Cookbook author and co-founder of Food Waste Festival Mei Li gives kitchen scraps a second life

Cookbook author and co-founder of Food Waste Festival Mei Li gives kitchen scraps a second life

Margaret and Irene Lee on a mission to reduce food wasteAnd they bring food with them on the trip. The sisters are among the founders of the project food waste feasta website, blog, and educational resource that has found a cult following across the country and between Margaret’s home base in Cary and Irene’s in Boston.

In 2012, Margaret—who goes by Mei—and Erin, along with their older brother, founded Mei Mei, a food truck in Boston. In 2013, the company expanded into a brick-and-mortar restaurant, then evolved during the pandemic into a dumpling company.

me me It means “little sister” in Mandarin.

“The nickname originated for me as a child when I was the little sister in the family,” explains Mai. “When my older brother came up with the idea for the food cart, he asked my sister Irene and I to join him, and we thought the name Mi Mi was a great way to honor the family atmosphere behind the business.”

At Mei Mei, during large-scale food production, Lis began noticing the massive amount of food waste from restaurant operations — waste that made already meager restaurant margins thinner. Having earned an MBA from University College London, Mai brings a business perspective to the family endeavor.

“The things you buy and you spend tons of money on – if that’s going to go to the trash, you’re wasting your money,” she says.

At Mei Mei, Lis’ solution to the food waste challenge was to become more open and creative with menu items and recipes.

“One of the things we did in our food truck and restaurant was try to design dishes that consumed all the parts of it [an ingredient]Whether it’s cabbage with holes in the pesto or using cilantro stalks in the curry,” explains Mai. “It really helped our bottom line and also made for more interesting and delicious dishes.”

The frustration with the waste, the excitement and the joy that resulted from addressing this frustration is what sparked the food waste festival. The sisters struck a chord: The site has been so successful that it will be the basis for a cookbook set to be released in June next year.

“There are a lot of things that seem too big and unalterable,” May says. “Contributing to reducing your food waste is something we can do. It is not our responsibility alone, but it is good to do it for me. I hope for others too.”

Research has shown that individuals are more likely to take incremental, tangible steps that have real impact and allow them the satisfaction of knowing that their personal actions make a difference.

In a food production system, there are many points where food waste can occur – and on a large scale, it occurs at every point, from farm to distributor, distributor to market, market to refrigerator, refrigerator to garbage can. Much of this food never makes it to a plate, let alone the stomach. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), between 30 and 40 percent of the food supply in the United States is wasted. Many factors come into play, and even for the most environmentally conscious among us, “the fate of climate change doesn’t depend on whether you compost carrot tops,” says May.

However, the actions of individuals matter, as 31.9 percent of the food brought into homes is wasted. There are many angles from which to engage people’s awareness of food waste and find practical and sometimes innovative ways to tackle the problem. One of the methods that attracts people’s attention and interest is by affecting their finances.

Lis initially complied with the cost of food waste in their commercial kitchen in Mei Mei, but even indoors, it is estimated that individuals spend thousands of dollars annually on food that they end up throwing away. As the cost of food rises due to inflation and other factors, this financial burden is only growing.

Home cooks interested in trying something new may find that the challenge of reducing food waste presents exciting opportunities for experimentation in the kitchen. This is where Food Waste Feast comes in, as Lis guides and educates readers with many creative ways to reduce kitchen waste.

“There are people who really like it from a culinary perspective. Suppose you have fresh herbs and you make an herb oil or herb sauce, or you take the leftovers and make breadcrumbs,” says Mai, who recently turned 40 and moved to Curry with her husband and two children in 2019 You have more components to work with.

She describes another way individual consumers can take, a technique to not only persuade her children to eat their fruits and vegetables but also to constantly divert leftovers so that nothing ends up in the trash.

“If they don’t eat all of their apple slices, I’ll put them in a bag, and that will become their bag of juice. I’ll keep it in the freezer and then I’ll turn it into smoothies. And if they don’t drink those juices, I turn them into lollipops and then feed them to them again,” he explains. Mi. “I try to recreate things as much as possible.” When asked if there is any effort to reduce waste that goes over the top, Mei said, “It all depends on what you think is weird. I’ll sometimes think my mom goes too far. I’m like, ‘I don’t need all these ready-made sauces.'” And then You’d combine a chicken marinade from all of the different fast food sauces and say, “Okay, that was really good.”

An enormous amount of natural resources and energy is expended in all aspects of food production, so for those who are passionate about combating climate change, reducing food waste plays an important role. Food production and transportation systems generate carbon dioxide, and when food is dumped into landfills, it releases methane, a powerful polluting greenhouse gas that affects the climate adversely. According to the USDA, food waste makes up 24 percent of the material in landfills, more than any other.

With all of these influences and perspectives in mind, Food Waste Feast’s upcoming project, titled Their Cookbook Absolutely good foodwill be shaped with a new approach to recipes.

“When you write our cookbook, and think about the way recipes are often written, you realize how very limited it can be,” May says. She explains that shopping for recipes with long, specific ingredient lists means that home cooks often end up with leftover ingredients that sit on the shelf and expire or they don’t know how to use them otherwise.

Absolutely good food The recipes are more extensive: A recipe might call for two cups of chopped root vegetables instead of golden beets. One of the book’s philosophies is to think of ingredients in categories like grains and leafy greens. Ingredients in these categories can often be swapped for similar results, and this adaptability can help reduce waste and often make dishes that are tasty, flexible, and personalized.

“This may not exactly be what it looks like on this pretty magazine cover, but it will taste absolutely good,” May says.


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