When you think of carrot peels, onion skin and other parts of vegetables that a chef normally doesn’t use after meal prep and cooking, we have been conditioned to think about how to dispose of them. But Bronx, NY based food distributor Baldor has set its sites on changing that mindset with their innovative and creative new SparCs initiative that’s aimed at combating food waste in America.
According to Thomas McQuillan, Baldor’s director of food service sales and sustainability, the U.S. wastes up to 40% of its food supply through a combination of production loss, retail waste and consumer waste. With the visionary McQuillan leading the initiative, Baldor believes that positive change can be initiated by the foodservice industry. “We have made it our commitment to reduce organic waste in our facility by using a three-tiered approach to eliminate waste at every juncture of the business cycle.”
The energetic executive had the advantage of coming to the foodservice industry from a completely unrelated field. “So when Michael Muzyk (Baldor’s president) gave me the opportunity to look at this issue, it came without any previous agenda. Early on, I was acutely aware that we needed to change the narrative,” McQuillan explained about how SparCs came about. “When you think about food that we’ve chosen to waste for whatever reason, it has the stigma attached to it that we don’t need it. You think that carrot peels need to be discarded so you throw them out.” And I embarked on this sort of journey around the narrative of how do we describe this product differently in other words don’t call it waste. It’s not waste, it’s a viable food source.”
The idea to rethink food byproduct didn’t just come overnight. When McQuillan was first given the task of creating a sustainability project for the company, he knew he had to fix the problem he was having with the company’s waste. “We recognized that in our food production process, that we were processing around a million pounds of produce a week and it was generating about 150,000 pounds of remaining food that we weren’t selling or doing anything with. And the question was, ‘What should we do with that food product?’”
McQuillan initially thought of using the waste for compost purposes. The visionary executive quickly nixed that idea after looking into various solutions and realized early on that moving wet product from the Bronx to anywhere else would be cost prohibitive. From then on, he knew that the solution Baldor needed was going to have to be out-of-the-box and creative. “It occurred to me that we were looking at a food product that could still be consumed and we had to start thinking about it that way. So I started to ask questions about what we can do with things like carrot peels or tips, onion skin and celery butts and I found that the solutions were endless!”
With the SparCs program, McQuillan was able to get Baldor executives to sign off on the revolutionary idea of relabelling scraps and changing the way people thought about them. SparCs is merely “scraps” spelled backward and it’s what Baldor calls their bags of vegetable byproduct that they sell to be reused for other things in the kitchen such as sauces, spices and more. They also offer SparCs to various animal farms for feed. “It really has taken on a life of its own and I hear people refer to their SparCs when they’re in the kitchen, so it’s just an extraordinary example of how we think about things differently,” he mentions.
“When we treat them differently our behaviors change and now we see lots of chefs in their kitchens getting excited about making that change and being much more proactive in terms of the way they treat all of the assets of the food they use.”
McQuillan tells of reducing in one year the amount of waste from organic foods from 75 percent to only 25 percent of Baldor’s produce. “We now have a revenue generation from our SparCs. Baldor is dehydrating SparCs, turning them into a dried vegetable blend that compares to bouillon. We even have figured out how to make croutons out of the dried vegetables. A partnership with a company called Misfit Juicery is turning their leftover produce into juice.”
McQuillan advocates for Baldor but has put this new approach to work in his own kitchen. “I’ve made this ‘incredible’ carrot soup after grilling carrot peels while making dinner one day. You know, I blended it, added a little bit more cream and it was absolutely delicious. And my wife kept complimenting the taste. I basically utilized the food product that would have otherwise been thrown away. So if we don’t create any waste at all and use all of the foods we use for cooking, we don’t need to worry about compost or any other solution!”
The Connecticut resident can be found sharing his agenda with both industry professionals and consumer groups throughout the Tri-State area. From the City of New York’s Food Waste Summit to a series of speaking engagements in Greenwich, McQuillan is an industry leader for speaking on the food waste issue. Most recently, he worked with Greenwich, CT community members and businesses to organize America’s first ever zero-waste fund raising dinner.
The dinner held at St. Catherine of Siena Church was able to raise awareness about food waste and collect donations to benefit a pair of local non-profit nutrition programs. Cos Cob’s Kids in Crisis and Bridgeport’s Wholesome Wave were the beneficiaries of the largesse of the 300 plus event attendees.
“Sustainability is a journey that involves the entire community,” McQuillan explained. From high school students volunteering as servers to local chefs, the event offered a unique ticket and table structure that welcomed all. The Zero Waste fundraiser also featured such unique components as no paper invites, no garbage receptacles and traditional Indian tiffens that could be brought home and reused.
“We have to stop sending this ‘waste’ to the landfill,” he said. “Landfills are no longer an option. Food that can’t be eaten by humans or animals needs to be composted,” the transformational executive concluded.”
Baldor Specialty Foods is the premier distributor of fresh produce and specialty foods for top chefs throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. To learn more, go to their website.