San Francisco Michelin Star chef fights food waste

A coalition of celebrity chefs are lobbying Congress to pass a food waste reduction bill aimed at preventing food in the United States that could help feed those in need, from ending up in the trash.

San Francisco Chef Mourad Lahlou is one of the chefs who went to Washington D.C. last week. He and other celebrity chefs joined the James Beard Foundation and the Stanford-based ReFed organization, to meet with 22 members of Congress.

Lahlou says it's important for people to know that there are ways that lawmakers, business owners, and consumers can reduce the amount of food that goes to waste every year.

While creating perfection on a plate is a daily goal for Lahlou and his team at his two San Francisco restaurants Mourad and Aziza, the Michelin star chef says perfect food doesn't necessarily come from perfect-looking produce.

"We try to work with farmers as much as possible to try to convince them to give us seconds or what's called the ugly produce, the ugly tomato or the ugly strawberry," Lahlou said, "They are so nutritious and tasty and there's no reason to thrown them away. It just doesn't make any sense."

Reducing food waste and providing more food for the hungry has become a passion for Lahlou, who met with Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, the author of HR 4184, the Food Recovery Act, and the Food Date Labeling Act that seeks measure to eliminate food waste.

The House Agriculture Committee held its first hearing May 25th.

"40 percent of the food grown in the country is wasted. That amounts to 133 billion pounds of food wasted. That's billion with a 'B" said committee chairman Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas.

A scientist from San Francisco with the Natural Resources Defense Council also gave testimony.

"We're leaving entire fields unharvested and eliminating produce solely for its looks. We're serving massive portions, throwing out food just because it's past its sell-by date," said Dana Gunders a senior scientist.

Chef Lahlou says one problem is there are no national standards for sell-by dates on milk, cream and other products, prompting businesses and consumers to throw away food that otherwise might be good.

"Across the nation there is nothing uniform about this system. Each state has a different date. So certain states like Montana...they allow the milk to stay on the shelves only for 12 days, whereas other states allow 21 days," Lahlou said, noting that a national standard might eliminate confusion and waste.

Lahlou says regardless of whether the bill passes, businesses and consumers can take steps to use all parts of the food they buy, such as turning leftover bread into breadcrumbs and using leftover parts of produce in other ways.

"We watch what we throw away. We try to use everything from the skin of the fish, to the bones, to the head to the peel of the carrot," Lahlou said.

The coalition is hoping their efforts will spark dialogue and prompt consumers to think twice about the food they buy and food they throw away.