Zero-waste soups and stews

Zero-waste soups and stews save ingredients from hitting the compost bin.

The majority of the 20,000 students at Santa Barbara City College are from low-income families, says Carrie Mitchum, executive chef of food services at the Southern California community college. “They’re given a $10-a-day food voucher to eat at school, so we have to keep prices very low,” she says. “If something costs us one dollar, we sell it for just two dollars.” In SBCC’s production kitchen, which services nine campus dining venues, trashing or composting scraps of meat and vegetables translates directly into elevated costs.

gumbo soup

While reducing food waste may be a sustainability goal at many colleges, at SBCC it is an economic necessity. Mitchum is tasked with purchasing less and using whatever is leftover in other dishes. Soups and stews are natural vehicles for these odds and ends of vegetables, grains and proteins, but you can’t just add items aimlessly into the pot, she says.

“If we have a lot of cabbage-y vegetables left over, like broccoli and cauliflower, I flavor the soup with curry or something equally assertive,” Mitchum says.

Mitchum also has found that students are not going to eat a soup or stew with ingredients they recognize from yesterday’s line. Instead, she saves a few days’ worth of leftovers and creates a cleverly camouflaged soup.  “The previously used seasonings—even if they’re Asian or Mexican—get covered up by Cajun spices, and the students think they’re eating something totally new,” she says.

At Kennesaw State University, foodservice staff also are rethinking the compost bin. Executive Chef Gerald Gatto’s team inherited an ambitious sustainability program when Chartwell’s Higher Education Dining took over foodservice at the Georgia university more than a year ago. But now, cooks are taking a second look at their trim buckets to see how they can use scraps. “Any way we can maximize food yield [to drive down plate cost] and reduce our carbon footprint at the same time is a win-win,” he says.

Under Gatto’s guidance, much of the vegetable trim is now cleaned and tossed into the stockpot to create rich vegetable stocks for Kennesaw’s vegetarian-based soups. A favorite on the 32,500-student campus is palava, a West African vegetable stew, which averages 25 cents a serving in food costs, says Gatto.

Kendall College in Chicago strongly promotes sustainability both in its teaching kitchens and student-run cafeterias. But the main lesson revolves around the importance of efficient product utilization in running a foodservice business, says Dina Altieri, dean of Kendall’s School of Culinary Arts; precision knife skills are one of the first modules in the curriculum. “Every time you make a cut in a vegetable, you have the potential to waste—especially if you’re learning to create perfect planks or cubes,” says Altieri.

Students are graded not only on technique, but on “mindful repurposing,” earning points for harvesting waste instead of throwing it into the compost bin. The usable trim is sent to the cafeteria, for use by student cooks.



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