor is really awesome — it’s got this tart saltiness,” Thurwachter explains. “We take all that and dehydrate it and turn it into a powder that’s got this background funkiness. It’s intensely savory, and we use it as a seasoning.” (Another clever dehydrated use for vegetable peels….)

The idea for this transformation came from a sous chef who had seen some something similar with mushrooms. Thurwachter engages his team in regular brainstorming sessions to figure out how best to use all the scraps.

“About once a week it’s a necessity,” he says, “but we try to make it an ongoing thing. Every day we have projects.” Projects such as dehydrating the smoked carrots his bartender used for a cocktail. The resulting powder will go into a pasta dough. Or using remnants from artichokes that were served as a bar snack in a stock that pairs with a rabbit tortelloni. “It’s just constantly trying to move these puzzle pieces around,” he says about the challenge of using all the parts.

It’s a challenge that resembles the no-waste reality of Italian farmers of earlier generations. “I love Italian cooking more than I love Italian food because it’s really a cuisine that historically is based on poverty,” Thurwachter says. He explains how veal farmers used to sell their prime cuts to fancy restaurants in Milan and keep the off-cuts — the lower-valued and harder-to-sell cuts — such as the shanks and head, for themselves.

But just as Bottura’s chefs made scrumptious meals from undervalued ingredients in Milan in 2015, Italian farmers of yore tapped into their own creative wells.

“They came up with things like osso bucco milanese (using the veal shank), which is the quintessential Italian dish,” Thurwachter explains. And it didn’t stop there. Arancini, fried rice balls, are made from leftover rice, stuffed with leftover veal and fried the next day for yet another meal originating from humble ingredients. “And then there are these really elaborate preparations where the farmer’s wife took the time to completely bone out the veal head and roll it up into this beautiful roulade and braise it and then slice it super thin and serve it with bitter greens and a salad. I would take that veal roulade with a salad over a veal chop any day of the week,” Thurwachter says, vividly illustrating an alternative way to value ingredients.

While he’s set a different challenge for himself than Massimo Bottura or Florian Pinel, Chef Thurwachter relies on a similar asset: “Our biggest resource in the kitchen is our collective creativity.”

Paste made from fermented broccoli peel before being dehydrated.

Homemade vinegar-in-process at Intero using carrot tops and leftover wine from bottles sold by the glass.

Food Movers: Can I Get That To Go?

Food Movers: Can I Get That To Go?

The pressure on food to perform has never been higher. For decades, pizza boxes, Styrofoam clamshells and the paper pails used for Chinese takeout each filled a specific niche in the restaurant industry. But during the delivery gold rush of the past 10 years, restaurants, food packaging manufacturers and customers are demanding more.

The original delivery foods (pizza, Chinese food, deli sandwiches and burgers, which became delivery staples in the 1960s and 1970s) don’t suffer in quality from the half-hour they might spend en route to your house. In contrast, many dishes offered today at casual eateries or fine-dining restaurants weren’t designed to be served in the insulated boxes of past decades.

Lynn Dyer, president of the Food Packaging Institute in Washington D.C., notices small changes: the tabs that make the containers easier to open, the discreet vents that allow steam to escape, the perfectly clear plastic that enables you to see your food before you open it.

Dyer says the innovation we’re seeing for 21st century delivery demands rivals the changes we saw during the fast-food drive-through boom of the 1970s and 1980s. Years ago, her industry group worked with auto companies to determine how many cupholders a car needed and what size they should be. Those measurements were originally used to design drinking cups, but now French fries, chicken nuggets and salads are packaged in cupholder-friendly containers.


Modern food packaging containers aim to create a “wow” moment for customers when they unpack their food. That’s why we are seeing Instagram-friendly logos, shapes, colors and clear plastic lids to show off the food, Dyer says.

We eat first with our eyes, but for chefs like Austin’s Rebecca Meeker, food quality is the top consideration. In her fine-dining days, she sent leftovers home in compostable containers. But today, every single food item from her company Lucky Lime is delivered. She needs containers that won’t get soggy and that will hold temperature so that when the food finally arrives, the customer will enjoy their dining experience as much as if they were in a restaurant — the packaging and flavors having fulfilled the website’s promises.

Safety is a concern, too — particularly when your delivery driver may not have a working tie to the restaurant. Manufacturers are working on tamper-evident packaging, such as a takeout bag with a tear strip on the top so a customer can see if someone has opened the bag since it left the restaurant.


Few restaurants start out with a plan to meet a growing demand for takeout. But in an increasingly cutthroat industry, many restaurateurs have little choice. Delivery adds expense and opportunity for error, but if a restaurant doesn’t offer its food to go, potential customers will go elsewhere to get it. Dyer says many restaurants consider packaging a small price to pay to make additional sales from people who aren’t sitting in their dining room.

“Foodservice operators want consumers to have the same experience as if they are in the restaurant,” Dyer says. “If they get the food delivered and it looks like a big mess, you don’t get the same experience.”


At Lucky Lime, Chef Meeker designed every dish with delivery in mind. For her delivery-only venture, Meeker developed healthy Asian-influenced dishes — with a French flair — that she knew would hold up during a car ride.

She prefers containers with clear tops (so customers can see the food) that seal securely so spills aren’t a problem. These days, one spilled container could mean a customer doesn’t come back, or worse: leaves a negative review about a delivery company that can’t deliver. But finding the perfect packaging can be a challenge.

“You want to highlight the food, but it adds expense,” Meeker says. She says she spends about $1 per order on packaging, often more if the delivery includes a drink in a plastic bottle.

Meeker uses about eight different containers for her limited menu delivered cold once a week. If she wants to add a hot menu, that’ll require a new set of packaging. Grease- and moisture-resistant compostable packaging has been around for about a decade, but some businesses prefer recyclable plastic, which can hold heat longer.

Meeker can’t order the compostable, molded fiber containers with the clear plastic tops that she’d really like to use because her sales are too small to meet the required minimum purchase of $750 every other week. For now, the recyclable containers she’s already using will have to do.

Some Like It Hot

More than 60 percent of Mama Fu’s business is to-go or delivery. Customers of this fast-casual Asian chain expect their food to still be hot when it arrives, and they want it in a reheatable container, says Director of Marketing Josh Churnick. The company, with two dozen locations in Texas, Arkansas and Florida, skipped the traditional paper pail and opted for bright red trays that customers can wash and reuse at home. “I hear from customers on a regular basis who have cabinets full of red containers.”

Startup Spotlight: 2017 Prize Finalists Keep Sparking Change

Startup Spotlight: 2017 Prize Finalists Keep Sparking Change

Whether they were newly hatched companies or enterprises needing a little help getting to the next level, competitors in the 2017 Food+City Challenge Prize are still going strong. We checked in with several finalists to hear about their progress.

Evaptainers logo

Refrigeration is an invention of the supply chain. You can’t safely transport perishable food without it (unless you employ centuries-old preservation tactics like salt curing or pickling). But in the 100 years since refrigeration technology was invented, it hasn’t changed much, and it almost always requires electricity to work.

In many developing countries, electricity is not assured, and many people suffer from food insecurity because they can’t save or preserve enough food. Nearly half of the produce grown in Africa goes to waste before it reaches the consumer. Evaptainers, a Boston- and Morocco-based startup, has reimagined refrigeration technology and is bringing it to those who need it most.

Evaptainers’ refrigeration systems don’t run on electricity. Instead, they use sunlight and water. A collapsible box, small enough to sit on a countertop, cools food the same way humans cool themselves — through evapotranspiration. In other words, when water evaporates, cooling occurs.

This simple yet revolutionary technology has been garnering lots of attention and gaining traction. Following the capital infusion that came with winning the gold prize at the 2017 Food+City Challenge Prize, the company went on to win more awards: One award at the pitch competition Foodbytes! in San Francisco and a United Nations innovation award at the Seeds and Chips global summit in Milan. They have also been featured in Ag Funder News, The Boston Business Journal and TechCrunch. Their acceleration continues, with support from LAUNCH Food and funding from USAID, and they are finalizing the production of 400 prototypes slated for a field trial in Morocco this summer. A commercial launch is likely in 2018.

In addition to vital funding, a key result from their experience at Food+City’s Challenge Prize has been relationships with other startups.

“We met startups working on different aspects of food and food waste and have learned so much from our conversations with them about the arduous yet fruitful process of growing a small social impact business,” says chief strategy officer Serena Hollmeyer Taylor. Starting a company is often a struggle, as Prize competitors know. The opportunity to interact with others going through similar challenges, who can share knowledge and lessons learned, is a powerful outcome of Prize.

Evaptainers‘ electricity-free refrigeration device, made especially for use in developing countries where the electricity grid is unreliable. Using evapotranspiration, the box keeps produce and other products cool and prevents spoilage.

Nüwiel logo

The Last Mile is a supply chain concept ripe for innovation. It is often the most expensive and complicated leg of the supply chain journey for food products. Narrow roads, city traffic and generally limited space contribute to the challenge of this final stage in the supply chain. Large, cumbersome trucks have traditionally been the go-to mule — and scapegoat — for these deliveries.

Nüwiel, a startup in Hamburg, Germany, has taken on that challenge. The company created electric-powered bicycle trailers specifically for last-mile delivery in urban settings. Their technology knows exactly when to accelerate, decelerate and brake to make last-mile delivery via bicycle more efficient and realistic. In addition to improving delivery efficiency and reducing road traffic, the bike trailers don’t contribute to the pesky urban problems of noise and air pollution.

After winning the bronze prize at the 2017 Food+City Challenge Prize, Nüwiel used the attention to accelerate their development.

“The Prize has certainly helped us a lot. We received significant media attention, getting mentioned not only in Germany but also in the U.S., U.K., Austria and Italy,” says co-founder Natalia Tomiyama.

In the months since Prize, Nüwiel has been accepted to a second stage at the biggest trans-European accelerator, Climate KIC; they’ve scheduled pilot projects with four different partners; attended South By Southwest; updated the design of the trailer; built a prototype; and were selected as to pitch and exhibit at the CUBE Tech Fair in Berlin. Last summer, they got out of the building to bike across Europe — from Hamburg to Italy, passing through the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Spain — and test the durability of their trailer.

Nüwiel’s powered trailer for making urban food deliveries; hooked up behind a bike.

Phenix logo

The issue of food waste is under attack on multiple fronts. Entrepreneurs are coming up with new ways to use food waste, while public awareness campaigns aim to induce behavior change. Some progressive governments have even joined the battle. In France and Italy, laws ban food waste and remove barriers to food donation. This means that French supermarkets can’t throw out unsold produce. While well intentioned, the law leaves French groceries in a bind, with hundreds or thousands of pounds of food that can neither be sold nor thrown away.

Enter Phenix, a 2017 Food+City Challenge Prize finalist, which is addressing that logistical issue in their home country of France. Phenix’s digital platform connects grocery stores with nonprofit organizations whose mission is to feed the underprivileged and food insecure. They organize pick-ups and drop-offs and connect surplus supply with demand in real time, employing their fleet of vehicles to transport the food. Phenix is saving 20 tons of food before it hits landfills, while supplying their charity partners with 27,000 meals — every day.

Since Prize, Phenix was a finalist for the French American Entrepreneurship Award (FAEA). At its headquarters in Europe the company has continued to expand into new regions in France and by finding new segments of the market.

Phenix’s mission goes beyond food waste, which is why they have created a lab to incubate new projects around the circular economy, a system that challenges the more linear system of make-use-dispose by inventing ways of maximizing the value of a resource and regenerating it into another purpose when it reaches its functional end. So instead of trashing unused food, for instance, a circular economy maximizes value buy feeding it to people in need or, when that’s not possible, transform it into a different usable product such as nutrient-rich compost. A planned grocery store with shelves full of strictly unsold products will serve as an example of of this model.

Despite similarities in the ways France and the U.S. treat tax deductions for donations, operating in the U.S. can be difficult because of regulation around food expiration dates. “France has a very detailed and clear framework on what expiration dates mean and what can be donated,” says Sarah Lenoble, director of Phenix USA. “Whereas it is much less clear in the U.S., where there is no real regulation on expiration dates, and every state can have its own regulation.” Phenix is searching for the right partner to launch a pilot program in the U.S.

Phenix workers and partners pick up and recycle or reuse uneaten foods in France.

A worker from Phenix organizes supplies for reuse.

Rise Products logo

There’s a movement brewing that includes turning surplus bread into beer, aquafaba — aka chickpea cooking liquid — into vegan mayonnaise and food waste into new packaging and products. With all the attention food waste is getting, it makes sense that “upcycling,” the process of using a discarded material and creating a valuable product with it, is quickly gaining traction in the marketplace.

Rise Products takes unspent barley from microbreweries in Brooklyn and uses a proprietary process to turn it into flour, which can be used to make the same products as traditional wheat flour. And they’re working with well-known Brooklyn bakery Runner and Stone to develop recipes for all kinds of carby treats. The flavor of the flour Rise produces varies based on what type of beer was produced from the grain — flour from ales tastes nutty and light, while porters create a dark and rich flour that smells like chocolate.

By participating in events like the Zero Waste Food conference and the Make It in Brooklyn Pitch Contest, in which it was selected as a top-five finalist, Rise has firmly entrenched itself in the upcyling-to-beat-food-waste movement.

Since winning a silver award at the 2017 Food+City Challenge Prize, Rise has continued to gain momentum. They completed their time at the Food-X accelerator, gaining valuable mentorship and connections, and came away with a prototype for a production facility. From their spot in the Brooklyn Navy Yard as part of the 1776 Accelerator, Rise is working with the New York Economic Development Board to develop their own production plant.

Making the most of the Prize experience, they have stayed in touch with other startups from the competition, as well as their mentor, Ashley Shaffer of IDEO.

“Participating was an awesome experience for us, especially since we met our mentor, Ashley. We’ve kept in touch with her and with the other participants since then, even meeting some of them recently in Milan during the Seeds & Chips conference,” says COO Ashwin Goutham Gopi.

Bags of ready-to-use Rise Flour, made from spent brewery grains.

Smallhold logo

Some say the future of agriculture is in cities. As the world’s urban population continues to expand, it is easy to imagine how growing food in nontraditional areas, like skyscrapers and downtown warehouses, will benefit the food system. But while vertical farms, urban and rooftop gardens, and shipping container farms are all making progress in the area of urban farming, none has a foothold quite yet.

Distributed farming is the latest idea in this sector. The process enables a business or restaurant to re-route the last food mile and finish growing a product in the location where it will be consumed.

Brooklyn-based Smallhold is leading the charge for distributed farming. At the 2017 Food+City Challenge Prize, co-founders Andrew Carter and Adam Demartino pitched the idea of distributed farming through restaurant mini-farms that produce mushrooms. Today they’re cultivating several unusual varieties of mushrooms, from lion’s mane to yellow and pink oyster, and they plan to expand into other products like leafy greens soon. Top chefs and restaurants in New York are taking notice and endorsing the products.

Since Prize, three new restaurants have come become clients, welcoming Smallhold farms into their kitchens. Smallhold also sells their products directly to grocery stores and intends to use connections from Prize to pursue expansion in major retail stores.

“Food+City introduced us to some amazing stakeholders and thought leaders from places like Whole Food and Walmart, and we are extremely happy we attended,” Carter says. The company is gaining momentum in the tech circles as well. The team benefited from the mentorship and guidance of the TechStars Boston program, which wrapped up in May 2017. They have also seen their team grow 100 percent since Prize and have expanded their farm with a custom-built shipping container to grow more mushrooms.

Mushrooms grown by Smallhold.


Innovation in food takes all forms, from making improvements to pallets to creating new avenues for delivering food or designing packaging that increases the shelf life of a food. Since 2015, we’ve hosted a challenge prize for startups in the food space that are challenging our notions of how the supply chain works. The 2018 Challenge Prize will be awarded on March 13, 2018. Be sure to visit to watch this year’s entrants become finalists and compete at SXSW Interactive 2018.

How to Make Do in Wartime

How to Make Do in Wartime

Rations. The word itself conjures up images of shortages, insufficiency and want. No fruit. Limited amounts of sugar and flour. Small bits of tough meat. As World War II interrupted agricultural production and food distribution in the United Kingdom, simple staples — nevermind specialty or exotic items — became scarce.

Food rations in England during World War II were hardly luxurious. But helpful hints, recipes and positive, patriotic messaging from the Ministry of Food encouraged citizens and families to feel that their sacrifices were a valuable contribution to the war effort. This painting by Leonora K. Green illustrates the weekly rations for two people.

To keep a healthy population that could contribute to the war effort, the British government, like many other governments before it during tough times, instituted a system of controls that limited, but aimed to equalize, what people could buy — regardless of their socioeconomic status. Along with the rations, the Ministry of Food enlisted home economists to help families effectively manage their food budgets. These experts also offered ideas and recipes for making the most of what was available, both in terms of flavor and satisfaction, but also for national morale. Books and pamphlets from the era encouraged home cooks with reassuring language, inviting a patriotic perspective of the hardships.

While long lines were a daily reality at markets, and meats and treats were in short supply, everyone was entitled to the basics. Each citizen had his or her own ration book. Adults were apportioned a certain quantity of meats, fats, sugars, tea, cheese, eggs and milk (either liquid or powdered). Children were allotted their share and enjoyed the occasional orange or portion of whole milk for their growing bodies. Staying healthy was an important part of the war effort.

Other scarce items were distributed through a points system, which allowed consumers some choice and the ability to splurge on fruits, sweets or finer cuts of meat from time to time.

One of the biggest changes during the war for home cooks was the introduction of “National flour.” Before the war, England imported up to 70 percent of its grains (or cereals, as they were known), but the waterways around the island nation were dangerous and not easily passable. German U-boats regularly attacked ships bound for the U.K. in an effort to starve the Brits into submission.

In 1942, the Ministry of Food introduced National flour, a coarser grind that included 15 percent more whole grain wheat than the refined white flour available before the war. It also contained “diluent” grains — including barley, oats and rye — and powdered milk for additional calcium. The government’s goal was twofold: reduce import losses and improve the health of Britons, “even under the handicap of war.”

Food-related messaging from the Ministry of Food reminded consumers why they were sacrificing and encouraged good eating habits, despite the hardships.

For a population that loves its baked goods, National flour and the tough, grayish “National loaf” — the only bread available in bakeries — took some getting used to. The Ministry’s home economists published leaflets and newspaper columns with handy hints:

Cooking Hints for National Flour

National flour can be used just as well as white flour in cakes, puddings, pastry, for thickening soups and stews, but remember the following points: —
1. Use a little more liquid for mixing, i.e. mix to a softer consistency.
2. Bake, boil or steam a little longer.
3. Add a little more seasoning to savoury dishes.
4. Add more salt and water when making bread.
5. Use a little extra flour for thickening sauces.
6. Use a little less sugar for sweet dishes.

In fact, the Ministry more actively encouraged the use of an alternative and much more readily available ingredient for its population’s pastry needs: potatoes.

Song of Potato Pete

Potatoes new, potatoes old
Potato (in a salad) cold
Potatoes baked or mashed or fried
Potatoes whole, potato pied
Enjoy them all, including chips
Remembering spuds don’t come in ships!

English food bloggers have shared their experiences cooking with wartime rations. And watch a charming newsreel-style film about rations in Britain during WWII.

The lowly potato was elevated to a key ingredient during the war years. It grew in abundance on the British Isles and was filling during lean years. “Potatoes help to protect you from illness,” says a leaflet from the Ministry of Food. “Potatoes give you warmth and energy. Potatoes are cheap and home-produced. So why stop at serving them once a day? Have them twice, or even three times — for breakfast, dinner and supper.”

P’s for Protection Potatoes afford;
O’s for the Ounces of Energy stored;
T’s for the Tasty, and Vitamins rich in;
A’s for the Art to be learnt in the Kitchen.
T’s for Transport we need not demand;
O’s for old England’s Own Food from the Land;
E’s for the Energy eaten by you;
S’s for the Spuds which will carry us through!

Potatoes were among many edible plants that could be found in British “Victory Gardens.” The government commandeered sports fields and golf courses for planting and encouraged people to use every bit of soil they had access to — from decorative gardens to small edge plots and even containers on apartment rooftops — to cultivate household vegetable and herb gardens. Leeks, turnips and swedes (rutabagas) were popular choices that grew well in the chilly British climate.

In addition to managing ingredients, home cooks also had to worry about conserving fuel. Using the oven for multiple items at once (the casserole AND the pudding) was crucial. Alternative methods for conserving fuel included starting a braise on the stove, then finishing in a cooling oven once the baked goods were done. Or using a hay box, a box with room for a cooking pot, lined with hay and covered; the insulation preserved the heat in the pot for several hours, until the stew or soup was done.

Schoolgirls helped farmers in Buckinghamshire to harvest potatoes. (1943) Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection / CORBIS. Click image to enlarge.

“More or less, this simple but surprisingly little-practiced rule is true in using an oven: try to fill every inch of space in it,” wrote M.F.K. Fisher in “How to Cook a Wolf,” her handbook of sorts for living happily during trying times. “Even if you do not want baked apples for supper, put a pan of them with whatever is baking at from 240 to 400 degrees. They will be all the better for going slowly, but as long as their skins do not scorch they can cook fast. They make a good meal in themselves, with cream if you have any, or milk heated with some cinnamon and nutmeg in it, and buttered toast and tea.”

No ingredient was wasted. The water used to boil vegetables was saved for soup base. Leafy stems from root vegetables were neither tossed nor composted but valued as a vegetable in their own right. The Ministry of Food emphasized the nutritional importance of green veggies and encouraged families to eat one raw vegetable per day.

Creative substitutions were common a way to adapt. “You can make many a good tricked dish, with a few mushrooms, some leftover rice, and a dash of wine, if you have one of those frightening, efficient cans of ‘rich brown meat gravy’ on hand,” Fisher writes, inspiring readers to use what they have to its best effect. “It is spurious, maybe. It is chicanery. But it is economical and useful psychologically, especially if you are three miles from a market and the siren blows just as you are pumping up your bike-tire.”

The British system of rations lasted well beyond the end of World War II, ending in 1954. But the effects of rationing were largely positive. “The rich got less to eat, which did them no harm and the poor, so far as the supply would allow, got a diet adequate for health, with free orange juice, cod liver oil, extra milk and other things for mothers and children,” wrote Lord Boyd Orr, post-war head of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, in his memoirs.

The nutritional playing field had been leveled across the classes, and Brits had no choice but to eat their vegetables.

The Hunt for Food Waste

The Hunt for Food Waste

Not going to eat those carrots? Don’t throw them away. Once food reaches a landfill, its potential is lost. But unwanted food, captured before it’s tossed, can transform into energy, building materials — or even desirable food. Meet the new generation of hunters and gatherers.

Jake Milliner and Belinda Bonnen tend a towering vine of fresh malabar spinach at Joe’s Organics in Austin, Texas. Joe’s collects food waste from area restaurants and, with their composting partners, creates rich soil for their crops of baby greens.

Wherever there is food, there is food waste. Like water leaking from an aqueduct, food waste will find the gaps in the supply chain between field and plate, a journey filled with opportunities for loss.

A heartbreaking amount of produce rots in the field, unharvested. Some is culled for size, shape or another cosmetic factor. Even more food is thrown away or lost during cleaning, boxing, processing and distribution. It rots slowly in retail stores or commercial kitchens and in your fridge. Food is also tossed during meal preparation, at home or in restaurants or other commercial or institutional kitchens.

And then, far too often, the meal itself — or much of it — is thrown away. In the end, a third of the food we produce goes uneaten. Data from a new report issued by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) indicate that Americans throw out more 400 pounds of food per person per year. Sadly, in the shadow of this massive overproduction and loss of food, 10 percent of humanity still doesn’t have enough to eat.

But it’s not just about feeding the world: The environmental consequences are significant. The amount of cropland needed to produce the food that ends up as waste is roughly equivalent to the acreage of China and requires a fourth of the country’s irrigation water. Feeding people is the largest single contributor of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere of any human pursuit, and roughly 10 percent of greenhouse gases that humans release are in service of food that will not be eaten. When this wasted food rots in a landfill or is burned in an incinerator, the process releases even more greenhouse gases.

The holes in the food supply chain through which food slips away represent more than hunger and pollution. It’s wasted investment and fruitless effort that could have been channeled into something more useful. Entire cities could be built, or rebuilt, with the effort that goes into the food we throw away.

But there’s another side of the coin. The scale of this waste, and the problems it causes, have created opportunities. Wasted food is essentially money that’s being left on the table, available to whomever is crafty enough to grab it and put it to use. It has potential value as energy, soil fertility and calories — all of which can add up to dollars that can be earned from harvesting food from the waste stream, or intercepting food before it gets tossed.

Austin-based Joe’s Organic’s grows microgreens and produce with rich compost derived from their restaurant waste-collection program. Founder Joe Diffie stands with his fleet of compost carts.

Executive producer Anthony Bourdain takes a deep dive into this issue in “Wasted! The Story of Food Waste.”

Above, from top: uneaten restaurant meals contribute to the enormous amount of edible food discarded daily; byproducts from food preparation, such as this watermelon rind, can be composted or even pickled rather than chucked; food waste is a cause of greenhouse gases.


The highest good to which a piece of wasted food could aspire (if wasted food had aspirations) is to be rerouted to a hungry human mouth before being discarded. The next-best thing would be for it to be eaten by something else, like a chicken or a pig, or — in the case of food that can’t be routed to organisms with recognizable mouths — a bacteria. Today, most food waste diverted from landfills or incineration is digested by anaerobic bacteria to produce natural gas and fertilizer. Food scraps left over from food processing and retail food preparation are suited for this, as is the majority of household waste. The challenge is getting food out of the waste stream and sending it to a better place than the dump.

That best-case scenario, in which food is rescued from the edge of waste and routed to other human mouths, has been deeply explored in Europe in recent years, while the United States is playing catch-up. The players, increasingly, are for-profit waste hunters that are bringing high-tech solutions to the task of reducing food waste.

Sometimes that initiative comes from the (would-be) food wasters themselves. Campbell Soup Company has been an early corporate leader in reducing its share.

“Food that meets our rigorous safety standards is donated to local food banks in and around our manufacturing plants and distribution networks,” says Thomas Hushen, a Campbell spokesman. “In most cases, we partner with Feeding America and their network of food banks to make donations.”

While some corporations have been early and eager to embrace measures to curb food waste, other companies want to jump on the bandwagon but don’t know where to start.

Left: Malabar spinach stalk — the stalk and ugly leaves often get wasted, but they’re perfect for green juices. Right: Sorting sweet potatoes at Johnson’s Backyard Garden.

To see what kinds of value-add products are being made from uneaten food — from floor tiles made from coconut shells to plastic-like pellets made from blood meal, a byproduct of the meat industry — check out our gallery.

The French corporation Phenix (a 2017 Food+City Challenge Prize finalist) offers support services to businesses interested in diverting their food waste away from landfills and incinerators. The company has a solid track record in Europe, where the culture of food-waste recovery is more evolved than in the U.S.

But Sarah Lenoble, who heads Phenix’s push to set up shop in the States, is that rare French person who looks at America and sees a land of opportunity. The biggest reason food-waste recovery isn’t as advanced in the U.S., she says, is that the food-waste hunters are just getting started. “Even though it is happening, it’s not happening in a very structured way,” Lenoble says. To a veteran organization like Phenix, this youthful discombobulation amounts to low-hanging fruit.

Phenix uses a market-based approach that capitalizes on the fact that unused food has value even if it isn’t sold. American supermarkets, for example, must pay a waste disposal company to get rid of expired food, a fee they could forego if the food were collected by a charity. Last year, according to the NRDC, companies spent $1.3 billion disposing of food scraps, thanks largely to transport and disposal fees. Meanwhile, a surprisingly robust tax credit is available to companies that donate food: the Federal Enhanced Tax Deduction for Food Donation. It allows retailers to recover the higher retail price of their donations, even though they paid the lower wholesale price. Another law, passed in early 2017 with bipartisan support, amends the Good Samaritan Act to offer stronger liability protections to those who donate food. With laws like these in place, and companies eager to exploit them, Lenoble is optimistic about Phenix’s planned rollout into the U.S. food recovery space.

She notes that the U.S. charity scene is much stronger than in Europe, in part because in European governments often handle issues that in the States are left to charities. Even though it’s out to make a profit, Phenix won’t be competing with the food banks, churches and ugly-produce resellers. Instead, they’ll be partnering with them, providing logistical and strategic support to help these charities become more effective in their food-recovery efforts. A rising tide will lift all boats, Lenoble believes, and she likes what she sees. “We believe the market here is going in the right direction.”

In addition to its work with charities, Campbell recently doubled down on its corporate introspection, implementing its Food Loss and Waste Reporting Standard. It’s an effort to develop a benchmark of lost and wasted food, and to identify hotspots and opportunities for reduction and diversion. Like any other hunter, a food-waste hunter needs to know where the opportunities are. “We believe measurement improves management,” Hushen says.

Sarah Lenoble

After completing her MBA, Sarah worked in finance in the private sector before switching to microfinance and finally social business. Originally from France, Sarah has also lived and worked in Argentina and Italy. She is now based in Washington D.C., where she is launching the U.S. subsidiary of PHENIX, a French waste diversion social startup.


The U.S. is so new at food recovery that one of the movement’s veteran waste hunters isn’t yet 30 years old. Fresh out of college in 2011, Claire Cummings started as a fellow at Bon Appétit Management Company (BAMCO), which runs more than 650 eateries on college and corporate campuses. A year later she became the company’s first food-waste specialist. She went on to create Imperfectly Delicious Produce (IDP), a BAMCO program that pursues ways to recover produce that usually goes to waste (mostly from farms and distributors) and serve it in the company’s many dining rooms.

Since it launched in 2014, IDP has recovered more than 3 million pounds of produce and served it as, for example, broccoli stem soup or cauliflower fritters made from small heads. While the figure sounds impressive, she admits it’s just a drop in the bucket.

“It’s a huge chunk of food that would have been wasted and was instead utilized in our operations, through purchasing and cooking it,” Cummings says. “But that is still such a small sliver of what actually is going to waste.”

She says many problems remain, but she believes they are solvable. “We’ve gone hunting for a lot of different products on farms. I’ve visited hundreds of farms at this point, large and small. I’ve seen all different types of operations: orchards, processing facilities, fields of produce,” she says. “There is so much product that is going to waste that could be rescued through purchasing if there were better systems for tackling those missed opportunities at harvest.”


Food contains energy, which powers life, makes the world go round — and happens to be worth money. The energy resides in the bonds between the carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen atoms that make up the food molecules. When we eat, that energy is released into our bodies, where it fuels our daily escapades. Fed to animals, the energy transfers to other forms of edible potential energy, such as meat, milk and eggs, or some form of kinetic energy, such as chasing balls or pulling a plow.

Claire Cummings

Student activist turned garbage guru, Claire Cummings is the first-ever waste programs manager for Bon Appétit Management Company, the food service pioneer that operates more than 650 cafés in 33 states for universities, corporations and museums. Claire is one of Food Tank’s 30 Women Under 30 Changing Food, she’s a recipient of Saveur’s “Activist” Good Taste Award and her work has been featured in Bloomberg News, Sunset Magazine and The New York Times.

Keep up with the latest in food repurposing and follow Claire Cummings on Twitter @WasteAce.

But most food that isn’t eaten by humans is discarded, where, depending on the local trash disposal situation, it either gets buried or burned. Incineration releases carbon dioxide and other pollutants. And food in a landfill will break down anaerobically and release methane, which is even worse (about 18 percent of U.S. methane emissions comes from food scraps in landfills).

The best-case scenario is far from the most common, but it could be. The energy in that wasted food can be extracted as methane in an anaerobic digestor and captured. The resulting energy can be used to generate green electricity or heat houses.

Anaerobic digester operations are popping up wherever there is enough available food waste to make them feasible. Sewage treatment plants are the ideal places to build these operations because co-digesting allows the food-waste recovery process to piggyback on the existing infrastructure of the water-recovery process, rather than requiring a new facility.

Construction began in June 2017 on the Wasatch Resource Recovery Project (WRRP), Utah’s first anaerobic digester facility. A partnership between South Davis Sewer District in North Salt Lake City and the private Alpro Energy and Water, the WRRP is going up adjoining the county sewage treatment plant. Morgan Bowerman, sustainability manager for WRRP, is pleased with the arrangement.

“The South Davis Sewer District has been operating the most efficient wastewater treatment in the whole state for years,” Bowerman says. “The fact that we have these guys on board to run our digesters is huge. The other major advantage is that here in the West we are in a massive, 17-year drought. When we co-locate, we can use their wastewater, which is a huge boon to us and so much better for the environment.”

Step 1: Organic waste is separated into a designated container at a food business. Step 2: Waste is collected and delivered to Wasatch Resource Recovery facility. Step 3: Machines process the waste to remove contaminants or non-food. A. It goes into a grinder to be chopped into small pieces. B. Secondary (not potable) water is added to ground-up waste and mixed until it liquifies. C. The material passes through a screen where packaging or contaminants are washed free of remaining organic material, which is fed into the digester. Step 4: In the digester, waste is heated to aid growth of microbes, which break down organic matter without using oxygen. This produces biogas. Product 1: Biogas is captured and purified before being converted into biomethane (renewable natural gas), fed into nearby gas pipeline and sold as renewable “green” power. Product 2: The remaining product is a nutrient-rich, carbon-based fertilizer for crops.

Phase one of the project involves two 2.5-million-gallon digesters, to be operated, as mentioned, by the county sewer district. There will also be a “depackaging facility” to relieve expired edible goods of their containers. “It exponentially increases how much we can recycle. They can send it to us completely boxed and packaged, and we can do the depackaging and suddenly it’s viable,” Bowerman says.

They also have a F.O.G. (fats, oils and grease) receiving station and a depackaging station specifically for expired cans and bottles. “We can use the product inside to make energy and recycle the packaging.”

After the methane is recovered, what comes out is a nutrient-rich sludge, high in nitrogen, potassium, phosphate and organic matter — basically, fertilizer. Bowerman anticipates theirs will eventually be certified organic, once they determine its final form. Meanwhile, they’re also separating the ammonia and carbon gas from the methane for beneficial use. Wasatch plans to be operational in fall 2018.

Of the more than 1,000 sewage treatment plants in the U.S., about 216 are co-digesting food waste alongside sewage. That means 83 percent don’t yet have a food-waste digester, which amounts to a lot of money and energy being left on the table.

While pioneers like Wasatch are taking this plunge, the whole waste-to-energy industry is still coming of age. Groundbreaking advancements are frequent: Scientists at Cornell University have been playing with a process called hydrothermal liquefaction, which is a fancy way of saying “pressure-cook the food waste into oblivion.” It’s a process that recalls the way dinosaurs and their ecosystems were turned into oil under the ground. In the case of hydrothermal liquefaction, heat and pressure combine to turn food waste into an oily liquid that digests in days, rather than weeks, with more complete digestion and energy extraction.

Meanwhile, 97 percent of food waste is still getting away — for the moment anyway. But it’s only a matter of time before this low-hanging food waste will be plucked, because we can’t can afford not to.

“We wouldn’t take a barrel of oil and bury it,” Bowerman says. “And that is what we are doing with our food waste.”


The largest garbage disposal company in the world, Emerson, wants into the food-waste energy business. Any food industry player of a certain size that deals with large amounts of raw food can install Emerson’s subunit called Grind2Energy in a food disposal area. It includes a stainless steel work area, sink and a very powerful garbage disposal. Plumbing connects it to a special holding tank for the slurry, which features a sensor that notifies Grind2Energy when it’s time to be emptied. The free service saves the client in waste transport, disposal fees and kitchen labor.