Q&A: Tom Colicchio on "Just Eat It" and Food Waste in America

 

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Q&A: Tom Colicchio on "Just Eat It" and Food Waste in America
April 20, 2015

Americans love food. As a society, we devour countless cooking shows, culinary magazines and foodie blogs. So how are we throwing nearly 50% of it, the equivalent of $165 billion annually, in the trash?

In the U.S. television premiere of Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story on Wednesday, April 22 at 10p.m. ET on msnbc, filmmakers and food lovers Jen Rustemeyer and Grant Baldwin dive into the issue of food waste from farms, through retail, and back to their own fridge.  Following the documentary, msnbc's new (and first-ever) food correspondent Tom Colicchio, an award-winning chef, restaurant owner and former judge on “Top Chef,” will moderate a panel discussion to examine simple solutions that consumers can take to help cut down on food waste.

NBCUniversal.com caught up with Colicchio to talk about the premiere (part of NBCUniversal’s annual celebration of Earth Week), the growing problem of food waste, potential solutions and more:

 

NBCUniversal.com: What makes Just Eat It such an important film? 

Colicchio: Food waste has become such a major issue in our food system because it historically hasn’t gotten the attention it deserved from the public or the government. As illustrated throughout the film, the private sector is failing to create an efficient system and American citizens are the ones paying the price. This should be an apolitical issue… can you really imagine someone on either side of the aisle arguing that we should be wasting more food?

NBCUniversal.com: There are a lot of numbers in the film. In your mind, what are the most staggering?

Colicchio: The fact that 40% of the food we produce in this country gets thrown away really illustrates the scope of the issue, but taking such a macro approach leaves people wondering how they can help. Households wasting 25% of the food they purchase hits closer to home and is powerfully depicted with the image of a shopper dropping 1 of her 4 bags of groceries and just continuing on to her car.

NBCUniversal.com: Curbing waste obviously helps those who struggle with hunger, and the 1 in 6 in the U.S. who are food insecure. What else does curbing waste do?

Colicchio: First of all, while food recovery efforts definitely help to combat the hunger crises we face in the U.S., it is by no means a solution to the issue. We simply need to do better than attempting to feed 49 million Americans with leftovers and scraps. The bigger opportunity in my mind is that these inefficiencies are built into the price of food; if we can reduce waste, the cost of food for everyday Americans should come down.

NBCUniversal.com: One thing the film talks about is our systemic obsession with expiry dates. How serious should we actually take them? What’s fact and what’s fiction?

Colicchio: As you’ll hear in the panel following the film, the only food item that has a federally regulated label date is baby formula; everything else is a convoluted combination of “Sell By”, “Best By”, “Use By”, etc. that don’t really give the consumer any actionable information. If we were to establish a national standard that had two dates, (1) Sell By and (2) Use By, consumers would be able to really plan their eating and shopping in a sensible fashion.

NBCUniversal.com: We all think fruits and vegetables need to look and feel a certain way when we buy them. What’s the true story there?

Colicchio: When you go to the grocery store and pick up an apple or tomato for example, understand that if it looks pristine and perfect it had to be picked way before peak freshness in order to get it to you looking that way. On top of that, it’s likely been sprayed with all sorts of preservatives to protect it during the transportation process. I find that the more blemishes something has, the more flavorful it sends to be.

NBCUniversal.com: What are the best guidelines for the average consumer to avoid wasting so much food?

Colicchio: Shop more frequently and plan your weekly eating habits so that you can go to the grocery store or farmer’s market with a very clear list. Even with that, you’ll still likely have items leftover in your fridge at the end of the week… get creative and whip something up using them! Soups tend to work well for this as you can combine a lot of different ingredients in a non-labor intensive manner.

NBCUniversal.com: How can we continue this conversation beyond the film and help to curb this problem?

Colicchio: The biggest thing we can focus on is educating children about how the value of fresh food (where it’s from, how it’s grown, etc.)  and how to prepare it. Not only does this give the next generation the tools necessary to make responsible food choices throughout their lives, but it engages their parents, teachers, and other stakeholders to learn about these issues and their importance.

Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story is a 74-minute documentary film about food waste and food rescue by Peg Leg Films in partnership with British Columbia’s Knowledge Network. Don’t miss the U.S. television premiere on Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 10 p.m. ET on msnbc, and visit http://www.msnbc.com/just-eat-it to learn more.

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