New store to fight food waste with "speed-scratch cooking"

Food deserts, food waste, obesity and hunger. Doug Rauch is fighting them all. Photo: Grocery store vegetables (AP photo)

CHICAGO, October 6, 2013 — It’s a safe bet that every person who has put fruit or veggies in their fridge has, at one time or another, opened that fridge a few days later and thought “That needs to be cooked up before it goes bad,” only to end up throwing it in the trash. Good food gone to waste.

Every day for 31 years, Doug Rauch experienced that disappointment on a large scale. As president of Trader Joe’s, Rauch watched as his stores and grocers across the country threw away anything that was less than perfect as they straightened their produce sections at the end of the day. Rauch turned his frustration into action. He has found a way to cut down on the waste while fighting food deserts, hunger and the health consequences of poor nutrition faced by inner-city residents without access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

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Approximately 40 percent of the food in America is wasted. According to a recent report by Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council, about 90 percent of that waste is due to confusing date labels. What exactly is meant by “sell by,” “enjoy buy” and “best buy?” The food may not be at its peak, but it still has its nutritional value.

Rauch’s new enterprise, Daily Table, set to open early next year in Dorchester, Mass., will prepare and repackage less-than-perfect and expired vegetables and fruit and sell them at deeply discounted prices. The goal is to replace empty calories from the fast-food drive-thru with healthy fruits and vegies that have already been prepped and can be plopped on the dinner table just as easily for about the same amount of money.

In an interview with NPR, Rauch explained his idea of replacing fast food with what he calls “speed-scratch cooking.”

Daily Table is going to “…take this food in, prep it, cook it right on site, have it be fresh and wholesome grab-and-go meals…prepped ingredients that gets you 90 percent of the way there, and you can take home and add your own little sauce.”

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Reduce, reuse, recycle. Roast up those slightly wrinkled peppers and cook down those blemished apples that Trader Joe’s is throwing out because no one bought them, and a family with no access to fresh produce can have roasted red peppers and fresh apple sauce instead of fries and a shake.

The other side of food waste is food shortage. As Rauch sees it, however, hunger today is not necessarily about a lack of food but a lack of nutrition. Approximately 13.5 million people in the U.S. are living in food deserts, mostly urban areas without access to large grocery stores, with limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The 49 cents they have to buy a banana or two might as well buy a McDonald’s ice cream cone because there is no place to buy bananas.

This is how food deserts, ironically, contribute to obesity, which is a contributor to diabetes, heart disease and myriad other health concerns which send people to emergency rooms, which because many underserved families do not have insurance, drives medical costs higher, which strains the economy. All for the want of a few bananas.

Rauch’s goal, as told to NPR, “is about trying to tackle a very large social challenge we have, that is going to create a health care tsunami in costs, if we don’t do something about it… . I don’t regard Daily Table as the only solution; there are wonderful, innovative ideas out there. But I certainly think it is part of, and is an innovative approach, to trying to find our way to a solution.”

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Presenting options does not necessarily fix a problem, however. Just as you can lead a horse to water, Rauch’s Daily Table can’t make people drink fresh juice instead of soda. Will they make the choice? There’s only one way to find out.  

Read more from Julia Goralka at End of the Day and Here, There, and Everywhere.

Contact Julia via Facebook at or through the Ask Me A Question link above.

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Julia Goralka

In addition to her work at The Communities, Julia Goralka is a free-lance novel editor and has served as a volunteer board member or committee member for several local charitable organizations. Prior to writing and editing, Julia was the Division Coordinator for the interest rate derivatives marketing desk at a large financial institution based in Chicago.

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