[The Globe and Mail] The carrot had one top but two roots.
Normally, such a thing would never wind up on grocery shelves, let alone a commercial kitchen. At best, a "forked" carrot might be trucked to a farm somewhere and used as animal feed. At worst, it would wind up in a landfill to decompose.
But last week in her kitchen near downtown Vancouver, as Chef Karen Barnaby turned the vegetable over in her hands, she only saw potential.
"If you think about all the time that went into making this carrot, getting it right here, into my hand …" she said. She set the gnarled root down on her cutting board to dice.
"From the seed, to the people who planted it and harvested it – to have someone say 'Oh no, sorry, that's a two-pronged carrot, I don't want to use it?'" Her voice trailed off, a bewildered look on her face.
On that day and most days in her kitchen of late, Ms. Barnaby's focus has been on turning similarly unloved vegetables into soup. Specifically, tomato soup.
For the past few months in her role as a chef working with the Greater Vancouver Food Bank (GVFB), she's been salvaging tomatoes and other donated ingredients directly from farmers and suppliers – food that would otherwise wind up in landfills. Overripe tomatoes with skin that stretched and split when squeezed. Tomatoes with bruises on them. Pale, anemic-looking ones not likely to ripen. These ingredients will make up her soup.
In the food world, these are sometimes referred to as "below seconds" – still safe and edible, but unacceptable to retailers. In order to understand the scope of what was available, Chef Barnaby's partner on the project, Alexa Pitoulis, went straight to the packing plant lines, where she stood over workers' shoulders, watching as they sorted. Whenever a worker would pluck a bunch of tomatoes to discard, Ms. Pitoulis would lean in to see if they were still usable. Often, the answer was yes.
What she witnessed at the packing plants is part of a much larger problem that affects every segment of the food industry. An estimated $31-billion worth of food – mostly fruit, vegetables and meat – is needlessly thrown out in Canada every year. Globally, about one-third of all food produced goes to waste. And it happens at every level of the food system – the result of everything from inefficient agricultural practices, to retailers' demand for cosmetically "perfect" produce, to consumers who buy in bulk without regard for necessity.
Wasted food has major environmental repercussions. Producing food only to have it wind up in landfill means already limited resources such as land, water and fertilizer have been squandered. And as that food decomposes, it releases methane, a greenhouse gas – about 3.3-billion tonnes of it each year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Read More