Mark Lara, Director of Nutrition Services at San Luis Valley Health, believes the kitchen is the heart of the home.  “It is a place of warmth, joy, communication, and sharing.”

It’s for that reason that Lara passionately cares about the process of preparing each dish, from the producer to the consumer.

In partnership with La Puente Home, Inc., San Luis Valley Health will host a food waste display from now until Monday, April 21st, educating about the impact of food waste in the San Luis Valley.  The display was designed by Mary Ellen Huss, Director of the Food Bank Network of the San Luis Valley, FBN.

The display is a depiction of an average day’s donation from grocery stores like Wal-Mart, City Market, and Safeway.  “We are so thankful for the support we receive from our local grocery stores,” says Huss.  “Without it, we couldn’t keep our doors open.  In a broader way, I also know that if the stores didn’t have a place to donate, all of this food would end up in the dumpster.”

Lara estimates that between thirty to forty percent of produce harvested in the field is never actually consumed.  “This affects us in purchasing food here.  Using potatoes as an example, we purchase them locally from Brandon Rockey and Paul New.  We get a delivery as needed and nothing sits around.  Part of this is because we also don’t have storage.  But, by regularly purchasing, we are able to use our produce when it is most fresh.”

By purchasing regularly and sourcing as much local produce as possible, Lara and his team have gotten their food waste down to a science.  “Daily, we discard about five gallons of food, which we are able to give to local farmers for their chickens.” 

Lara explains that of the eighty pounds of fresh vegetables used daily in the cafeteria, he discards about ten pounds as scrap.  “Then, when we are ready to serve our meals, we know we have to do that when it is at the height of freshness,” says Lara.  “We have to be able to guess when we’ll run out and know how long it will take to remake each dish, all to ensure that we have as little extra as possible at the end.”

Lara says this has taken a lot of training.  “In the restaurant business, I was always taught to have one hand on the trash can and one hand on the register.  You have to closely monitor how much of your food is going to waste.”

Thanks to the Valley’s long agricultural heritage, Lara believes these conversations are easier to have here.  “Back in the depression, there was still a lot of meat and potatoes in the Valley.  My dad always said that he felt like he was the richest man in town because of the food we had.  Maybe there was no money, but we had food.”

While times have changed and a significantly smaller percentage of Valley residents work in agriculture or labor intensive jobs, there is still a bounty of food.  “I think we’ve evolved into generations that mostly only know what the media says is healthy, which is skinny or sexy or whatever each of us thinks.  The way people try to lose weight to become that is not conducive to them losing weight or being healthy.”

While Huss serves a different population, she sees a similar theme.  “In the years I’ve worked at the Food Bank, I’ve come to understand that hunger is much less about a calorie deficit.  It’s a nutritional deficit.”

With education, tasty healthful dishes, and fresh nutritious ingredients, Lara believes he is doing his part to change this.  “I’ve always enjoyed this work because everyone needs food.  I’m providing something that ties into every part of our society.  I want to create an environment for people to get nourishment, make decisions, and renew friendships.  When they are done with their meal, they will work harder and be happier.”

To learn more about food waste, visit the display in the San Luis Valley Health main lobby.  

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