The Greatest Sin

Contemplating a quarter loaf of severely stale ciabatta bread in my kitchen this morning, I was reminded of a staggering statistic I read recently. “The NRDC report said Americans discard 40 percent of the food supply every year.”

All that stale bread & an overripe tomato can be

As a person with a gut-level aversion to throwing anything edible away, this figure was unimaginable — especially given the hunger not only around the world, but in our own country. Another statistic: “In 2010, 17.2 million households, 14.5 percent of households (approximately one in seven), were food insecure, the highest number ever recorded in the United States.” Children were “food insecure” (i.e. hungry) in 10% of households. All of which brings up a fairly obvious question:

How is it that 15% of America is hungry, when we are throwing away 40% of our food?

The report also pointed out that “just a 15 percent reduction in losses in the U.S. food supply would save enough to feed 25 million Americans annually.”

All of which brings up another specter — the conversion of forest and other natural areas to farmland and grazing pasture, which carries with it a whole related set of problems that I’ll save for another time.

In most of the world, throwing away food would be a sin of the highest order. In Spain, they wouldn’t throw away that quarter loaf of stale bread; they would make bread and garlic soup — something, I might point out, that you would pay a small fortune for in one of José Andres’ restaurants in the states. In Italy, they would make crostini or a pasta. In France, it might become an impromptu bread pudding or pain perdu — which, when translated, means “wasted (or lost) bread”.

I’ve written extensively on this subject in the past, as it is one that I’m reminded of frequently (especially as the father of three children who sometimes deposit perfectly good food in the wastebasket). I’ve counseled you on how to turn a fridge full of wilted vegetables into a delicious minestrone. And now, back to my stale quarter loaf of ciabatta bread…

We may not solve all the world’s problems in one blog post. But my stale bread would not be “wasted” nor “lost”. With a large knife, I cut it into rustic cubes, which I combined with tomato, onion, olives, anchovies and olive oil in a spontaneous and spectacular pasta. So next time you’ve got a similar hunk of bread in your larder, o’ gluttonous American, do not throw it out — let it sit a little longer, help bring down that mind-boggling statistic, and mangia, friend!

*   *   *

Penne with tuna, tomato and bread
serves 4

1 lb. dried penne
1/2 cup olive oil
1 small white onion, slivered
6 cloves garlic, smashed
1 large ripe heirloom tomato
10-12 black olives (such as Italian oil cured or kalamata), pitted and roughly chopped
1 can tuna in oil
6 large anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
1 tbsp. capers
freshly shaved pecorino romano

Bring a large pot of water (4 quarts-ish) with 1 tbsp. salt to a boil over high heat. Stir in penne and cook according to directions for al dente, usually around 8-10 minutes.

While pasta is cooking, heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring, until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add chunks of bread and toss to coat with oil. Add olives and tomatoes, and continue cooking for 2-3 more minutes, stirring frequently. Remove tuna from oil and add to pasta, breaking up as you go, along with anchovies. Add 1/4 cup of pasta water and lower heat to medium.

When penne is cooked al dente, drain in a large colander. Add to sauce, turn heat to high, and cook, tossing or stirring constantly, for about 1 minute. Remove from heat and plate, drizzling with a little extra olive oil if you’d like, and a sprinkle of flaky sea salt. Shave some fresh pecorino romano over the top and serve immediately.

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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Michelle
    Oct 26, 2012 @ 01:10:27

    It is disgraceful. (Though, as you know, chickens can assuage guilt since they’ll eat anything.) This looks delicious.

    Reply

  2. sybaritica
    Oct 26, 2012 @ 01:53:12

    That’s a horrible statistic!!

    Reply

  3. Mom
    Oct 26, 2012 @ 03:52:59

    AND something like 60% of Americans are seriously overweight. What is going on? I can think of a lot of stuff that needs changing but bringing it to our attention is a good start.

    Reply

  4. rachelocal
    Oct 26, 2012 @ 14:35:00

    I feel bad when I throw away kitchen scraps, like potato peels and apple cores, so most of the time I try to take it to my friend’s compost pile. Have you ever seen “Dive”? It’s a short documentary about all the food grocery stores throw away (and the people that dumpster dive for it).

    Reply

  5. Greggie
    Oct 26, 2012 @ 21:10:04

    Unfortunately it is also true with food left over from events. When I tried to include in my event contracts that unserved food (not leftovers from served plates) be donated to homeless shelters or food banks they were not able to do so because they said they would be held responsible should anyone get sick. I can understand maybe a hot entree that wouldn’t be consumed within a couple of hours but even bread and non-refrigerated desserts were thrown away. The only exception seemed to be fresh fruit like apples or oranges so I started substituting them for cookeis and cake. It was also a way for eventgoers to take it with them.

    Reply

    • scolgin
      Oct 26, 2012 @ 22:32:47

      Yeah, that’s kind of lame. Although I guess you can kind of understand it given our litigious society. My wife’s sister, who is a caterer, used to drop by leftovers from her events at our house — sagging half cakes, picked over pasta salads. I always felt like it was, “Tag — you’re it!” and then I’d be the one with the guilt for throwing it away.

      Reply

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