service research to advance sustainable development

Shelter Pudding / Up-scaled Food Distribution

Very large amounts of good food are routinely discarded by commercial corporations. There are real challenges for even efficient, well-run and well-meaning enterprises to reconcile this with an imperative to advance the pursuit of sustainable development. As one element of an effort to address this issue, here's a draft recipe / procedure for "shelter pudding", designed to turn otherwise discarded breadstuffs into a community food resource without negatively impacting participating corporations' commercial prospects.

Some historical context: "Bread Pudding is thought of as an old fashioned dessert that had its humble beginnings in 13th century England. It was first known as a "poor man's pudding" as it was made from stale leftover bread that was just moistened in water, to which a little sugar, spices and other ingredients were added." (From this link , visited on January 9, 2009).

Our procedure will follow more this basic tradition of frugally using available resources, without planning for the large amounts of eggs, milk, sugar - typically added to bread pudding today in the U.S. used as dessert pudding.

1. Arrange donations of breadstuffs from cooperating corporations. Goals here include: minimizing any marginal expense to the corporation, including managers' time; avoiding displacing sales; and, over time, designing creative, appropriate ways of acknowledgment. For example, groups of recipients might wish to volunteer a weekend day cleaning up a neighborhood "sponsored by" donating corporations (t-shirts?).

2. Mix into really large (clean!) vats donated "basic" breadstuffs such as whole grain breads, e.g. rolls, whole loaves, sliced bread. Exact preparation techniques will vary with the exact ingredients and with the style of the preparers. When using rolls, one way is to tear them into two by hand when putting them into large vats. Add water to soak, mix the ingredients somewhat, let sit perhaps several hours. Then mix well, e.g., with (very) large fork and knife. This base corresponds to the original, traditional "bread pudding". Note: Ideally, include ingredients containing bean products such as soy or lentils so as to constitute whole protein - possibly presoaked, blended and precooked. This can give the body an opportunity to use the food not just for calories, but also for "body-building" or repair. While the basic recipe seems to emphasize the "West's" staple food, wheat, it is also good to include other cultures' staple foods such as potatoes, corn and rice.

3. For one version - "dessert" or "granola" - add to the mixture a somewhat lesser amount of pastry products, cookies, etc. depending on sweetness content of original ingredients. Let soak a little, mix well and soak some more. (Alternatively, proceed until drying or dried phase, and then add a dessert glaze such as chocolate.) Strain the mixture, and place on cookie sheets perhaps a generous 1" thick to dry out, using a second cookie sheet to help press the water out. All the strained water can be saved to use for soups, especially with breads made of high quality organic ingredients. Part way through the drying process, cut into desired shapes such as a granola-bar geometry. Let dry completely. If using a colander, it can be firmed in the colander, then placed iupside-down on a baking tin, and the pie-shape cut into 6ths or 8ths to let dry before adding desired toppings (e.g., peanut butter topped with chocolate, or fruit compote or fresh fruit).

4. For another, "meal", version - add much less pastry product. Otherwise, continue as before until part way through the drying process, at which time layer on meat, cheese, vegetables, etc. as available. Turn another mostly-dried cookie sheet of basic-bread-puddin`g-in-progress over on top to make a cookie-sheet-sized "sandwich". Cut into desired shapes such as generous-width "footlongs". Let dry completely, taking care to maintain a safe "cold chain" to avoid spoilage. This "meal" version imposes greater responsibilities to ensure healthfulness, depending on ingredients, and may be suitable only for operations satisfying sufficient criteria.

5.  Baking strained, frozen bread pudding can result in tasty food with appealing texture! To be really dessert-like, try adding fruit compote or fresh fruit on top. Or, peanut butter and chocolate. Or surplus pastries.  For a vegetarian meal, add beans (e.g., soy or lentils) and vegetables (and cheese?). With proper attention to the cold chain and timing, meat can be added for classic European puddings.

6. Careful attention to the entire process can reduce the time needed, increase the amount of good food which is salvaged, and decrease the amount of malnutrition and hunger. One idea to increase the amount of primary soaking / draining container in a commercial-sized kitchen: just as plates or forks are washed and reused with confidence, large stainless-steel sinks can be thoroughly washed and (with proper attention to drainage) be used to soak and then drain bread. For operations with multiple sinks, for example if they are unused overnight, this could support significant quantities of shelter pudding being prepared on a nightly basis.  Want to reduce cooked residue at the bottom of pots?  Try adding oil on the bottom, before other ingredients, and remember - once it's boiling it doesn't get hotter with more heat.

7. Organizational issues are important. Often-times, even after agreeing to cooperate, corporations are met with no-shows for pick-ups. Volunteers' schedules are particularly fluid. One approach is for a "federation" of community-style kitchens (churches, schools, NGOs, ...) to collectively schedule pick-ups and preparation, and share in the distribution. Menus, procedures and instruction sheets which are adopted by specific operations can also be shared.   "Buy-in" by individual kitchens or shelters is important.  This can be promoted through tact, and encouraging each operation to develop an individualized menu of alternatives.

 8. To up-scale matching surplus with people in need,  it can make sense to bypass the meal provision model, which may have a narrower focus.  Providing a combination of resources of genuine use can be a much more efficient strategy for a larger scale program.  For example, people could be offered a bag (ideally reusable), a reasonably large spoon, their choice of bread loave(s) in original packaging, and a choice of available complements such as peanut butter, tuna fish, (washed) fruit or vegetables, and perhaps two reused plastic bottles (possibly filled with water infused with fruit, and/or custom flavored sugar beverage).  This approach can supply multiple meal equivalents (and useful tools) with less need for facilities and preparation time.  It could be unhelpful to try to make coincide the objectives of: up-scaled distribution of much more of the surplus to those in need, and incorporating more of the bread-based surplus into shelter- or kitchen- provided meals.

9. Various related topics are highly suitable for independent study service learning, such as a joint venture which addresses organizational, regulatory and coordination issues and opportunities at a national level.  This is an opportunity for a nationwide effort to coordinate suppliers of surplus food, transporters, distributors to needy people, and administrative, policy and other functions.  One possibility is a network of students performing internships.  Roles include gaining federal support (with respect to liability issues, standardized food handling certification mutually recognized by all the states ...), maintaining collaborative web resource connecting suppliers, transporters, storers and distributors, food preparation, offering referrals of needy people to other services (e.g., legal aid, state programs, medical services), etc.

Thanks to all, including Whole Foods, Trader Joes,Saint Louis University, Panera

Kitchen Tips:  When storing left-over food such as peanut butter, butter, potato salad, etc:  first use a spoon to clean off the sides and then smooth it out.  This will help it keep longer by reducing the amount of surface area exposed to the air (by reducing its fractal dimension - stay tuned for a math module on fractal dimensions!).  Especially for commercial / institutional kitchens: use tea tree oil as antiseptic / disinfectant: use some drops in dishwashers (e.g. after carefully changing water reservoir in institutional dish washers).

Respect people, respect their time, respect food