Waste Not: Pro Chef, Home Cook—Everyone Can Compost

An expert talks strategies to reduce waste, improve soil and grow higher quality foods.

Meredith Sorensen talks about compost with the same passion many chefs feel about the first perfectly ripe heirloom tomato of the season. When she talks trash, she doesn’t use the kind of words an NFL cornerback might when goading the opposing team.

No, Meredith Sorensen wants to make the world a better place “starting right where you are.” And she believes food waste is a vital and valuable frontier waiting to be explored by both professional cooks and home cooks.

It’s a resource at your fingertips,” says the woman who grew up in Rumson and has been mining the world for composting opportunities and lessons for almost 20 years.

Last week, Sorensen returned home to address members of the Rumson Garden Club in a lecture that could properly be called “A Rind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste.” Club members, almost all avid composters, admitted that even they learned a thing or three about how composting improves soil, which improves the quantity of the food grown, as well as its quality—therefore improving its nutritional benefits to humans.

After her lecture, Sorensen, who is the director of communications for Boston-based Harvest—which has 20 locations across North America and a product line that includes soils and mulches sold at Lowe’s and Home Depot—spoke with me about what those who cook for a living, and those who cook at home for families and friends, could do to reduce food waste by composting.

Start small,” she advises.

Whether you’re cooking in an apartment or a sprawling home on multiple acres, in a cozy downtown cafe or a banquet hall that feeds hundreds nightly, you need to “analyze your garbage.”

Spread it out…see what’s leaving your business or home,” she says. “Take photos, and see what you are throwing away.”

Coffee grinds are a prime composting material, for example. So are vegetable scraps, particularly greens such as carrot tops and leafy vegetables. Put them in a compost bin or pail, let Mother Nature run her course, and the resulting compost can power your backyard garden. For restaurant chefs, who work regularly with local farms, contributions of nutrient-rich compost that springs from a farm’s own vegetable scraps can be a welcome exchange.

In addition, Sorensen suggests getting a hometown school involved in composting projects.

Garbage tells its own story,” she says. “If a restaurant works with a local school to help analyze that story, it provides a learning opportunity to students.”

Meanwhile, as the pro chef and the home cook turn waste into a tangible, valuable product, the economics make an increasing amount of sense. Related ideas to reduce waste start to generate: If a restaurant, for instance, is tossing out 400 paper napkins a week, paying for a product both as it enters the restaurant and again for its disposal as it leaves, a switch to cloth napkins is considered.

You’ll see the differences you’ve made pretty quickly,” Sorensen says.

Once you get into the habit of reducing waste, you’ll find myriad and many ways to support that habit. Sorensen has a bounty of tips.

Want an example?

Put a little tray in your fridge and label it, ‘Eat me first.’ Put the pear, the cheese, the leftover that needs to be eaten today, and reach for a food on that tray first,” Sorensen says. “If you fail to eat it today, compost it tomorrow.”

Don’t you think every fridge deserves an “Eat It Today Tray”?

Meredith Sorensen can be reached at her Web site, solidstrats.com (which stands for Solid Strategies). For more information about Harvest, visit harvestorganics.com.

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