When I think of creative ways to curb food waste in the kitchen, my mind goes directly to the mothers in my life. Grammy Farina made eating the peels of apples going into pies a game for the great-grandchildren hanging on her apron strings. My Nonna would float a cheese rind for flavor in her weekly pot of chicken soup. And my mom was the queen of holiday leftover hash.
A press release that landed in my inbox got me thinking about one of Maine’s most famous U.S. senators in a food waste-reduction light. The Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions at the University of Maine recently launched Food Rescue Maine, a statewide education and action campaign funded by a $27,000 state Department of Environmental Protection grant. The goal is to increase food rescue and food recycling programs around the state and ultimately reduce the huge amount of food waste currently going into Maine landfills.
If you’ve cooked with a mother, grandmother or great-grandmother who had first-hand knowledge of the food shortages in the Great Depression and the World War II era, you likely have waste-not, want-not sensibilities that start with not buying more food than you can eat and end with a countertop composting bucket. But food waste has evolved into a societal issue that needs to be addressed on an appropriate level.
Food Rescue Maine’s goals align with those delineated in the Maine DEP Food Recovery Hierarchy, which focuses on ensuring the best and highest use of the state’s food resources. The most effective way to reduce waste is at the source – don’t buy too much. The next step lies in diverting edible food to food banks and food rescue programs. When feeding people is not possible, feeding farm animals is the next best option. If it can’t be fed to animals, turn it into either biofuel or compost. And only as a very, very last resort, throw it away.
The benefit of a concerted food recycling effort for a municipality is an economic one, said Susanne Lee, Food Rescue Maine project lead and faculty fellow at the Mitchell Center. “Food at all levels has either nutritive or energy value. Even at the point of discard, food scraps have value because they can be turned into biofuel and commercial compost,” said Lee, who prior to joining the UMaine faculty had a long career in profit and loss management, brand marketing, consumer insights and business development for Fortune 100 companies and lean start-ups alike.
Diverting food waste out of the waste stream translates into lower landfill tipping fees for cities and towns. “Why would a municipality not jump at the chance to decrease its waste disposal costs and … turn residents’ food scraps into black gold?” said Lee.
Lee and a team of students are working with several central Maine municipalities including Winslow, Waterville and a coalition from Fayette, Readfield and Wayne to pilot community food recycling initiatives. The student interns have developed educational materials and signage for the towns to use to publicize new community food rescue programs. Students are also working with the city of Portland to measure food waste collected at five new recycling sites that opened to the public on Earth Day. The team will gather and analyze data from the Portland sites to quantify the economic and environmental benefits realized by eliminating food from the solid waste stream.
The project’s slogan is: “Maine Food – Too Good to Waste.” The mothers in my life would certainly sign off on that one. If you’d like your town to consider an organized approach to food recycling, reach out to the Mitchell Center as they’ve got students who are more than happy to help.
Fluffy Buckwheat, Banana and Sour Milk Pancakes with Peanut Butter Maple Syrup
Susanne Lee, Food Rescue Maine project lead and faculty fellow at The Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions at the University of Maine, says dairy products are one of the most often wasted food stuff in Maine. Here is a recipe that can use up soured milk as well as overripe bananas for breakfast. If the milk in your fridge is not sour, add 1 teaspoon of vinegar to one cup to make it. Buttermilk is a fine substitution as well. Trust me, don’t skip the peanut butter maple syrup with these pancakes. Add a side a bacon, and you’ve got Elvis’s favorite combination of foods.
Makes 6-8 sizeable pancakes and 2/3 cup of syrup
1⁄3 cup maple syrup
1⁄3 cup peanut butter
2 eggs, separated
1/2 cup mashed overripe bananas
1¼ cups sour milk
1 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
Vegetable oil (optional)
Banana slices for garnish (optional)
Combine maple syrup and peanut butter in small saucepan. Place over low heat and stir until the mixture is smooth. Keep warm while you make the pancakes.
In a medium metal bowl, whisk egg whites to stiff peaks. Set aside. In a second medium sized bowl, whisk mashed bananas, sour milk and egg yolks. Add buckwheat flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt and mix until smooth. Fold in beaten egg whites.
Heat your favorite pancake-making pan over medium high heat, using a little oil in the pan if it is necessary to ensure the pancakes do not stick to your pan. Ladle in a scant half cup of batter into the pan and spread it into a 4-inch circle. Repeat to fill the pan with about a half-inch space between the pancakes. When the top of the batter is full of bubbles and the underside it golden brown, about 3 minutes, flip the pancakes and cook for 1 minute more. Transfer to pancakes to a warm plate. Repeat the cooking process with the remaining batter.
Top pancakes with fresh banana slices, if using, and warm peanut butter maple syrup. Serve hot. Cooled, leftover pancakes can be frozen and heat up nicely in the toaster.
Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, recipe developer, tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at: [email protected]