Just four years out of Lewis & Clark College, Claire Cummings has carved out a niche at Bon Appétit, a food service based in Palo Alto, California, with 500-plus cafes—the word “cafeteria” is gently discouraged—around the country. The company’s first waste specialist, Cummings tackles the problem on three fronts from her Portland home office: in the kitchen (promoting stem-to-root, snout-to-tail cooking), at the table (reducing discarded food and getting leftovers to the needy), and on the farm (using blemished fruits and veggies via a program called Imperfectly Delicious Produce).
Q: You got involved in food activism in college—was waste a problem there?
CC: I remember the first month of my freshman year being so overwhelmed by how much food there was. At all-you-care-to-eat facilities like that, you really see waste skyrocket. Instead of making trays widely available, though, you can give someone a plate, and the amount of waste goes down by a third. People simply grab less.
Q: How do you reduce waste in your own life?
CC: Nothing revolutionary—using parts of fruits and vegetables that I would’ve thrown out, like carrot tops or the beet greens. And now, when I travel, I carry a reusable eco clamshell container, for leftovers at a restaurant.
CC: It’s a win-win: It’s good for the environment and good for the bottom line. And it’s shocking that one out of every six Americans is food-insecure, while 40 percent of our food is wasted. Also, there are things people can start doing today to address the issue, and that’s empowering. You eat three times a day, hopefully, and at each meal, you could be having a real impact on the world.