Why 30 World Leaders Ate a Lunch Made Out of Trash This Weekend

At yesterday's UN summit in New York City, the food-waste-themed menu included dishes such as "Landfill Salad" and a burger made of vegetable scraps. Here's why.

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Sep 28 2015, 3:33pm

Foto von elaine_macc via Flickr

Food waste is a huge problem. A staggering problem, in fact; a recent plethora of studies concerning the massive amount of food we toss out has revealed that a full one-third of all food in the US goes to waste. That equates to about 2.8 trillion pounds, or enough to feed some 3 billion people, and comes out to about 20 pounds per person per month. The shame of this degree of waste is compounded by the fact that hunger still a major problem worldwide, and about one out of nine people on the planet is undernourished.

This inefficiency and excess has become so problematic that President Obama, in accordance with the US Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency, announced earlier this month that these groups would be putting forth targeted measures in efforts to cut the rate of food waste in half by 2030. The European Union has also funded a similar research project with the aim of reducing the EU's food waste by 30 percent by the year 2025.

READ: How I Turn Wasted Food into Michelin-Starred Meals

With this in mind, the organizers of yesterday's United Nations summit in New York decided to bring this issue to the table … literally.

At the event, which brought together 30 leaders from around the world including French President François Hollande and Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, chefs presented guests with a lunch that was entirely created from food scraps that would normally end up in wastebaskets—and eventually, landfills. The menu was fully vegetarian and wasn't shy about the nature of its ingredients, with names for dishes that included "Landfill Salad" and "Spent Grain Bread."

The aforementioned salad was made from vegetable scraps, such as stalks that are normally thrown away, as well as fruit that would be rejected for its appearance and the water drained from chickpeas.

Attendees were also served a veggie burger made with "off-grade vegetables, repurposed bread bun, bruised beet ketchup, pickled cucumber scraps, and cow corn fries," referring to the corn that is typically used in animal feed or to produce ethanol.

The "Spent Grain Bread" was made using leftover mash from brewing and distilling, and the "Cocoa Husk Custard" presented for dessert was made using the outer shells of cocoa beans, as well as the pulp from coffee cherries.

The unique menu was created by former White house chef Sam Kass and Blue Hill chef-owner Dan Barber. "It's the prototypical American meal but turned on its head. Instead of the beef, we're going to eat the corn that feeds the beef," Barber told Newsweek. "The challenge is to create something truly delicious out of what we would otherwise throw away."

Barber has previously done a food-waste-themed pop-up at Blue Hill called wastED, challenging renowned local chefs to create dishes using ingredients that are commonly discarded.

Naturally, a major focus of the summit was the impact of climate change on our food supply as well as on impoverished populations of the world.

"Our lunch was produced from food that would otherwise end up in landfills, emitting methane, a potent greenhouse gas," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon told reporters. "Food production and agriculture contribute as much to climate change as transportation."

No word on what the trash-based meal tasted like, but even if it was delicious, it's probably safe to say that it was mostly food for thought.