By Shaun Smith
n September 2002, the City of Toronto began introducing its green bin organic household garbage program. According to the city’s website, over 510,000 households in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) now segregate organic garbage for roadside collection, producing about 100,000 tonnes of organic waste each year.
Much of that waste is food.
The Trickle Down Gourmet went on a little shopping trip to neighbourhoods across the city to find out what kind of grub wasteful Torontonians are tossing out, and to see what kind of meal could have been made from this delicious detritus.
In Forest Hill, one of Toronto’s wealthiest neighbourhoods, green bins were scarce. Maybe everyone was on vacation, or maybe those huge gardens suck up the compost, or maybe everyone just eats at fancy restaurants. There’s slim pickins here, yet I eventually managed to come away with cucumber and carrot peelings, blueberries, cherries and raw spinach.
In Rosedale, Toronto’s other pedigree downtown hood, most of the green bins just held dog poop. But Toronto also has a blue bin program, for glass and can recycling, and I scored big here, finding bottles containing 1/2 oz. each of vodka and vanilla-flavoured white wine, 3 oz. of sparkling mineral water, and a thimble full of vegan meal-replacement powder.
Once the haven of hippies and coffeehouses, Yorkville is now full of chic boutiques, wannabe movie stars and fashionista posers. I avoided the glitterati by lurking in the shadows up side streets lined with posh Victorian bay-and-gable houses. The curb yields a shopping bag of yard apples, two aged bananas and a bottle holding a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
When the hippies all became yuppies they abandoned Yorkville to snap up middle class digs in the Annex. The green bins here are full, and after a decent amount of hunting, I snag some steamed green beans, iceberg lettuce, 1/3 of a loaf of whole wheat bread and 1/2 a bottle of President’s Choice Decadent Blue Cheese Dressing.
Downtown’s Kensington Market seems to have a perpetual funk of garbage hanging over it. Perhaps that’s because these narrow streets of working-class homes and food shops are fertile ground for refuse. Here I score fish bones and heads, pork chop bones, cooked egg noodles, fried mushrooms and onions, broccoli stems and boiled potatoes.
Chinatown is also a Mecca of rubbish. On some nights you can literally shovel the rotting food off the sidewalks, though you might have to fight a few rats. On this night, I scooped diced pork in rice, shrimp in rice, cooked chicken meat, a pack of steamed buns, 1/2 a lemon partly juiced and an Earl Grey tea bag.
Cocktail: Vodka Vanilla Spritzer
Canapés: Mushroom, onion and spinach finger sandwiches, California style sushi rolls with spinach and baby shrimp
Soup: Fish soup with shrimp, broccoli and egg noodles
Salad Course: Waldorf coleslaw with cucumber, carrots, apples, cherries and blueberries in blue cheese dressing
Entree: Pork and chicken Irish stew with green beans and boiled potatoes
Desert: Gutterfruit crumble
Earl Grey Tea
Vodka Vanilla Spritzer
Mix a 1/2 oz. vodka and a 1/2 oz. vanilla wine with 3 oz. of sparkling mineral water. Garnish with lemon wedge.
Mushroom, onion and spinach finger sandwiches
Slice and salt one large onion and five large field mushrooms. Sautée all in one tablespoon of butter over medium heat until wilted and browned. Spread six slices of whole wheat bread with blue cheese dressing. Spoon the cooled mushroom and onion mixture over three of the slices, then cover with raw spinach and lay the other three slices of bread over top. Trim off crusts (and reserve) then cut each sandwich into four smaller finger sandwiches.
California style sushi rolls with spinach and baby shrimp
Lay an 8″x10″ glossy magazine cover on a flat surface. Place one cup of cooked, but cooled, sticky rice on the paper. Spread the rice out until it covers a rectangular area of 4″x6″. Cover the rice in a layer of raw spinach. Roll the close edge of the paper over so that the rice and spinach folds onto itself by about 1″. Pull the edge of the paper back, then repeat until the rice and spinach form a tight roll. Peel away the paper and slice the roll into 1″ lengths. Garnish with steamed baby shrimp.
Fish soup with shrimp, broccoli and egg noodles
In a medium pot, cover fish head and bones with two cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for 15 minutes. Then add one chopped broccoli stem, one cup cooked egg noodles and four cooked shrimp. Bring to a boil again. Drizzle with olive oil and serve immediately with steamed Chinese buns.
Waldorf coleslaw with cucumber, carrots, apples, cherries and blueberries in blue cheese dressing
In a medium bowl mix one cup cucumber and carrot peelings, two diced apples, one cup cherries and one cup blueberries. Toss all in PC Decadent Blue Cheese dressing. Serve on a bed of iceberg lettuce seasoned with vegan meal-replacement powder.
Pork and chicken Irish stew with green beans and boiled potatoes
Fry pork chop bones over high heat to brown. Deglaze pan with 1/3 cup of water and discard bones. Add diced pork and chicken meat. Reduce heat and allow to simmer and thicken for ten minutes. Spoon meat and gravy onto plate with steamed green beans and boiled potatoes.
Mix 1 1/2 cup each of cherries, blueberries and diced apple in a bread pan. Tear crusts from finger sandwiches above into roughly 1″ pieces, then mash crusts together with aged bananas. Spread bread and banana mixture over top of fruit and bake at 350 F for 30 minutes, or until fruit is bubbling and top is golden brown.
Needless to say, I did not eat any of this food. I probably wouldn’t be alive today had I done so. The point here is not to recommend that people should actually feed out of garbage bins, but that all of this food was, at one time, perfectly edible. The convenience of garbage collection, paired with the relative wealth of our society, leads to a wasteful attitude. A bag of Chinese steamed buns or a pint of blueberries is not less valuable just because you have money in the bank. While it is commendable that cities like Toronto have embraced recycling as a communal activity, reducing waste remains a matter of individual awareness and action.