Photo credit: Wildpine Photography
Like many innovations, Salvage Supperclub wasn’t born out a grand idea. What began as a small meal series in New York has since developed into an international project, with its “dumpster dinners” garnering substantial attention over the past few years. The concept was sparked from founder Josh Treuhaft’s graduate design thesis about environmental sustainability challenges.
The “Genesis Moment”
While trying to encourage people to compost, Josh realized that his largest obstacle was motivating people to care: “People often perceive waste as gross and believe their own behaviors are hard to change. There is also a certain amount of guilt associated with wasting food.” He began to think about another point of entry into the issue. By tapping into dining culture, with which people are already engaged, he could perhaps encourage people to throw away less without “preaching.”
This idea was further cemented in Josh’s own kitchen. His wife had made a carrot-ginger juice one afternoon, and he noticed the large amount of leftover produce pulp. Wondering if it was edible, he stuck a spoon into the mix: “It was disgusting,” he says, laughing. But his curiosity remained: “I staged a photo on Instagram to crowd-source ideas for what I could do with it, and I got a bunch of responses…bake it into a bread, use it in a slaw, flavor soups with it, etc.” It was in that moment that Josh realized reinventing food was a more powerful angle than simply talking about not wasting it.
The Supperclub began in earnest with a pre-dumpster dinner in Josh’s design studio. It was framed as a prototype where guests could give feedback and donate whatever amount they deemed appropriate. Josh, who has no formal culinary training, and a friend prepared the dinner using typically-wasted ingredients. Although the suggested donation was $5, guests donated an average of $18. When asked where they wanted their money to go, most voted for future no-waste dinners! The second event followed the same model but with more guests and a cook who had some restaurant experience — again, guests exceeded the suggestion donation amount and encouraged future dinners.
Dining In A Dumpster
The “dining-in-a-dumpster” concept came before the third dinner. Josh pitched the idea to a neighborhood culinary school. The school’s marketing director agreed to a future partnership and sent a blast out to the school’s staff, students, and alumni. Celia Lam, who is still Salvage’s culinary director, signed on to the project. While Josh remains the figurehead, producer, and experience designer, Celia is responsible for designing exciting menus. Since Salvage operates as a roving pop-up, it also partners with chefs in cities across the country. Presently, they have hosted about 30 dinners in cities like San Francisco, Portland, Berkeley, Los Angeles, New York, and Tokyo.
The Challenges and Rewards of No-Waste Eating
The future of Salvage Supperclub is always evolving. Josh, who is also full-time designer, searches for ways to make planning and hosting the no-waste dinners more seamless. Sourcing ingredients still remains the organization’s biggest challenge, as it’s largely dependent on what is available in specific areas. Josh maintains that the food’s story is more interesting when ingredients are salvaged for different reasons. Carrot tops, for example, are often thrown away because people don’t know how to prepare them.
The ability to execute a menu using “wasted” ingredients also takes a certain level of skill as a cook, since most of the ingredients are secured just days before an event. To cook within these constraints takes flexibility and creativity, but the results are deliciously fascinating and can positively influence the home kitchens. “Carrot top pesto is actually really easy to make. There are no super advanced culinary techniques — you just need to think differently about what’s in your fridge,” says Josh.
When asked about making Salvage a more permanent entity, Josh muses about a food truck or trailer that could still travel and sponsor food waste awareness through dining experiences. The concept does lend itself to pop-ups, but because current events necessitate building the dumpster dining room from scratch, Salvage dinners only happen a few times a year. Stay tuned for future events!