Coming alongside our clients and helping them achieve their sustainability goals is one of our greatest privileges. Hackensack Meridian Health has long been a leader in providing healthy, nutritious food to its patients, team members, and guests. But, as a health organization that serves thousands of meals each day, they’re also focused on reducing the waste made from each meal – and so are we.
To raise awareness of these efforts, we held a special six-course Zero Waste Dinner on April 24 to celebrate Stop Food Waste Day. During the Zero Waste Dinner, Executive Chef Cordova and his team delighted approximately 35 guests with an incredible culinary experience that used every piece of every ingredient.
Among the guests were Vito Buccellato, Hackensack Meridian Health Jersey Shore University Medical Center Chief Hospital Executive and Kyle Tafuri, Hackensack Meridian Health Director of Sustainability. Vito gave a warm welcome to all the guests and shared a touching story about how much avoiding food waste meant to his family when he was growing up:
Vito grew up in the home of first generation Italian-Americans. Since it was a struggle to put food on the table in the first place, Vito and his sisters learned at an early age that food should never go to waste.
“My sisters and I [were not permitted] to leave the table until all the food on our plates was finished. My mother often reminded us there were children who had no food and that we should be appreciative of the food we had.” Vito’s parents grew fruits and vegetables in their very small backyard in Brooklyn. Nothing from the garden was wasted – not even zucchini flowers, which were transformed into a family delicacy.
Vito’s grandmother frequently emptied the refrigerator of all “left overs,” often creating incredible seven course meals all while saving food. “My mother and grandmother were a hundred years ahead of their time following the basic principles of sustainability. Trust me, ‘sustainability,’ is a word we couldn’t translate into Italian, even if we tried!”
He went on to express his appreciation for the positive impact that Hackensack Meridian Health is making through its focus on sustainability, and how he looks forward to continuing to support the initiatives at Jersey Shore.
Kyle also shared the accomplishments Hackensack Meridian Health has earned in sustainability to date and emphasized that avoiding food waste is an important strategy for the organization.
“Food is a basic pillar of health. When you consider the fact that forty percent of the food in the United States is wasted, yet one in every ten people in New Jersey are hungry, that’s a problem. Events like this help us raise awareness and become more mindful when it comes to food waste.”
Chef Cordova, the Executive Chef behind the menu, led a team who created a unique meal that combined seasonal, sustainable food with no waste in food preparation. Here’s a great example: baked avocados were served using the vegetable’s skin as a serving dish. The flesh of the avocado was served as part of the main course and the core of the vegetable was used as a garnish – so none of the vegetables were thrown out.
“Our objective was to build a menu that used each part of every vegetable while still creating a meal with great flavors and presentation,” said Chef Cordova. “We were able to cook and serve a healthy meal using seasonal and sustainable food with virtually no food waste.”
For the main course, local scallops from the New Jersey shore were used to make Barnegat scallops. The Culinary team also used the chunks of each scallop that is typically thrown out as part of the shucking process, as well as broken or misshapen scallops.
As part of the meal, Morrison chefs served each course by taking kitchen pots to each table, using no plastic or disposable utensils. They discussed the ingredients used to prepare each course while also explaining how cooking a meal with zero waste reduces water use, transportation costs, and eliminates food from going into landfills.
To complete the meal’s Zero Waste theme, attendees received their food on platters, plates and other dinnerware purchased from a second-hand store. After the meal, the dinnerware was donated to a local women’s shelter.
It is estimated that approximately forty percent of all food purchased in the U. S. is wasted or thrown out. The Zero Food Waste dinner is part of a comprehensive program throughout Hackensack Meridian Health to utilize local and sustainable foods while reducing food waste.
In April, Hackensack Meridian Health received a System for Change Award from Practice Greenhealth. The network was selected as an Environmental Excellence Award winner for its commitment to improving environmental performance and achieving a top standard of excellence in sustainability. This year, network-affiliated hospitals received dozens of Practice Greenhealth recognitions due to a shared vision to raise the bar on environmental leadership and sustainability initiatives. The level of achievement grows as the network-wide commitment deepens.
More on Sustainability
Acting responsibly is in our corporate DNA. Sustainability is at the heart of our vision and values, as well as our parent company, Compass Group. Our commitment to the health of patients, planet and our people is reflected in our business practices. You can learn more about them here.