I’m writing this on day two of quarantine since coming back to New York from New Hampshire where I spent the holidays. Now that we’re back after two weeks away, we’re relying on takeout to get us through isolation. But with all of this convenience comes a ton of waste. Cardboard boxes, ice packs, take-out containers, plastic silverware, delivery bags, they all pile up in my nightmares. Not to mention possible food waste. The best part about living in Brooklyn during a pandemic is having all these at-your-fingertips conveniences, but how can we feel better about our delivery choices? I found a few different options that will actually be helping restaurants, farmers and supplies, and in this moment, taking any opportunity to help, especially when it involves a delicious meal, feels like a win-win.
The online grocer Imperfect Foods was founded in 2015 with the mission to eliminate food waste and build a better food system for everyone. The co-founders were inspired by seeing how much food was being thrown out in their college cafeteria, and dedicated themselves to eliminating food waste by rescuing “ugly” and surplus produce directly from farms and delivering it to customers’ homes. Since its inception, Imperfect Foods has grown to add a full range of products. According to Imperfect Foods, “In the US, an estimated 40% of food produced goes to waste, equating to the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as 37 million cars,” which is a result of fickle buyers, cosmetic standards and a complicated food supply system. In my gifted delivery, I became obsessed with the chocolate-covered pretzel pieces made from the broken pretzels that normally would have been chucked by producers. Also delicious were the not-yellow dried pineapple, the olive oil, coffee, and perfectly imperfect fruits and vegetables.
What was most surprising to me was the quality of the meat that I received. Chicken breasts, which were in my box and perfectly fresh and delicious, are a much different proposition than misshapen sweet potatoes, so I was curious how Imperfect Foods gets is cuts. It turns out, there are many ways that meat and seafood can find their way into the waste stream, even if it’s perfectly good to eat.
“Often, grocers won’t purchase or stock goods that are close to expiration or going through packaging changes, regardless of quality. And this year especially when hospitality venues shut down suddenly, producers were left with substantial backlogs of perfectly good food because of lack of buyers,” the team from Imperfect Foods told me over email when I asked about the meat in my box. “We quickly pivoted to recover bulk products from across the wholesale supply chain, including JetBlue snack trays, antibiotic-free, no-hormone pork ribs previously reserved for the Houston Rodeo, and artisan salami that had been destined for fancy charcuterie boards.” Just think, not only will you be helping save waste, but you could actually be getting better quality than your grocery store, at a lower price.
Additionally, this year the company has expanded its reduced-cost box program, offering anyone who meets SNAP qualifications an additional discount on each order. Plus, in partnership with Kroger under the Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Foundation, it has offered emergency relief programs to combat food insecurity during the pandemic.
It would be a great New Years resolution to cook every meal, every day, but for many of us, that’s just not a reality—or, that’s what we’ve done for long stretches this year and it gets pretty exhausting. Plus, ordering from your favorite restaurants helps ensure that they will still be there in the spring when we can all (hopefully) go out to eat again.
According to Summerlong’s website, more than 1,000 New York City restaurants have closed during the pandemic, many of them in Brooklyn. This program delivers you 16 weeks of exclusive prix-fixe, three-course meals from restaurants like M.Wells, La Vara, Llama Inn and Glasserie, to keep cash flowing to these spots through the winter.
The company’s goal is to raise $120,000 per restaurant, $2 million altogether. So yes, it’s pricey. The total cost for 16 weeks, per person is $800 for pickup ($50 per week), $960 for delivery ($60 per week). But if you compare this to what you would normally spend at a restaurant, it’s fairly comparable, and you’re not going to order that final round of cocktails you always regret the next morning. I plan on using this as a weekly date night with my husband to give us something to look forward to each week throughout the winter. They’re also donating 50 weekly subscriptions to NYC healthcare workers.
Subscriptions are available to purchase until January 17.
If you’re more apt to order from your favorite neighborhood joint, that’s great too. Any delivery order helps the restaurant. DeliverZero, which launched in 2019, partners with over 100 restaurants around New York to bolster the use of reusable containers that can be returned, either with the next delivery order or by dropping them off at a restaurant. For the customer, there is no additional charge for this, just a promise that you’ll return the containers within six weeks or be charged a $3.25 per container fee. “Reuse is only more sustainable if the containers are actually being reused, so this is our way of ensuring that,” a publicist from DeliverZero explained. “And of course, as a business, we can’t afford to just give away the containers.”
The delivery options are based on your address, and while Williamsburg has a slew of options, Brooklyn Heights only has a few. The containers that I received for my Indian food were like thick, sturdy Tupperware with tricky latches and they worked well to keep the food warm and safe. If this is going to be your go-to option, you may want to dedicate a space for the containers so they’re close at hand when your delivery shows up. Or, you can look forward to a lovely pandemic walk to return them to the restaurant.
I’ve written about Farm to People before—the Brooklyn-based compnay delivered a heritage turkey directly to my house, reducing my Thanksgiving stress. I also rely on Farm to People for a weekly delivery of local produce and groceries from farmers and small businesses.
You start by choosing the size of your box and add on specific items from there, including specialty ingredients from Maine Grains, Haven’s Kitchen, or She-Wolf Bakery. As someone who cooks often and likes to try new things, there is enough here to keep me interested. My Cook’s Box comes with a rotating selection of fruits, vegetables, proteins, grains and cheese and includes recipes and usually includes enough to make about three meals for my family of three each week. I also appreciate that you can Venmo your driver a tip for delivery and that the packaging can be returned to them the following week (if you have enough room to store it).