Photograph courtesy of Baldor Specialty Foods, Inc.
Thomas McQuillan is an executive, chef, and leader in food sustainability focused on zero waste initiatives. Since 2015, he has utilized his extensive business leadership experience as the Director of Food Service Sales and Sustainability at Baldor Specialty Foods, Inc to decrease and repurpose the company’s production of food waste.
Baldor sources food from farmers across the globe and distributes them to restaurants, vendors, schools, and more, serving areas from Boston, MA to Washington, D.C. In 2015, McQuillan launched Baldor’s sustainability program dubbed “SparCs”—scraps spelled backwards—and in just a year, eliminated food waste from Fresh Cuts, the company’s food processing operations.
Food Tank (FT): Baldor is known for using up all of its food scraps—what are the best ways to reuse the “ugly” parts of produce?
Thomas McQuillan (TM): One of our biggest challenges in this sustainability endeavor is to help people rethink what they consider edible. We start by removing the words waste or ugly from our vocabulary because imperfect product performs as well as perfect produce and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The rewards of consuming everything we grow, regardless of how it looks, far outweighs the idea of only eating food that looks pretty. Every part of food should be used and we need to challenge chefs to find ways to reimagine menus to include food products and parts that are normally thrown away.
FT: When did you first become interested in the idea of zero waste? And how did you first put it into practice?
TM: I have thought about reducing food waste for a long time, and am fortunate to be part of a company that values this idea as well. At Baldor, we accomplished zero organic waste to landfill in 2016 with all the leftover food or “SparCs” (scraps spelled backwards) from our Fresh Cuts production and have looked for many different ways to put this food to use. I have never read about a zero waste event, so I thought it was time to try to accomplish this and prove that it can be done to inspire others to do the same. We like to think about the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle motto as a hierarchy. The most important step is to REDUCE waste whenever possible by not creating it in the first place and then make it a priority to reuse and recycle whenever possible. Composting and using produce trimmings for animal feed are steps in the right direction.
FT: Baldor Bite is set for May 2—how will you combat waste at this event?
TM: To eliminate as much waste as possible at Bite, we are encouraging all of our vendors to be mindful of what they are using to build displays as well as what materials they are giving out at the event. We will donate all leftover food from the event to City Harvest, a long standing partner of Baldor. Additionally, we have partnered with Roho Compost to collect all organic waste generated at the event and divert it from the landfill.
FT: This is the event’s fourth year—what improvements have been made in regards to waste and sustainability?
TM: All of the initiatives are new to the event. We are also providing compostable plates, cups, and cutlery to eliminate the use of plastics. In the future, we will encourage our vendor partners eliminate the use of disposable plates and cutlery.
FT: Can you tell us more about your Zero Waste 2018 event on April 26?
TM: This event celebrates the ability to relearn, reuse, recycle, and repurpose just about everything. When we say zero waste we mean it! Now, we know you may think we mean zero food waste, and we do, but we aren’t stopping there. We have hired a recent refugee to sew and sell cloth napkins made from locally gathered fabric remnants. The silverware has been collected via Nextdoor, a neighborhood platform which allows neighbors to make requests, to share, to sell, etc. The three course meal will be served in tiffins—3-tiered lunch boxes—which can be taken home. The food itself will be repurposed from local food purveyors and restaurants. The menu, based on the food sourced, will be created last minute by celebrated chefs Ian Vest, Christine Salazar, Paul Clarke, and Debra Ponzek. There will be no trash containers—because there will be no trash! The table decorations will be tiny pots of pansies in repurposed yogurt containers from La Fermière that guests can take home. Beverages will include Asarasi waters captured from maple syrup production, and beer from Toast Ale made from stale bread.
FT: What is one thing that we can all do, as individuals, on a daily basis to reduce our food waste?
TM: Eat the food you purchase! If you plan out your meals for the week, it makes it easier to not over purchase. Planning in this manner will not only reduce waste but help you manage the amount of food that you consume. In the event that you have over purchased food, invite some friends over and share a meal. I challenge myself at the end of every week to pull all the contents left in my refrigerator and create a meal from them! I also cut all the ends off my vegetables every week, store them in the freezer, and then at week’s end, I cook a vegetable broth.
FT: What are your hopes for the future of food sustainability?
TM: My hope for the future of food sustainability is a movement back to local and sustainable agriculture where people eat seasonably and thoughtfully. I also hope for a cooperative effort to build regenerative soil systems across our country to replenish the nutrients that have been stripped over the past century. We need to think of our soil as a valuable natural resource that should be properly managed, not exploited. If we do not rebuild our soil, our future food system is in peril.