Five Questions for Food Waste Feast

Mei and Irene Li share their journey in reducing food waste

Mei and Irene are on a mission to pass along their professional knowledge for reducing food waste in the kitchen. Photo: via Food Waste Feast

CO-FOUNDERS OF MEI MEI DUMPLINGS AND FOOD WASTE FEAST, Mei and Irene are on a mission to pass along their professional knowledge for reducing food waste in the kitchen. Designing dishes that use up everything in the fridge and offering workshops on how to make your dollars go further by cooking smarter, the sister-duo is on the cutting edge of the food waste revolution. 

Mei and Irene Li cooking with family
Mei and Irene making dumplings with family. Photo: Food Waste Feast

​1. WHERE DID YOUR PASSION FOR COOKING WITH LITTLE TO NO FOOD WASTE START? We became interested in reducing food waste when we opened our food truck and restaurant and saw just how much money we spent on ingredients. Wasting food made no sense from a business perspective. 

It also felt so frustrating to throw out food knowing just how hard all the farmers we partner with work to grow vegetables and raise animals. Once we started paying attention to our food waste at work, it made sense to implement the same strategies and philosophies at home.  

Mei and Irene of Food Waste Feast eating cake

2. WHAT ROLE DO MEI MEI AND FOOD WASTE FEAST PLAY IN EDUCATING OTHERS ABOUT OUR FOOD WASTE? Our goal at Food Waste Feast is to help home chefs cook more creatively and eat all the food they buy. Not only does this help people eat better and save money, but it helps reduce the amount of perfectly edible food that goes to landfills. 

The highest percentage of wasted food actually takes place in homes – it’s over 40%! It’s a daunting figure, but anyone who buys and cooks food can help address the problem. How? By looking at best-by dates more critically, moving something to the freezer before it goes bad, or making an omelet with everything you’ve cleaned out of the fridge. At Mei Mei Dumplings, we teach lots of cooking classes where participants learn not only to fold and cook dumplings, but also how to use up all kinds of ingredients. It’s okay if your spinach is wilted if it’s going inside a dumpling! 

Photo: Food Waste Feast

3. TELL US ABOUT THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE AND SUCCESS YOU’VE HAD IN CUTTING DOWN FOOD WASTE. If you can’t eat it, compost it! Composting food scraps returns nutrients to the soil, while food in landfills emits tons of greenhouse gases. We try to compost whenever possible, but it’s challenging to do at home. So, Mei now outsources her composting to a local company. 

As for our biggest success, it always feels great when someone tells us that our tips helped them change their kitchen habits. The more small steps we can take towards reducing our food waste, the better!

The Li Siblings

4. HOW CAN COOKING CREATIVELY HELP RESTAURANTS AND SHOPPERS ALIKE SAVE MONEY? Professional chefs know that so many commonly discarded meat and vegetable parts can be used in unexpected ways. Mei stopped buying chicken stock once she realized how easy it was to make stock from chicken bones, onion ends, and carrot peels.

You can buy fewer expensive fresh herbs when you both take the time to preserve them and use all the parts. For example, instead of storing basil in the fridge, keep it in a glass of water on your countertop. And don’t just use cilantro leaves to season your dishes – chop up the flavorful stems to use as well. Photo: Food Waste Feast

5. WHO INSPIRES YOU AND WHY? Our friend Rich Shih, also known as Our Cook Quest, is a trailblazer in the world of fermentation, preservation, and using mold to make food taste delicious. He’s an amazing collaborator in the culinary world who loves teaching, exploring, and learning. Plus, he’s the bravest person we know when it comes to eating really old things out of the fridge. 

Hear more from Mei and Irene. Watch CLF’s Tips for Creating a Zero Waste Kitchen with Food Waste Feast.