In this episode of “Sustain,” we learn about the buy-ugly movement through the eyes of Chef Jehangir Mehta, a world-renowned chef who explores ways to reduce his food wastage footprint.
Born in Mumbai, Mehta was a runner-up on the Food Network’s "The Next Iron Chef." He attributes his innate ability to find the best ways to reduce waste to being from a third-world country, like India.
“It doesn’t matter if you came from a rich family or not, [waste] is just something you see on a day-to-day basis. It just becomes a part of your life.”
Mehta applies this conservationist philosophy to his Indian-inspired cuisine in his latest TriBeCa restaurant venture, Graffiti Earth, the new sibling to his popular East Village restaurant, Graffiti Food & Wine. There, he focuses more on a vegetable-forward menu (something he has always done, but never really emphasized on) along with integrating an environmentally-conscious approach to décor, with furniture made from renewable materials and even crockery.
“We don’t buy plate sets. They came from my family and friends. If you have unwanted sets, let me know.”
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, 40 percent of food grown and produced in the United States never gets eaten. And an alarming 52 percent of fruits and vegetables that are being produced never make it to your fork. Mehta does not place the blame only on retailers, who have to deal with the pressures of having fully stocked displays and the expectations of cosmetic perfection, but he also accuses the consumer of exercising produce prejudice when they see a blemished fruit or vegetable and turn the other way.
“Are you going to buy a tomato, even if you know very clearly [you’re] going to make tomato sauce today, you could definitely buy a tomato which is a bit squished or [with] a dent, but will you do it?” asks Chef Jehangir Mehta rhetorically. “You are not doing it, so you can’t always blame the grocery store [for food waste] you have to blame the public, too!”
Generally, it’s hard to get produce scraps, however, Mehta has worked with many of the farmers he frequents in the market in other restaurant-unrelated projects and has had the chance to build positive relationships with them. These relationships mutually benefit each party, since farmers reduce food waste by giving away their blemished, twisted, deformed or “ugly” food, that they know consumers will not typically purchase, to a chef who would put the food to good use, and, in turn, Mehta receives the fruits and vegetables for free or at a discounted rate.
To learn more, watch the episode above!