Middle-class America experienced food insecurity during the COVID pandemic for the first time since World War II. The additional travesty lies in the fact that globally, we lose around $1 trillion per year on food that is wasted or lost.  According to an article by the Guardian1, “Americans throw away almost as much food as they eat because of a “cult of perfection”, deepening hunger and poverty, and inflicting a heavy toll on the environment.” The truth of the matter is that vast quantities of fresh produce grown in the US are left in the field to rot, fed to livestock or hauled directly from the field to landfill, because of unrealistic and unyielding cosmetic standards. This includes the less than perfect Roma tomatoes that never make it onto grocery store shelves, bruised or damaged apples, or slightly wilted or damaged leafy greens that never find their way into a salad mix. It also includes food by-products like the billions of pounds of fruit from the coffee plant, grains used to brew beer, and the pulp that is removed from fruit juice. However, if the Upcycled Food Association gets their way, these natural sources of protein, fiber, and sugar will be upcycled to help create a more sustainable and resilient food system.

So how does upcycling work? Think of it like shopping at an outlet mall- they might have a few imperfections. For example, you can find beautiful and delicious blueberries in the produce department at your local grocery store. However, many blueberries likely didn’t make the size, shape, color, or sweetness specifications. In a nutshell, they didn’t make the cut. But, that doesn’t mean that these blueberries may not be a perfect ingredient for a blueberry-based granola bar, cereal, or maybe even an antioxidant-rich cosmetic product. According to the Upcycled Food Association2, upcycled food is based on the philosophy of using all of what you have, doing more with less, and elevating all food to its highest and best use.

The benefits of upcycled foods:

  • Upcycled foods can help reduce the 70 billion tons of greenhouse gases from food loss and waste while creating economic opportunity and jobs for people around the world
  • Upcycled foods can help feed a growing population with less deforestation and pressure on the environment
  • Food waste accounts for 8% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and reducing food waste is a solution to help combat global warming

The downside? The upcycled food movement is still in its infancy. In order for finished product manufacturers to create upcycled food products, they first need to identify possible ingredient sources. “Hi, this is Brett calling. Umm…do you have any grapes that you were planning to throw in the garbage today, till into the soil, or feed to the neighbor cows?” Figuring out how to identify these possible ingredients real-time is still a work in progress. Maybe it’s time for a new take on Craigslist.

Interested in learning more? You are in luck. First, check out this PBS special3 on the upcycled food movement that just aired last week. Second, the Upcycled Food Association has a new certification with on-package labeling program that will be unveiled later in 2021. You can learn more about it at https://www.upcycledfood.org/

I can’t wait to read about the adult beverage industry finds their own niche within this new dynamic movement.

1https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jul/13/us-food-waste-ugly-fruit-vegetables-perfect

2https://www.upcycledfood.org/what-is-upcycled-food

3https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/how-upcycling-discarded-ingredients-into-food-is-gaining-momentum

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