Kindred Kitchens | Mei Li of Food Waste Feast
WHAT DO YOU DO IN THE WORLD OF FOOD? WHAT IMPACT DO YOU HOPE TO MAKE?
I run Food Waste Feast, an online project and upcoming cookbook focused on reducing food waste through creative cooking, smart strategies and chef tips. I develop, test, write, and photograph recipes and preservation methods that help people use up their ingredients instead of discarding them. I also teach cooking classes and demos to help people make their kitchens and cooking routines more eco-friendly.
My goal is to help reduce the amount of perfectly edible food that goes to landfill, which is estimated to be as high as one-third of the food produced globally. Throwing out food wastes valuable resources and harms the environment, while at the same time so many people go hungry. There is work to do at every step of the food chain, but a lot of people are surprised to hear that the highest percentage of wasted food actually takes place in homes (over 40%!). It's a daunting figure, but it means anyone who buys or cooks food can help address the problem, whether that means 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.
Pictured above: Mei's Okonomiyaki using up various vegetables cleared out of the fridge.
WHAT FOOD OR RECIPE PROVIDES YOU WITH A SENSE OF NOSTALGIA?
My most nostalgic recipes are the handmade dumplings and scallion pancakes my siblings and I made with my mom when we were little, which in turn she made with her mother as a child. I especially enjoyed making and rolling the hot water dough by hand, which is now my 6-year old daughter’s favorite thing to do in the kitchen with her grandmother. I love the idea of passing on these traditions and aspects of my Chinese heritage while teaching my kids to cook and appreciate food. I also like to tweak these recipes to fit the way I cook - while my mother would have gone on a special trip to buy Chinese chives or Napa cabbage for the dumplings, I use up any greens I have in the kitchen, from Brussels sprouts to kale. It makes it easier to make dumplings on a whim and also ensures no wasted greens! My first cookbook Double Awesome Chinese Food talks about these family traditions as well as ways to make no-waste dumplings and throw a great dumpling party.
Pictured above: Mei & family making scallion pancakes.
WHAT DOES KEEP FOOD ALIVE MEAN TO YOU?
Keeping Food Alive is an incredibly important concept for me - I view it as literally maintaining the quality of ingredients so they’re still good to eat, but also in the sense of holding onto meaningful food traditions and food as community. As someone who wants to make sure that all food gets eaten, shared, preserved or composted, Keeping Food Alive means valuing our food for how it feeds us as well as how it nourishes us. Keeping Food Alive also means respecting the people and the processes that grow and produce our food and working towards a more ethical and inclusive system to get that food into our kitchens.
HOW DOES FOOD CONNECT YOU TO THE PEOPLE AROUND YOU?
Food brings people together in so many ways, whether it’s sharing favorite dishes, cooking with loved ones, or bringing food to friends who might be in need of some comfort or support. I really enjoy cooking with my kids - it’s a great way to explore everything from science and math to persistence and patience. My 5-year old daughter loves baking cookies and working on her knife skills while my 2-year old son loves rolling pizza dough and throwing cheese on the floor (I enjoy cleaning up a lot less). Food has also been a great way to make connections since I moved to North Carolina a few years ago, meeting people through restaurants and farmers markets. I’m a huge fan of businesses in my neighborhood like The Produce Box and The Black Farmers Market that both provide fantastic locally grown food as well as creating community bonds.
Pictured above: Mei's grapefruit and sour cream cake
WHO IS SOMEONE FROM THE FOOD COMMUNITY YOU'RE INSPIRED BY AND WHY?
I’m constantly inspired by the Zero Waste Chef, who cooks use-up recipes like I do, while also showing immense dedication to going plastic-free. I appreciate how she recognizes that everyone is at a different place in their journey to become more sustainable and that any steps you can take in the right direction are positive steps. No one is actually ‘zero-waste’ and you shouldn’t hold yourself to an impossible standard at the expense of making small meaningful changes.
I’m also a big fan of Sophia Roe, who makes beautiful, accessible, primarily plant-based food while also speaking on topics like mental health, workers’ rights, diversity, and food justice. She has influenced me to both buy a shiitake log and grow my own mushrooms as well as think more deeply about the intersection of race, politics, and the food system.
DITCH FOOD WASTE WITH INSPIRATION FROM THE BEST
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It is with deep respect and gratitude that we create, build and operate our business in the communities of Southern Vancouver Island, which as a business we acknowledge is located within the ancestral and unceded territories of the lək̓ʷəŋən (Lekwungen) (Esquimalt and Songhees), Malahat, Pacheedaht, Scia'new, T’Sou-ke and W̱SÁNEĆ (Pauquachin, Tsartlip, Tsawout, Tseycum) peoples.