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Upcycled Food Is Becoming the Most Delicious Way to Fight Food Waste

Upcycled food is trending both in our homes and in the food industry. It reduces waste, tastes delicious, *and* betters the planet.

Written by
Mackenzie Brennan

The global volume of edible food waste is 1.3 billion tons, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). And this wasted food usually ends up in a landfill where it gets broken down into methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

Luckily, there's a new trend that could help solve this food waste problem. We predict a rise in "scrappy foods" on the market—options that upcycle food that would otherwise have ended up in landfills. So far, we've already seen a few brands and chefs hopping on this trend. Why? Because according to the Upcycled Food Association, about 60% of people want to buy more upcycled food products. And 95% of people want to reduce food waste.

According to Carleigh Bodrug, the New York Times bestselling cookbook author behind PlantYou, scrappy foods are a simple way to resolve the food waste problem. Both in our own homes and in the food industry.

"Unfortunately, more than 30 to 40% of edible food in the United States goes to waste, ending up in landfills," Bodrug says. "Along with food waste being a mounting global issue, produce prices continue to skyrocket. This is why I value low-waste recipes so much."

While composting is a great way to put nutrients back into the soil, there has been a push in the last few years to upcycle “imperfect” foods. This includes turning food scraps and byproducts of farming into useful products. What started with small companies has now spread to global brands like Dole, which has partnered with Ananas Anam to upcycle pineapple plant leaves into a leather alternative made from banana leaf fibers.

So, what does this trend look like, exactly? Let’s say even though you manage to eat your fresh produce in time (go you!), there may still be some parts of the vegetable or fruit you don't eat. Scraps like cauliflower leaves, broccoli stems, orange peels, and chickpea water end up being a byproduct. But they're not waste.

Bodrug has a video series on Instagram called "Scrappy Cooking" with 43 episodes and counting. With 1.2 million followers and tens of thousands of likes on each tutorial, she's showing fellow eco-conscious chefs how to make delicious recipes out of food that would have otherwise gone to waste.

"'Scrappy Cooking' originated because I threw up a leftover orange peel candy recipe one day," she says. "These were things I was already doing in my home to save money and reduce food waste, and the reaction was like nothing I had ever seen on my social channels. I decided to make a series out of it, hoping it would inspire others to look at their waste more carefully."

Aside from taking part in the "scrappy foods" trend at home by adding would-be food waste into recipes, there's also a shift happening in the food industry that will only grow this year.

"More and more brands are putting efforts toward caring for the environment," says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, an inclusive plant-based dietitian and owner of Master the Media in Stamford, CT. "This includes using recycled and/or recyclable ingredients in both packaging and food products. Think pancake mixes made from upcycled ingredients from Otherworld. And 88 Acres is selling granola made from leftover end pieces of its bars. Other products are simply utilizing the whole food, including parts that would normally get tossed. Rind Snacks is a great example of this, as it utilizes the rinds and produce skins of foods."

That's also why Renewal Mill was founded: to help rescue food waste and turn it into something people can enjoy. The company starts with the byproducts of plant-based milk and turns it into premium gluten-free flour and baking mixes.

"At Renewal Mill, when you use a pound of our upcycled ingredients, you're saving about 5.5 pounds of food waste from ending up in a landfill, where it would decompose and release harmful methane emissions," says Caroline Cotto, co-founder and chief operating officer at Renewal Mill. "In total, we've diverted 350,000 pounds of food waste from landfills in the past few years, which equates to one million pounds of CO2 emissions diverted. However, we are just one brand in the upcycled food movement. Collectively, Upcycled Certified products are projected to prevent 788 million pounds of food from going to waste in 2022."

According to Cotto, when companies make the right choice the easy choice, everyone benefits. "I think that's the best thing coming from all of the new options hitting the market. If consumers only have the choice between two planet-friendly options on the shelf, then we've succeeded," she says.