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End of market gleaning.

The concept of waste not, want not is drilled into our heads from an early age, but the implementation of such a mantra often gets neglected in today's society that encourages purchasing pristine products for quick use, often inspiring consumers to replace food or other goods before they are truly used up. In terms of the former, “The biggest discussion in all this is 'What is food waste?' and 'What do we consider food waste?'” says Francine Spiering, one of the event organizers and managing editor of Edible Houston.

Spiering says she was inspired by National Geographic article about the waste awareness movement lead by UK-based advocate Tristram Stuart. “And some of it—the largest percentage of food waste—is food that doesn’t even make it to the stores,” she says.  

Most of us are accustomed to gathering partially eaten food after dinner and saving it for another meal—hello, yummy leftovers! That’s all good and well, but what about the ingredients that never even get to your plate (or your grocery shelves, for that matter)? According to a 2012 study conducted by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), about 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted along the production path “from field to fork to landfill.” This may include produce left behind after mechanical harvesters come through a field, “flawed” fruits and vegetables that shoppers overlook at the supermarket, or even byproducts from butchering during which a select cut is desired and the rest is left unused.

At home, it’s not unusual for kitchen scraps and unfinished meals to find their ways into the trash bin or compost pile even when they still have nutritious life left in them (carrot ends are great for stock, for example). On a smaller scale, this ambivalence impacts the home budget. On a grander scale, it has real implications on the world’s ability to feed its population. The obvious solution (at least for some) is to gather or glean “wasted” food and get it into the hands and mouths of people who can use it. As stated on Stuart’s website, “A third of the world's entire food supply could be saved by reducing waste—or enough to feed 3 billion people; and this would still leave enough surplus for countries to provide their populations with 130 percent of their nutritional requirements.”

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Whey left over from making Blue Heron Farm's cheese will be transformed into ricotta.

At the local level, Slow Food Houston is starting the conversation about gleaning with a A Glean Taste on December 15 at The Milford House, an evening of education, enlightenment and edibles during which an intimate group will dine on locally gleaned dishes prepared by six chefs. Note the difference between sourced and gleaned as it is a slight word change with significant distinction in meaning—one refers to where the item comes from, the other references how the item is acquired—and are not interchangeable.

The menu may evolve as the chefs cook, but will include ingredients like unsold goods from the farmers markets, misshapen eggs, aguafaba (bean liquid) whipped into a mousse, and goat whey left over from cheese making at Blue Heron Farm transformed into ricotta from chef Chandler Rothbard. Other gleaned items will include day-old bread from Artisana Breads, “ugly” fruits and vegetables from Plant It Forward Farms and Finca Tres Robles, and wildcrafted pecans and herbs.

Diners can also expect discussions lead by chef Pat Greer, who will share personal and professional perspectives on food waste and an overview of unwanted beehives from Shelly Rice, who will provide raw honey and honeycomb gleaned from hives for the meal. Click here for a full list of participating chefs, the expected menu and tickets. Ticket sales close today, though there may be a waiting list.

Though the first event is limited to 25-30 guests, those interested in getting involved can reach out to Slow Food Houston—the movement towards zero food waste is a year-round endeavor. Spiering says she hopes future events can expand in size and reach a larger audience. In the meantime, diners and readers are encouraged to reference Edible Houston’s recipes, many of which teach home cooks how to integrate kitchen scraps into everyday meals.

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