How This Food Scientist is Changing Food Production with Zero-Waste Foods
You may not realize it, but in our every day lives, we are throwing away up to 35% of food. It’s an astronomical number that Maddison, a food scientist who focuses on food-waste and eco-friendly food production, has taken upon herself to change the future of food combatting food waste.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Maddison, where she told me all about how she left her high-end culinary job to work on food product innovation.
She’s all about upcycling foods we usually don’t think about eating (morning cup of coffee with some coffee grounds, anyone?), talks about her side projects that focus on approachable tips and tricks to reduce food waste at home (don’t worry, not all of them include drinking coffee grounds), and what she’s currently doing in her unique profession to create a food sustainable system.
Please start out by introducing yourself — your name, your major, job, hobbies, interests, and anything else we should know about who Maddison is!
Hey, my name’s Maddison!
I’m a food-waste fighting food scientist, upcycling advocate, and certified raccoon.
…which is just a more fun way of saying a Green Business Council certified TRUE Zero Waste Advisor.
I earned a Bachelors of Science degree from UC Davis in Nutritional Science with a focus in public health. With that degree, I took off to work as a food scientist for the food and beverage industry where I work on product innovation. So I help create new products for companies that range from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies.
I mainly work in the lab on product development. I support product and concept creation and bring a specialized focus in sustainable food systems. In addition to doing that, I also sit on the board of two non-profit organizations — one focusing on providing healthy food to local underserved communities and the other is creating the industry standard for upcycled ingredients and products.
When I’m not eating banana peels or drinking coffee grounds, you can find me exploring the outdoors hiking, biking, climbing and backpacking. I’m a craft beer enthusiast with specific interest in beer culture and home brewing. I’m actually a founder of our company’s Brew Club where we discuss history, science, and taste and culture of beer!
Please describe your mission when it comes to food waste and the environment.
Did you know preventing food waste is the number one solution to preventing climate change?
My mission is to reduce food waste through two ways:
- Creating value-added products
- Building an upcycled marketplace in which consumers understand the “waste” is actually delicious and nutritious
A big key in my work is understanding and re-envisioning our current system to provide solutions with large impact change. Additionally, I look to find solutions that are accessible and actionable for both individuals and companies.
How did this mission manifest? Or in other words, where did this passion come from? Were you always interested in eliminating food waste and the impact it has on the environment?
Food waste is something that has always been important in my life.
My career in food began when I worked as a line cook for a fine dining restaurant in West Hollywood, California. While we produced excellent food, the picture-perfect nature of the upscale business led to food being wasted. I made staff meals from these items so that I could attempt to reduce food wasted, but the fundamental concept that it was “waste” to begin with blew my mind.
If we were producing this waste at one restaurant, what did a collection of restaurants produce? What about an entire manufacturing company?
These were not questions I could have answered at the restaurant, which led me on my path to UC Davis.
While at Davis I participated, then led, an award-winning food waste project called ENDOFWASTE. This was where my passion for food waste prevention was really fostered. The project sparked a new level of excitement and passion for the space, specifically because I was taking action.
One other member and I actually turned this project into a start-up and created our own vegan, upcycled, protein bars under ReNew Foods. ReNew Foods won a business competition challenge award to “do more with less” and was on track to seek future funding and come to fruition. However, things often change. My co-founder and I were both offered our dream jobs, me at a global leading product development firm and her working for the largest food waste prevention non-profit, ReFED.
What is more appealing with my current position is the ability to innovate food waste for an industry.
If our one company could prevent waste on a small start-up scale, then imagine the impact that the large food producers would have with innovative upcycled products.
It would be monumental.
And that’s what it’s all about — creating a just food system that honors our food and all the resources, land, nutrients, water, time, people and care that it took to grow one item.
Describe what you do at your job and how it’s helping you achieve your mission.
Food waste is a systemic issue based on our agricultural structure. It’s also the number one actionable solution to prevent climate change.
When talking about food waste there are three pillars that must be addressed:
All of these pillars are extremely important and many are deeply intertwined with societal issues. If you’re interested in learning more about these issues and find supporting data check out ReFED.
In my profession, I help companies on the prevention level to create new products utilizing nutritious by-products of their manufacturing process (upcycling) and support creation of sustainable food products.
My focus area is in food waste reduction. But since this is also a systemic issue, I’m able to explore areas of plant-based diets, regenerative agriculture, cellular agriculture, aquaculture, and more!
Pope Francis put perspective on waste and climate change eloquently:
“These problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish… We have not yet managed to adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations, while limiting as much as possible the use of non-renewable resources, moderating their consumption, maximizing their efficient use, reusing and recycling them.”
Are there other projects that you work on or other activities you do to continue pursuing your mission outside of work?
My personal life is heavily involved in educating and advocating for food reduction.
This topic is one that people are often uncomfortable with since people usually view food waste through the lens of trash rather than treasure. I work to find creative and approachable ways for people to realize that items are only waste when we do not understand the value they hold.
I’m currently building an instagram to provide tips and inspiration @madd_about_food_waste and another fun, creative project called @wastedcocktails on Instagram that is coming soon!
Do you have any tips for people trying to eliminate food waste? What are your go-to tips and tricks?
- Plan what you’ll eat and make a list!
Food for thought:
Most food waste is produced in the home. A thoughtful approach to items, like fresh produce, will prevent over-purchasing and thus reduce waste. Avoid purchasing pre-packaged and perfectly-cut produce. There is waste produced in order to achieve those perfect shapes and then if they aren’t purchased, more waste is created by tossing them.
- Rethink why we don’t eat certain items.
Food for thought:
Do you really need to peel a carrot when washing it, while eating the skin is actually still perfectly good?
- Purchase ugly & imperfect!
Food for thought:
- Get involved with local organizations
Food for thought:
While it is not my focus, one aspect of food waste reduction is recovery. Volunteering to help at local food banks and gleaning organizations is a great way to not only prevent waste but also provide food to those that are in underserved communities.
Is there any message you’d like to tell the world about food waste, food science, and/or the environment?
Small changes can lead to big impact.
Specifically industrialized countries result in a large amount of waste.
As project drawdown points out “this data shows that up to 35 percent of food in high-income economies is thrown out by consumers; in low-income economies, however, relatively little is wasted at the household level.”
We can directly help our environment by our actions, being mindful of your current practices can yield big changes, then your changes fuel others to change as well.
We're All Capable of Making a Positive Difference
A huge thank you to Maddison for sharing her thoughts and tips on what we can all do on our own time to take care of this planet we all share.
Hopefully this interview got the wheels turning in how you can make an impact by starting in your own home. Or perhaps even got you thinking about pursuing a career to make the difference that you can.
Tell me in the comments what you’re trying to be more mindful of when it comes to food waste and the environment!