Food & Nutrition

These Companies Are Trying to Get You to Buy Food That’s Made With Scraps

We humans waste a lot of food. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, globally if food waste were its own country, it would have the third largest carbon footprint—with only China and the United States ahead of it. In more specific terms, the U.N. report Waste Not, Want Not estimates that one-third of all food produced globally goes to waste. This is pouring into landfills instead of fueling up bodies. To complicate matters, the world’s population is growing: It’s estimated that there will be 9.8 billion people on our planet by 2050 (there were 7.6 billion as of 2017). For a sustainable food system to feed all those people, the EAT–Lancet Commission advises cutting food loss and waste in half (along with shifting our diets to be more environmentally friendly and improving food production practices).

One unique way the food industry can help prevent food waste is by creating upcycled foods. In general, upcycled describes what happens when an item that has been discarded, such as an old inner tube, is repurposed into a higher quality product such as a handbag made from that inner tube. When applied to what you eat, it means taking foods or ingredients that we generally throw out—such as broccoli leaves, odd-colored bell peppers, strangely shaped ugly tomatoes, or pulp that remains after juicing produce—and cleverly repurposing them to produce high-quality cuisine.

Right now, upcycling is a popular and fast-growing trend in the food industry. In fact it was dubbed the number one trend by the trend-spotter panel at the Specialty Food Association’s Annual Summer Fancy Food Show (the largest specialty food industry event in North America) this year.

At present there is no standard food label, seal, or other identifier that’s associated with upcycled food. Luckily ReFED, a nonprofit focused on reducing food waste, operates the Food Waste Innovator Database, which you can search by the category “food product creation” to find companies that upcycle. Beyond that, like many tasty delights, word of mouth (especially by way of Instagram) is one of the easiest avenues to find out about these products. Do a Google search for upcycled food and a social media search for #upcycledfood. When you learn about an upcycled product, head to the brand’s website—that’s generally where you’ll find the story behind the food or beverage. Do your due diligence, of course. But don’t get caught up searching for upcycling perfection. Even if just one of the many ingredients within a sweet or savory find has been repurposed instead of trashed, that’s a good thing.

As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I’m a big fan of upcycled foods—I’m all for preventing food waste and taking care of our planet; plus, many upcycled ingredients are full of vitamins and nutrients that otherwise would go to waste (just because something doesn’t look pretty doesn’t mean it isn’t nutritious and very edible!) For instance, one upcycled ingredient is pulp, which remains after juicing produce. Enjoying a food that repurposes this pulp is an awesome way to punch up your fiber intake with something that would normally go to waste.

Interested in trying the trend? Here are eight upcycled food items that you can buy now.

All products featured on SELF are independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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