The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Why world leaders dined on trash at the U.N.

There was nothing unusual about 30 world leaders, including French President François Hollande and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, sitting down Sunday for a meal prepared by some of the world’s most famous chefs.

That is, of course, until the diners took a closer look at the U.S.-theme menu:

“Landfill salad,” consisting of vegetable scraps and rejected apples and pears.

A vegetable burger made of “pulp left over from juicing,” the patty served on a “repurposed bread bun.”

“Cow corn” fries made from the kind of starchy corn used to create animal feed, which represents “99 percent of the 90 million acres of corn grown in the U.S.,” according to the menu.

And, to wash it all down: “Chickpea Water,” consisting of the liquid drained from a can of chickpeas.

The meal — crafted and prepared by prominent New York chef Dan Barber and former White House chef Sam Kass — was made entirely of food waste, according to Agence France-Presse.

“It’s the prototypical American meal but turned on its head,” Barber told AFP. “Instead of the beef, we’re going to eat the corn that feeds the beef. The challenge is to create something truly delicious out of what we would otherwise throw away.”

Barber is a prominent New York chef who co-owns the Blue Hill restaurant.

Kass, the architect of first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” anti-obesity campaign, came up with the waste-lunch idea after learning about the U.N. Climate Change Conference taking place in Paris in November and December, according to AFP.

World leaders attending the conference hope to come up with a long-term solution to address the effects of climate change over the next century. Kass said he hoped the innovative menu would draw more attention to food waste and the impact it has on the climate crisis.

“It’s just unthinkable, the inefficiency in our system, particularly when you look at something of this magnitude,” Kass told the AFP.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates that one-third of food produced for human consumption worldwide is annually lost or wasted between the time it’s grown and ends up in kitchens, restaurants and markets around the world.

According to AFP: “The loss each year is the equivalent of 3.3 billion tonnes of carbon responsible for climate change — which would make food waste, if it were a nation, the biggest emitter.”

The Web site puts the estimate considerably lower at 1.3 billion tons, but notes that a quarter of that amount “could feed the 795 million undernourished people around the world who suffer from hunger.”

Regardless of the exact figure, the meal’s significance — served at a high-level working lunch on climate change — was not lost on world leaders.

The meal, Ban told reporters, “was prepared to reflect the importance of agriculture – and food waste in particular – as an often overlooked aspect of climate change. Food production and agriculture contribute as much to climate change as transportation. Yet more than a third of all food produced worldwide — over 1 billion tons of edible food each year — goes to waste. That is shameful when so many people suffer from hunger.

“Our lunch was produced from food that would otherwise end up in landfills, emitting methane, a potent greenhouse gas.”

Barber told AFP that using food waste in meals is an ancient idea, one that modern chefs have since forgotten. That’s especially true, he said, in the United States, which is blessed with abundant food resources. The West, he said, has been able to “afford waste.”

“The long-term goal of this would be not to (be able to) create a waste meal,” he said. “You don’t do that by lecturing — you do it by hedonism, by making these world leaders have a delicious meal that will make them think about spreading that message.”


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