Roots to Stem: A growing movement to reduce food waste

Thursday, March 1, 2018
A growing movement to reduce food waste teaching people how to enjoy food root to stem
UC Merced students got tips on how to prepare some of the fresh, organic food being offered on campus for free.

MERCED, Calif. (KFSN) -- UC Merced students got tips on how to prepare some of the fresh, organic food being offered on campus for free.

"I thought there was a need to provide fresh fruit and vegetables to the students on campus because right now there's only an off-campus food pantry,' said Mitch Vanagten, UC Merced Chef.

Chef Mitch gets his food from Food Commons Fresno and their farm near Madera. Their mission is to use food that might otherwise be wasted, stuff that's perhaps blemished, but perfectly good.

Eric De Jung, with Food Commons Fresno, said, "Making sure the people who live in our communities eat what's being grown here."

Reducing food waste is part of the Roots to Stem food movement, and even some grocery stores are getting in on it.

"It's the idea you can use the whole vegetable, not just what you'd normally buy in the grocery store, but the stem, the leaves, the root, and everything that goes along with it," said Trent Page, Whole Foods Chef.

Eating healthy, locally grown food, and all of it part of the effort to cut down on wasted food from roots to stem.

UC Merced students got tips on how to prepare some of the fresh, organic food being offered on campus for free.

Up to 40 percent of the food we grow and buy ends up in the garbage. It's not just a problem in the kitchen, but in the farm fields as well. Now there's a growing movement to reduce food waste.

College students at UC Merced don't have to live on Ramen, instead, they are lining up for free, fresh, organic produce. Lemons, cabbage, oranges, onions, potatoes, beets, radishes, and more. Campus Executive Chef Mitch started this program to give students a chance to eat a healthy variety of foods.

"Like today, we have watermelon radish. A lot of kids have never seen it before. So they're asking, 'How do I prepare this?' or 'How do I eat this?' So they are being educated on different types of heirloom vegetables they have never seen before. We have chioga beets today, also, and a lot of them have never seen it," said Chef Mitch.

Eric De Jong of Food Commons Fresno was also there to offer some suggestions.

"Cut them into quarters, bite-sized chunks, or whatever. Wrap it up in tin foil, pepper and some vinegar. Sounds, you are going to be like, 'oh really,' said De Jong. "Roast them like 45 minutes or so, until they are tender. It's amazing, it's delicious. Do it."

Learning not to waste the food you get is part of this mission. Like to roots to stem movement, which emphasizes you can eat more of that vegetable than you realize. Stores like Whole Foods are spreading the message.

"When you look at the amount of broccoli you are purchasing about half of it by weight is in the stem. Simply cut the florets off and then you can peel and use the stem for all kinds of stuff. You can puree it into a soup you can cut it up and roast it, you can eat it raw, julienne it, throw it in salads," said Trent Page.

Restaurants are learning to use more and save money.

"Why should I throw something in the trash I just spent five dollars on? Three-quarters of it is useful, but we are only using one-quarter of it? It doesn't make any sense to me," said Michale Andreatta, cook.

Using all the food is important, but so is getting the chance to eat more of what is grown.

"One thing is eating the entire food, yes, but one of the bigger problems is cosmetic waste... the needless waste. So for example if a food is bruised, is slightly less than perfect looking, is even a wrong size; those foods are being discounted and wasted," said De Jong. "This, for example, would never sell in a grocery store because its goofy looking, it's funky looking."

Food Commons Fresno provides the food for the UC Merced giveaway from its 75-acre farm near Madera. It also buys local produce from other organic farms in the Central Valley, boxes it up and even delivers a box a week to subscribers under the Ooooby label. Which stands for out of our own backyard.

"We can buy these from the farmers who may or may not be selling successfully to the grocery stores, and we can use all of this produce that would otherwise be turned back into the soil as waste," said De Jong.

Gene Haagenson: "So does this help you out? To get this fresh stuff?"

"Yeah, it does because we are not home all of the time so it's nice to have a home cooked meal instead of going out," said Lena Nguyen, San Jose.

"I think it's a great opportunity for college students to eat healthy," said Cynthia SavaZali, Los Angeles.

Chef Mitch hopes this twice a month pop-up farmers markets will get students in the habit of healthier eating.

"Even if they are eating Ramen I hope they will incorporate some of the vegetables I gave them into Ramen," said Chef Mitch.