FEAST: Saved and Devoured
How the valley’s rescued food is enjoying a makeover.
Jackson Hole, WY — In 2015 more than 200,000 pounds of food was diverted from dumpster demise thanks to Hole Food Rescue, now more local folks are devising creative ways to dress that food up.
Salvaging foods that have potentially surpassed their “best by” dates, or are on the borderline of becoming inedible is a time sensitive business. When overflowing crates arrive at their destination, the work is not done, it’s just beginning. The goal is to get the food into the right hands, hands with the skill and will to revitalize lackluster ingredients. Preventing further waste requires resourcefulness, creative thinking, and initiative to ensure food rescue efforts have not been made in vain.
Michael Ratliff, lead cook and kitchen manager for Jackson’s Good Samaritan Mission, has become skilled at taking life’s lemons and making lemonade, or tomato sauce out of cases of overripe tomatoes, croutons out of loaves of stale bread, and soup stock from leftover chicken and turkey bones. He even has a recipe for overripe cantaloupe, which involves freezing the fruit after it has been peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks, then placing the frozen chunks into a juicer to spin out a quick cantaloupe sorbet.
“In 2016, we served 16,547 meals here at the mission and gave away 37,453 pounds of food boxes to local community members, and 30,226 pounds to Hispanic Ministries from Blackfoot, Idaho,” Ratliff noted. He prepares meals by hand with the help of local volunteers, with food from Hole Food Rescue and leftover inventory from local resorts, Dominos and Pizza Hut, and the seasonally operated restaurants in Grand Teton National Park.
“The annual food budget for Good Samaritan Mission is only $4,000, and I stick to it!” Ratliff proclaimed. Calculated out, he spent only about 25 cents per meal in purchased food to supplement ingredients coming in from last year’s salvage projects. But he still managed to stock a full salad bar, and serve dishes like bacon wrapped trout, crudité platters, cheese boards, fruit stuffed watermelon baskets, and his signature Fowl soup made from homemade stock, vegetables, chicken and turkey.
The principal goal of the mission’s food program is not only feeding those in need, but also distributing food. This same mentality is shared by organizations around the valley, including those running Jackson Hole Bible College, where refurbished food has been on the menu since 1996. “One of the most elaborate meals I have seen created with almost entirely salvaged food was bacon and minced mushroom stuffed pork tenderloin with mashed potatoes, salad bar and various toppings, the full nine yards,” said Tim Thornton, food distribution manager for The Manna Ministry, which uses the Bible College as a hub to help distribute an estimated 100,000 pounds of food a year throughout the valley.
Thornton, who grew up in Indonesia, contributes his own culinary flare to the salvaged food scene in the form of a chocolate avocado milk shake. “One time we had so many cases of avocados, and you can only eat so much guacamole, so I blended them up with condensed milk, ice, regular milk, and fancified the glass with a drizzle of chocolate syrup,” he said. It might sound like an unconventional concoction, but he stands by the recipe. Like everyone else faced with large quantities of surprise ingredients and a fast narrowing window in which to utilize them before they go bad, Thornton must innovate.
Katherine Bouma, assistant kitchen manager at C-V Ranch, picked up more than 300 pounds of produce from HFR last Friday, a haul which included 45 pounds of over-ripened bananas. Students working in the school vocational program there helped peel, freeze and process the fruit into frozen banana yogurt to be used in the afterschool snack program.
“We’ve made dried fruit for trail mix, juiced fruit and poured it into popsicle molds, fried thin sliced potatoes to make homemade potato chips, cut them into wedges for steak fries, used different breads for bread pudding, and soup—we’ve made a lot of soup,” Bouma said.
Her goal is to teach students to be open to trying different foods and to get creative in the kitchen. Donated ingredients, she says, are great teaching tools because there is no harm done to the program’s food budget if recipes bomb.
Sure, words like refurbish, refresh, revitalize, and repurpose are not usually associated with the food scene, but are perfectly fitting when it comes to describing the efforts that go into preparing salvaged products. And the best part is that all of these organizations work together and are willing to share, not just with each other, but also with anyone in the community willing to experiment with ingredients that have lost their curb appeal.
For more info on these efforts attend the Food Talks, hosted by St. John’s Episcopal Church. Channeling the TED Talks style of presentation, this week marks the first in a series of conversations discussing how people’s lives have been affected by the work of organizations focused on feeding folks.
In closing, I will leave you with something I overhead while visiting the Good Samaritan Mission: “Sharing food is showing love.” PJH
Food Talks, 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, January 25 at St. Johns Episcopal Church,