I’m staring at this burger, and my mouth is watering. My mind knows it’s made of stuff destined for the compost bin–the patty is made from cold-pressed juice pulp, the bun from yesterday’s stale bread crumbs, and the ketchup from bruised beets–but I just can’t help myself. This garbage looks delicious (and, according to one glowing review, it is).
The Juice Pulp Burger is one of many foods served at WastED, a pop-up restaurant run out of New York’s Blue Hill eatery that was created to repurpose food waste as delicious cuisine. For two weeks, Chef Dan Barber hosted 20 guest chefs, including Cronut king Dominique Ansel and Mario Batali, serving dishes out of components that would otherwise be thrown away.
Menu items included fried skate wing cartilage (nibbable crispy fish accompanied by a tartar sauce infused with fish heads); bagels and lox (featuring the bloodline of smoked salmon and “everything left over from an everything bagel”); and a stew of kale ribs (accompanied by pockmarked potatoes and parsnips, along with shaved immature egg yolk).
The most compelling items, though, are those that consist of food transformations. That aforementioned burger made from juice pulp is a good example, as is the rice that accompanies the Dog Food Meatloaf. (The beef is actually from an old dairy cow. And the rice is really cooked potato reshaped to look like rice.)
Blue Hill’s haute approach to repurposing bits of plants and animals that might otherwise be thrown away isn’t an entirely new idea. The processed-food industry, for all of its evils, does the same thing. McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets are delectable fried bits of meat on a plate, even though before 2003, they were the result of mechanically scraping the last bits of meat from a carcass and blending them into a pink slime. Since then, McDonald’s has changed its approach. Looking beyond the stomach-churning fact that ammonia was used to sterilize the slime–and assuming the consumer never sees that goop in the process–it’s an ingenious repackaging of food garbage at the mass scale. Garbage meat became delicious, something you crave.
Of course, Blue Hill is rescuing food waste from boutique farming operations to send a message, while McDonald’s used it to eke out the last edible morsels from the U.S.-subsidized industrial farm complex and improve its bottom line. But when I think about something like Ansel’s wastED dessert–a panna cotta made with the sweet, boozy rice left over at the bottom of a sake barrel–I can’t help but wish we could find some common ground between the innovative reuse of haute cuisine and the violent efficiency of the global industrial food market.
Or at minimum, I want one of those Juice Pulp Burgers in my grocer’s freezer. And maybe a side of McNuggets.