Laura Brunow Miner is an editor, designer, and entrepreneur based in San Francisco. She founded Pictory, an online publication that showcases the photo stories of people around the world. In 2009, Miner started Phoot Camp, a creative retreat and photography workshop, and in 2011 began Eat Retreat, a workshop for leaders in the food community.
Spending 48 hours talking about food — and indulging in it — can make anyone go into a mild food coma. During Eat Retreat, a workshop for leaders in the food community, I sampled local oysters, learned to make yogurt, and learned about each attendee’s food philosophy during an intro around the campfire. In the months that followed I’ve had the opportunity to compile the feast of information into a book by the same name.
The Story of Eat Retreat dives deeper into the food philosophies shared at the event. However, there’s one in particular that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. When Kirsten Bourne, the marketing director for San Francisco’s community organization and food mecca Bi-Rite Market, shared the phrase “Leave no leftover behind,” it stuck with me. At the time, I didn’t realize the “waste-not-want-not” weight class she was punching in or the creative eye with which she considers consumption. Since then, I’ve thought twice about every discard.
I caught up with Kirsten to find out more. She shared stories of being influenced by Depression-era grandparents and finding her passion for both food and leftovers at an early age. “It’s always been a fun challenge for myself, but it’s only in the last year that I’ve started thinking about food waste in a more broad, political way.”
Playing devil’s advocate, I asked her how she felt she could make a difference given the sheer amount of waste in every part of the food system. “I think one of the reasons that we as a society should be convinced that this is a way we can affect change is that it worked for us a hundred years ago. I don’t know if you’ve seen the canvas bag we carry at Bi-Rite with the lithograph from the US Food Administration, but the main message is ‘Don’t Waste.’ There are certain core things that we as humans understand.”
“I’m not very political,” Kirsten continued, “and as a city dweller I can’t know everything about where my trash, compost, and recycling ends up. But what I do have control over is the amount I myself consume and waste. It’s empowering.”
Kirsten also uses her day job at Bi Rite to help spread her food waste message. An excellent example is the Kansha Kitchen Challenge at sister organization 18 Reasons. During this workshop, guests are broken into teams and given a bag of vegetables to use to create a meal, knowing that their food waste (seeds, husks, etc.) will be measured at the end. Challenging, yes, but a fun exercise with friendly helpers around to offer suggestions. “Although deeply rooted in Japanese culture, kansha can be experienced and practiced by anyone, anywhere. The key to demonstrating appreciation in the kitchen and at table is to practice kansha cooking for yourself: use food fully, with no waste.”
Given the amount of money I waste each week on spoilage, I’m eager to put some of Kirsten’s MacGyver- like food conservation tips to work:
- Out of sight, out of mind. Keep perishables front and center in the pantry or fridge.
- Convenience is key. If you buy a lot of vegetables, cook or slice them up right when you bring them home. Then they’ll be the first thing you reach for when you need a snack. Same for a loaf of levain: if you slice it up first thing, each piece may not stay quite as fresh, but I guarantee you’re more likely to finish the loaf.
- Plan ahead. Think about all of your meals at the beginning of the week and go from there. For example, try cooking up a big batch of beans and freezing them in meal serving sizes.
- Give perishables room to breathe. If you notice that you have fruits and vegetables mold in your fruit bowl, switch to a hanging basket or a festive colander and you’ll notice they last much longer when they’re allowed air on all sides.
Leftovers are delicious. Have some stale bread? Make savory bread pudding for one. Simply take a few slices of rock hard bread and break it into small pieces in a bowl. Add a mixture of whipped eggs with a splash of milk, some herbs, sliced veggies, and grated cheese until the bread is covered. (Roughly 2 eggs, 1/4 cup milk, and the rest to taste.) Pour into a mason jar, though don’t fill too high or it will spill over. Then cover with foil and bake at 350 in your toaster oven until it’s nicely browned.
- Bring in leftovers for breakfast! (Savory breakfast is where it’s at: cold pizza, Thai food, veggie stew, etc.)
- Eat the skin of veggies and fruit whenever possible. (Carrots, squash, and kiwis provide great vitamins and texture.)
- To use tough stems of chard, collards or kale, separate them from the leaves, dice them into 1/2 inch pieces and sauté with onions. (Delicious with eggs, as a base for hash browns, or soups.)
- Make a fruit salad of bruised or over-ripe fruit — no one will know the difference! (Always add mint — it takes any fruit salad from zero to hero in an instant.)
- Cut the hard outer peels off melon rinds and use crunchy rinds in place of cucumber in salads and cold soups. (Or just be sure to chomp every last bit up to the fibrous rind of a melon slice!)
For more great tips from Kirsten (and many others!), check out the The Story of Eat Retreat. I’d argue it’s worth the $10 donation to the Food Pantry just for Mirit Cohen’s “World’s Best Hummus” recipe or the whiskey list from the Eat Retreat weekend. Check out a preview here.