Andrew Zimmern Tells Us How To Stop Wasting So Much Food - Exclusive Interview

It's an understatement to say that Andrew Zimmern is not picky eater. The longtime host of the Travel Channel's "Bizarre Foods" regaled viewers for more than 20 seasons with his adventurous palate, as he tasted everything from fermented shark meat to larva. What Zimmern can't abide by, however, is wasting food. As he's pointed out on Instagram, one third of the world's food isn't eaten, and all of that waste is contributing to climate change ... while doing nothing to help the people all over the globe who have no access to decent nutrition, and in many cases are literally starving to death.

In an exclusive interview with Mashed, Zimmern explained, quite passionately, why this food waste needs to stop, adding that we can all play a role in sending less perishable food to the landfills. (For those of us who developed a habit of food stockpiling during the pandemic: Zimmern is speaking to you directly!) But fortunately, changing these behaviors isn't as hard is it may seem. In fact, Zimmern offered copious for getting more from your freezer and your fridge, so you can waste less food (and spend less money at the grocery store.)

Here's why food waste is a problem, according to Zimmern

Why are you so passionate about avoiding food waste?

Well, food waste is one of the six or seven major pillars that's sort of plaguing our food system, right? So often times, like I remember when I became a new dad, the pediatrician said, "There's only five things that could be wrong with your child, but the baby can't speak. So you've got to sort of pursue all five options." And I'm constantly reminded of that when I'm talking about our food system: it's not one thing.

And I think people that focus on one element of our food system are missing the point. And there's so much talk about hunger in America. There's so much talk about what to do on farms to replace the hundreds of thousands of farmers that are aging out of the next 20 years, but people are not addressing waste. And I'm constantly asked in interviews: "What's something that I can do about fixing our food system?" And people feel paralyzed when they hear about farms or they hear about families and hunger. They want to write a check or attend a benefit or something like that. All those things are great, but we can really do it in our own lives by addressing food waste. And I think it's a simple concept for people to get around. And I've been pretty serious over the last year and a half about doing a lot in the food waste space from a ... consumer point of view.

Do you have a lot of food in your freezer?

We ebb and flow. So the freezer right now has a bunch of space. I left to go visit my son in Utah, and it was 75 degrees, five days ago here. It's now 40 degrees. So I know what I'm doing this weekend. I'm going to make a stew of some kind. I'm going to make a soup and that's going to be eight quarts each and then my freezer is going to go over again. What we have to do is utilize the things inside of our freezer. That's number one, and use it as the friend that it was meant to be. Freezers are our friends. Stunningly, and I was amazed at the results of this, Hillshire Farm conducted a one [question] poll survey ... a third of the people in the poll reported feeling stressed, uneasy or surprised when they opened their freezer and saw all the unused food.

Look, I've been a food professional since I was 14 years old. I sat there, I was like, "Oh, my gosh, that's me!" Now, that's me: a person who actually has a plan for taking things out. Can you imagine how overwhelming it is for the average homemaker or consumer to open up that freezer and say, "Oh, my gosh, I'm just not touching that!" We have to make concerted efforts to organize our freezers and then to eat out of them and to make a commitment to eat out of them. We've put things in on purpose. I'm talking about stuff other than ice cream, right? The ice cream always seems to go.

But it's the two quarts of curry. It's the storage of chicken stock, of tomato sauces, of things that people don't know you can freeze, like cooked rice. So it really is an important, important place for us to get more friendly — so that we're more at ease with our freezers.

Andrew Zimmern's tips for avoiding food waste

Do you have your own routine for using up food to avoid waste?

Here's the problem: I'm what's called an "advanced freezer." So if I go away on vacation for a week, I'll process all the fruit in my bowls and do a freezer jam. I'll take all the garlic and ginger, and I'll puree it in my mini prep and freeze it flat with a little oil in Ziploc bags so that I can cut pieces of it for soups and stews and braisings, right? So, I'm at that level of braising.

But none of it does any good if I don't have a commitment to go in there and eat out of it. So in our house, we have a rule, which is three meals a week out of the freezer. And that's meals, right? So that includes lunches. Oftentimes, what happens is, our ... soup, it goes into the freezer, and then we only use it once a month when it's emergency time. And it's late at night, you come in and say, "Oh, I don't want a full meal, but I need something." And if you take it out the day beforehand and just let it defrost in the refrigerator, you have healthy, delicious soup for a wonderful lunch.

And so I just think you have to have a commitment. I think that the biggest way that people can combat waste is actually to write down on a piece of paper, keep a little pad by your garbage and write down for a week what you throw away. Every family is different. Every family throws away different things. At least you'll see the trends, right? If you're always throwing away two overripe bananas every week, you might want to learn how to make banana bread. All you've got to do is throw the bananas in the freezer, you don't even need a bag, right?

The thing that I am constantly amazed at is how easy it is to keep healthy ... If I want my family to be a modern contributor to society ... we have to attack this on multiple fronts. And the freezer is just one place to do it, but very, very important for families.

Here's why we buy more food than we can eat, according to Andrew Zimmern

Why do Americans buy more food than they need? Is it a habit we learned during the pandemic?

Well, historically it's actually three things. One, we've always been over consumers, right? We invented the supermarkets, right? That's number one. Number two, and I did a big reveal on this last year, I bought a European refrigerator and freezer. It's much smaller, much smaller. So that means I have to shop twice a week, not one time a week, right?

American consumers have been fed a super-sized refrigerator by these big companies. And so obviously, that space gets filled up. All of a sudden we have all of this space. So I encourage people to take a drawer and a shelf out of the refrigerator and actually shrink their space and get active, use a trip to the supermarket, not as a dreary chore, but as a place to take the kids and your spouse, your boyfriend, girlfriend, whatever, and go and do it and do that second trip. You'll find that you waste a lot less food!

And then, all of that was made worse by the pandemic. When we see shortages on shelves of paper goods or flour or whatever it was those first couple of months, it turns our shopping mode into something much more aggressive, and we all begin, in a small way, not to hoard, but, "Oh, let's keep an extra week supply of such and such on hand."  And what happens then, and we're still experiencing fits and starts. Our supply system is a lot more consistent these days, but we're now seeing in other parts of our supply system, especially on prepared foods, canned goods, stuff like that because of metal packing, et cetera, and issues with shipping and trucking, not enough ... 50,000 truck drivers short in America, we're seeing delays.

So you may make a trip to the supermarket to get your condensed soup for whatever recipe and find that your favorite brand isn't there. Now, it may come in two days later. I don't define that as a shortage. I define that as a delay. But I think if you add onto that, all of this stress and surprise and unease that's in the country right now when it comes to food systems and echoed by that one poll survey that Hillshire Farm conducted, I think you can see why people are naturally sort of stockpiling foods.

I think what's important for people to remember is that we need to be eating out of them, or else we are condemning that food in our freezer into the waste bin. The freezer is a great place to store certain things. Some stuff lasts quite a lot of time. Other stuff begins to degrade and suffers from freezer burn and other types of damage in a zero temperature or colder environments. And I think that's why people need to be cooking out of their freezer.

Here's how long you can keep food in your freezer, according to Andrew Zimmern

What's the longest that food should stay in the freezer before it's no longer good to eat?

This is like the question that a reporter asks me when they say, "So how long does it take to roast chicken?" There's so many variables, right? I don't want to mislead anybody. A good general rule is 90 to 120 days. That's a really good general rule. Now, I will say one thing: the freezing of meats really has to be done. The greatest tool that I ever bought from my kitchen was a $60 sealer save ... it's those things that just suck the air out and seal the plastic because it guarantees me that at least for 120 days, I'm not going to have freezer burn on my meats.

By the way, it's not a bad thing. Sometimes you just have to cut that little piece off, right? It doesn't mean it has to go in the garbage. That's part of what we call the ugly food movement, which I think needs to be respected.

What about ice cream? Can you just cut the freezer burn off ice cream?

Yes, yes, yes, you can! It's like cutting away a bruise on an apple, cutting away a little piece of mold on some cheese. Americans culturally want to have stuff that's pristine. And quite frankly, this is one of the reasons why I always have a ring of Hillshire Farm's smoked sausage in my freezer and in my refrigerator, for different uses, because it comes already sealed beautifully. And it's a very convenient way to put protein on my family's table. Pre-seasoned, pre-cooked, ready to go and defrosted in minutes under cold water, or if it's fresh in my refrigerator is something that we can snack on, eat out of, eat off of all the time.

Does food taste better if you prepare it from the fridge than it does if it's been frozen?

I find no difference with many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, most, many, many, many products! And that includes Hillshire Farm's smoked sausage.

I will tell you that there are certain foods that [don't freeze well]. For instance, people are really into freezing cakes and cookies, right? I see it all the time, holiday time here in Minnesota, where we have a lot of bakers making holiday cookies. And it's extremely odd to me! I know why it's done. It's just that the product degrades in the freezer, because people just put their tins in there and put aluminum foil, thinking that the lid on the tin seal better. And the cookies actually degrade! They do either absorb moisture that shouldn't be in your ... freezer, because most people don't have a good seal on their freezer, which is another issue, which is the equipment itself.

Andrew Zimmern's tips for quick and delicious family meals

Do you have one favorite go-to meal for when you're short on time?

Yeah, I'm really big on a French dish called choucroute, which is a lot of smoked meats eaten with seasoned sauerkraut and sturdy mustard. I'm a big meal-in-a-bowl guy, and I actually made it ... I made it last night when I got home. And it took me about 20 minutes. I sauteed some 2-inch sections of Hillshire Farm's smoked sausage. I made some seasoned sauerkraut with a grated apple and a little bit of thyme and just brought that to a gentle simmer for 10, 12 minutes, just to cook the apples and you get that great sweet and sour thing. And then I built a little mini choucroute by putting some of the sausage with the sauerkraut and apple combination. And it was pretty darn delicious, if I don't say so myself.

Now, I will tell you as part of this campaign to raise awareness around food waste and to provide people with some healthy tips or some practical tips for their family, we put together a bunch of different recipes that are all on the website in One for my smoked sausage fried rice, which is my kids' all-time favorite. My favorite ... is an incredible pea soup that's made with thin slices of Hillshire Farm's smoked sausage.

And then I got challenged to create a third recipe that I've never done before, and I decided to encase pieces of the sausage in a filo dough. And rather than dipping it in something, let's put all the seasoning in the middle. So we sauteed peppers and onions until they were caramelized and loaded those in on the filo. And then we brushed it with mustard and the preserve of your choice. I used apricots or peach, I think. So it sort of created this tiny mustardy sauce, rolled the whole thing up, sprinkled it with sesame seeds and baked it for half an hour in the oven. What's great about that is that it's a fun knife and fork recipe, but I also found that, because I made like six at one time, because we were doing some recipe testing with it — people here in the office just grabbed it because it's essentially a sausage that comes in its own holder, right? And while there were some crumb issues, they got wolfed down extremely quickly.

It's such a versatile product. I just find it super handy and super delicious.

Andrew Zimmern reveals his favorite and least favorite fast food dishes

Do you ever eat fast food?

Not really. However, I have a teenager and also, I travel a lot. And frequently making TV, we will roll into a small town somewhere, and there is no other food option, unless I want to microwave a pizza in the rec room of the hotel, which I definitely do not other than fast food.

So I will tell you a couple that I prefer over others. I'm big on Popeyes, I'm big on Culver's, which is ... I think there were like 20 states, mostly in the Midwest, which is a burger place that is five times as good as In-N-Out ever hopes to be. Very confusing to me why In-N-Out is so popular, and Culver's, which has a much better product, is the ultimate smash burger. And those are the two that I will, I will sort of pull over if we're driving down the highway and my kid is like, "We've got to eat, Dad."

What do you eat at Popeye's, and what do you order at Culver's?

Popeye's: I do dark quarters, couple of thighs, couple legs. Their coleslaw, I think, is a fantastic. And if they have the chicken sandwich there, and it's lunch, I'll go with that. I think it's really, really yummy.

Culver's I'm a double plain butter burger, and I always get one of their concretes. They're famous for their custard. Which is never frozen. It's constantly coming out of the machine and it's a very thick, luscious, French-style ice cream that is just beyond fantastic. They have great coleslaw too, by the way. I guess I'm a real coleslaw lover!

Andrew Zimmern shares how he feels about Jacques Pépin

Of all the other celebrity chefs you've cooked with, do you have a favorite person you've worked with in your career?

Do I have a favorite person?

Yes, I'm asking you to play favorites.

Wow. That is extremely difficult. Do I have a favorite person in my career? Probably Jacques Pépin. ... I've known him for 40 years, and he's been a great friend and a great mentor to me. And not just from a culinary standpoint, but as a dad and as someone who has spent his life working with family members, he's comforted me. As someone who spends a lot of time on the road and didn't see my kid a lot when he was young, Jacques, he's just coached me up on a lot on why that's okay. Which is something that at the time I really needed.

He also was a brilliant culinarian. And I mean, brilliant culinarian. The amount of wisdom that's in his hands and in his head and in his heart when it comes to food and how to share it with people — I think is unmatched and unrivaled.

I have a very funny story. I was competing in a challenge at the Aspen Food & Wine Festival about ... gosh, it may be eight years ago. They used to have a Sunday morning cook-off between two famous chefs ... I [was] fully confident that I can take out anyone on any day. But you sort of have to be in, in shape mentally and emotionally to compete against the clock, right? And I was paired against a former iron chef. And I thought to myself, "Well, there's no way I'm going to win this thing!" And it was a breakfast challenge, right?

And Jacques was sitting in the front row and he looked at me and he said, "If you want to win, no matter what it is, make a soufflé." And I looked at him and I said, "You're out of your mind!" First of all, we only have half an hour, right? And it has to cook for 20, 25 minutes. And we're at altitude. We're 8,000 feet above sea level or whatever! The base of the mountain or something. I said, "So add more time. It's just impossible to make it happen." And he leans over and he says, "Do X, Y, and Z." And I said, "All right."

Because I trust him, and I got it in the ramekins, I put it in the oven. And as I'm hearing 45 seconds, 30 seconds on the countdown, I see the soufflés just go pop, and they rose, I pulled it out, inverted it. It was a very sturdy soufflé! Inverted it onto the plate, dressed it with my little salad and the other things that I had made while it was cooking, and I wound up winning! And it's an amazing thing to think that he literally had a time in his head. He knew exactly what it was going to do.

And I tell that story, not because I won the contest, but because it's an example of why you need to listen to other people. And especially we need to listen to people who have an incredible amount of wisdom. I'll bring that friendly admonition back to our topic. We want people to use their freezers, right? You don't need to throw out that cup of stock. You can freeze it in a Ziploc bag, freeze it flat on a tray. I always keep a plastic tray in the cupboard next to my freezer so that I can line things up and just flip through them like pages of a book and tape and a pen so you can write down what's in something, if you freeze it flat, it defrosts a lot faster, right?

And if it's labeled, you're going to have less anxiety, because you know what everything is. But overall, what's really important is reducing food waste, saving on our grocery bills. There's a lot of financial anxiety in the world, and the pandemic took 20% of people above the poverty line and plunged them below it.  And most importantly of all, we want to spend time cooking with our loved ones and be able to put dinner on the table quickly. Everyone is time-poor. That's a sad but true statement. So the trick is to make every day of the week easy and delicious.

And it's the reason that I loved this partnership with Hillshire Farm, because I've been a customer of theirs for as long as I can remember. I have more than one product of theirs in my fridge and freezer at all times. And that's the honest to God's truth. I'm in love with the stuff, and it makes that weeknight easy, delicious, fast meal, super, super, super convenient.

Check out Andrew Zimmern's recipes on the Hillshire Farm website and to keep up with Zimmern's culinary travels, follow him on Instagram