Serving our Environment, Serving food

Administrator Gina McCarthy prepares food at Miriam's Kitchen By Gina McCarthy

Today, in communities across the country, Americans are joining together to honor the legacy of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. through a day of national service and volunteering.

At the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), we know that serving people and serving our environment go hand in hand – especially when it comes to the food we eat.

Some 48 million Americans, including 15 million kids, are struggling with hunger right now. At the same time, nearly a third of all the food we produce here in the United States goes to waste – ending up in landfills where it can harm our environment.

About 95 percent of the food we throw away ends up in landfills or combustion facilities. And once it makes its way to a landfill, food breaks down to produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas which contributes to climate change. We can do better.

Businesses and communities across America are taking innovative steps to address the food waste challenge – and they’re saving money, helping the environment, and feeding hungry people in the process. As pillars of their communities, faith groups are also playing a leading role in taking action to reduce food waste, serving vulnerable people, and being good stewards of the environment at the same time.

At EPA, we want to empower communities to do even more. That’s why today we’re launching the Food Steward’s Pledge – a commitment specifically designed for faith-based groups and leaders. By signing the pledge, food stewards publicly commit to helping reduce food waste in their communities and will receive an EPA toolkit that includes specific tips, methods, and strategies to make a real difference.

The toolkit include steps that people can take right in their own homes, like: shop your refrigerator Administrator Gina McCarthy prepares food in Miriam's Kitchenfirst, before purchasing more – to save money and make the most of foods you already have; plan your menu before you go to the grocery store – to avoid overbuying; and freeze excess fruits and vegetables – to help extend the life of your produce. You can check out the pledge and more tips here.

Today, to honor Dr. King, our national day of service, and EPA’s commitment to cutting food waste, I was proud to visit Miriam’s Kitchen in Washington, DC, where extraordinary work is being done to make the most of nutritious food that would have otherwise gone to waste.

The soup kitchen, which is housed in the basement of Western Presbyterian Church, “gleans” healthy foods that would have been tossed in the trash and uses them to build nutritious meals for DC’s hungry population. Gleaned foods can be anything from extra boxes of produce that a grocery store ordered by mistake, to unsold items left at the end of a sales day at a local farmers’ market, to autumn gourds that were used as seasonal decorations, but are still perfectly healthy to eat.

Miriam’s Kitchen is an essential resource for the DC community, serving two meals a day every weekday, all year round. And as I saw firsthand this morning, the meals served are healthy, creative, and delicious.
Top chefs from leading area restaurants now work at the Kitchen full time, where they craft inventive, nutritious meals using gleaned foods. With the right preparation and planning, these meals can be as delicious as a selection off a 5-star menu.

Today’s meal? Roasted pumpkin and apple salad. The source? 700 lbs of leftover decorative gourds donated by local DC residents. Check out the recipe at the bottom of this post to try it at home.

Miriam’s Kitchen is an example of the power of communities working together to make a difference. Local businesses and grocery stores provide a steady stream of resources to be gleaned, the faith community provides leadership and organization to keep the Kitchen running, and local residents step up by donating food and volunteering their time.

On our national day of service, and every day, I encourage all Americans to think about ways to make the most out of your food – it’s a service to your environment and to hungry people in your community.

*****

Roasted Pumpkin and Apple Salad

Serves 2 as an entree, 6 as a side

1 sugar pumpkin, recovered from grocery store

1 T olive oil

2 apples, purchased as seconds from farmer’s market

4 stalks celery, left over from another recipe, tops reserved

1 head romaine, wilted leaves composted

4 oz crumbled blue cheese, from leftover samples at store or market

2 lemons, recovered from grocery store

2 T fresh sage, gleaned from community garden

1 t salt

1/2 t ground black pepper

1/2 cup olive oil

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  • Peel, seed, and cut pumpkin into 1″cubes; reserve seeds for roasting, compost peels
  • Toss pumpkin in 1 T olive oil, place on lined baking sheet
  • Roast for 15-18 minutes, until soft and beginning to brown
  • Let cool to room temperature
  • Seed apple and cut into 1/4″ slices; compost seeds and core
  • Slice celery into 1/4″ slices
  • Cut romaine into 1/2″ slices
  • Combine all vegetables and blue cheese crumbles into large mixing bowl
  • In separate bowl, add lemon juice, sage, salt, pepper, and chopped, reserved celery tops; whisk together
  • Whisking constantly, drizzle olive oil into the bowl
  • Toss vegetables in dressing
  • Enjoy immediately