Celebrity Chef Andrew Zimmern has been loved by many for his Travel Channel show “Bizarre Foods.” But when he’s not snacking on strange menu items, Zimmern is working for sustainability in the food industry. The Emmy- and four-time James Beard Award-winning TV personality recently teamed up with discount supermarket ALDI to raise awareness about food waste. Zimmern talked to Inhabitat about how we can become a less wasteful society.
Inhabitat: How did your partnership with ALDI come about?
Zimmern: They asked me if I would be involved in their commitment to fight food waste, and I was absolutely blown away that they were doing that. You have to remember that the vast majority of food that’s wasted in this country is pre-consumer contact. So for a food company to want to eliminate food waste is a big deal. And the more I talked to them about it, the more things I learned that they were really putting their money where their mouth was and were dead serious about being a leader on this issue. I was thrilled. I’ve been fighting issues like this for 20+ years. The companies that are really devoted to it are few and far between. So I was thrilled. We came up with a wonderful program. I think ALDI has proven themselves to be a national leader on this issue.
Inhabitat: When and how did you become concerned with food waste?
Zimmern: I became concerned with food waste in the ‘60s, when my father and I would go fishing out on Long Island and we would see bycatch being thrown into garbage dumpsters. And we knew there were hungry people living in New York. I’m born and raised in New York City. It just didn’t equate. My parents were very much social progressives. As I got older, I became involved civically, politically, socially and today I devote about a third of my time and energy and my own money to fighting for social justice causes that I believe in. We have a partners page on AndrewZimmern.com that lists out our partners, including ALDI.
Inhabitat: What do you think is the level of consciousness nowadays among chefs and restaurant professionals regarding food waste?
Zimmern: Chefs and restaurant professionals have been conscious of food waste for a long time. Restaurants actually have been leaders. It’s just that we can’t bring our consumers, customers, back into the kitchens and say, “Look, we repurpose everything.” I mean, I’ve never worked in a kitchen that threw away a chicken bone; it went in to make stocks and soups, right? We saved all our trim for the same reason. We saved offcuts and dented, bruised things for family meal. Chefs and restaurant professionals are in fact the ones that have been telling everyone else that we have a problem with food waste in America on the consumer contact side. And I think there are some chefs and restaurants that have actually created businesses predicated on what to do with foods that other people consider waste.
Inhabitat: Tell us about being on the board of directors for food-related philanthropic organizations.
Zimmern: I am on the board of directors of some food-related philanthropic organizations and food-related organizations. And yes, these efforts are extremely important to me. I believe that service work is the secret to my happiness. So I talk about it a lot, because I don’t want to keep it a secret. Life is life. Everyone’s parents die, kids get sick, bad stuff happens to everyone. Marriages, divorces. Good days at work. Bad days at work. The only way that I’ve found that I can match serenity to calamity — because life is fired at point-blank range, it just is, you don’t get a heads-up saying something bad is going to happen tomorrow, so cancel your appointments — is to do things for other people. It gets me out of my own head. I’m not as consumed with my own problems. And I try to devote as much time to helping others as I can.
Inhabitat: Do you have a few tips for readers about how they could cut down on their own food waste?
Zimmern: I know at ALDIusa.com and @ALDIusa on their Instagram account, and my Instagram account @ChefAZ, we have the tips, we have all of the materials that we have created for this program. But if I could wave a magic wand, I would ask two things. First, keep a list by the garbage pail in your kitchen, on the counter, over the cupboard where your garbage is, and just put a pad there and a pen and keep a running total of everything you throw out for two weeks, whether it’s freezer-burned meat, leftover chicken that just died in a container, bruised fruit. Whatever it was. Everything. Even right down to saying, “Twelve grapes at the bottom of the bag.”
If you write it down for two weeks, you’ll see the patterns in your own kitchen and it will help you in buying less. I have a friend who figured out 80% of the food they were throwing away was fruit. So I just got him to freeze it all, and then make jams and jellies out of it. Or roast it and puree it and strain it and make sauces and barbecue glazes and other things out of it. Now all of his bruised fruit, even those 10 grapes that sit at the bottom of the plastic bag in his fruit crisper, get utilized.
The other thing that I would do is I’d make your refrigerator smaller. American refrigerators were designed for a convenience culture. We want to dine at home with this fantasy life like it’s never going to be interrupted. But we get “mealus interruptus” so we shop once a week. We load our fridge with all of these things. Then we find ourselves throwing away food at the end of the week. So I tell people, take a vegetable drawer out of your fridge, take a shelf out of your fridge. Reduce your space by a third. Just do it for two weeks. See what happens. I guarantee you’re going to waste less food and you’re going to learn a lot more about how to shop with a food list more intentionally. You’ll find the time to shop a second time each week.
Inhabitat: What are the most important things for readers to consider when buying food?
Zimmern: We would all do better if we ate fresher, healthier food, and ate less of the foods that put undue amounts of pressure on our ecosystems. It’s why we encourage people to eat less red meat and less factory-farmed food, and all the rest of that kind of stuff. I want consumers to buy food from places that can tell you where the food came from. I think these things are very important. I think transparency is very important. It’s another reason why I applaud ALDI. ALDI’s corporate structure is based on a couple of different principles that I applaud. Number one is making sustainability more affordable, right? That’s one of their pillars. And the other one is if you look around, they tell you where the food is from. I think that’s really, really, really important.
Images via ALDI and Unsplash