As 2024 kicks off, reducing food waste is one of my top priorities. So, who better to call upon for savvy culinary tips than Rudi Sodamin, the head of culinary arts for Princess Cruises, who oversaw the production of 10,000+ meals folks consumed a day (!) while I was aboard Discovery Princess—the newest ship in their fleet. It can house up to 3,660 guests and 1,346 crew members, to be exact.
As we cruised from Vancouver, Canada, back to my final destination, Los Angeles, I got to tour the galley and learn more about the concerted efforts the culinary management team makes to keep food waste at bay (pun intended). Ahead we’re delving into a few ways you too can reduce food waste whether you’re feeding a large crowd of thousands or just a party of one.
3 tips for cutting back on food waste when feeding a large crowd (or a party of one)
1. Planning ahead is everything
When meal planning, Sodamin says there are two things you always want to prioritize: the size of the crowd and any dietary restrictions or preferences of who you’re feeding (to account for any potentially unforeseen adjustments). This is where planning comes in handy. “My main recommendation is to spend plenty of time planning—which is just as important—if not more!—as execution,” Sodamin says.
So, how should you get to work? It’s simple: Grab a pen and paper and write your meal plans down, step-by-step, to ensure no ingredient gets left behind—the more detail the better. “Onboard our ships, our chefs work together to make a detailed menu plan for several meals and days at a time. This is based on several variables, including the itinerary and logistics, such as locally sourced ingredients,” Sodamin says. He also notes that you should take into account portion size, to ensure batching is estimated to the best of your ability ahead of time. “You don’t make more than you need. On our ships, our meals are made to order which greatly helps to reduce food waste,” he says.
The folks at Princess also take things a step further by using data to cut back on food waste. “We rely on it to tell us who is ordering what, when they’re ordering, how much they’re ordering,” Sodamin says. Much of this information is collected via their Medallion technology, a quarter-sized, wearable device that enables everything from touch-free food orders to location sharing onboard for groups and families. (It’s like the Apple Pay and Find My Friends of the seas!) “This information is extremely useful in helping to produce the correct quantity of each item, thus eliminating a large portion of the food waste,” Sodamin explains.
2. Use ingredients in more than one dish
The more planning, collaboration, and communication about menus, the better the outcome will be in terms of food waste, Sodamin says. “Every ingredient that is not prepared can be used elsewhere. This may be another dish or another application, but it can always be used,” he explains.
For example, leftover cinnamon from desserts at dinner may be exactly what the pastry kitchen needs for baking cinnamon rolls the next day. “I dislike any food waste, period. It’s our goal to use everything," Sodamin says. "We always use carrot peels and onion peels for stocks or soups and are always looking for new ways to use leftover ingredients. In fact, when we research new dishes to prepare, we always discuss how we will re-purpose food scraps.”
Perhaps this explains why I noticed lemon highlighted in several of their recipes—like one of the most delicious creamy lemon pasta dishes I’ve ever had at their private immersive food experience, 360, but also in a tasty lemon garlic dip served at their Italian-inspired concept, Sabatini’s Italian Trattoria.
3. Source high-quality ingredients
For Sodamin, quality is the North Star of everything he makes. “Quality is my middle name,” he jokes. That’s why the chef has gone leaps and bounds to ensure everything they’re serving aboard is of the best option he can get his hands on (for the tastiest outcomes and happiest customers). “A dish is always better when it includes quality ingredients," Sodamin says. "For us, this means sourcing local ingredients to make everything we serve that much better." Plus, who would want to leave any leftovers behind when what you’re eating tastes that good?
What Princess Cruises is doing to reduce food waste now
The cruise line has focused a lot on reducing food waste in recent years and is hoping to build upon its success in doing so already in the years to come. “Protecting our precious sea, land, and air resources is our top priority here at Princess and we’ve undertaken a variety of initiatives, both high- and low-tech, to preserve our planet for future generations,” Sodamin says. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty: Specifically related to reducing food waste, Princess Cruises—and its parent company Carnival Corporation—say they've made significant inroads in this area, with a reduction of 30 percent of food waste per person compared to 2019, with goals of 40 percent by 2025 and 50 percent by 2030.
Additionally, Princess has invested millions in the installation of food bio-digesters across its fleet. “It utilizes naturally occurring bacteria, water, and oxygen to break down food waste into liquid form," Sodamin says. "No chemicals are needed, and with the right conditions, a digester can process up to 100 pounds of food waste in one hour." This process helps ensure safer disposal of food waste and helps to lower the carbon footprint associated with food waste transportation and landfill usage, according to BioHiTech Global, the sustainable technology and services company that developed the system. However, the ultimate goal is to achieve less and less food waste altogether.
That said, you don’t need any fancy equipment to start making an impact in terms of food waste—especially if you're not feeding the masses. Compared to managing food waste at a commercial scale, handling it in your kitchen should feel more doable. Or, as Sodamin puts it: “If I can do it, you can do it.”
Want to eat more sustainably? An RD has tips for you:
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