10/21/2013 01:04 pm ET Updated Dec 21, 2013

Food Sustainability With Justin Yu

We can all talk the talk about eating local, but can we walk the walk? Justin Yu thinks so. Chef Yu, who up until recently ran the popular Whole Ox Deli on Oahu, preached his passion for using the whole animal in restaurant settings to a group of culinary students at the Taste of the Hawaiian Range event on the Big Island.


Justin Yu speaking to culinary students at Taste of the Hawaiian Range

While Yu stressed that fine dining will most likely never be whole animal focused due to the demand for specialized cuts of meat, other food stops like plate lunch places, drive-ins, hamburger joints, and diners could potentially all be using whole animal practices. The reason to change our ways is shear waste and the environmental impact of raising more meat than we actually consume. When consumers (yes, all of us) only eat certain parts, what happens to the rest of the animal? Yu is asking us as food professionals and consumers to consider the irresponsibility of this kind of waste.

And Yu is realistic. He knows from experience that purchasing whole animal is expensive, for example one 600-pound cow is only about a 55 percent yield when all the non-edible parts are removed. He had to use strategies like raising the price of his hamburgers to urge customers to try his other sandwiches made with less familiar cuts of meat. Amazingly, this strategy worked.

Although anyone was welcome to attend his seminar, it was clear that his words were meant to impact the culinary students -- the new generation of chefs who will soon be making these tough decisions in their own workplaces. Yu emphasized the importance of exposure to the customer base, by communicating with customers about where their products come from and by urging customers to try different cuts of meat. Customers don't know what they don't know, so chefs have a responsibility to expose people to food sustainability.

Speaking of exposure, did you know there is only one USDA-approved pig farm left on Oahu? Did you know most farmers are nearing, or are far past, retirement age? Did you know that pastrami comes from only about a five-pound cut of an entire cow? It's time to think about where meat comes from. It's time to decrease waste. It's time that all of us, not just chefs, make those tough food choices everyday. As Yu pointed out, with all the buzz out there about organic, hormone free, sustainable food, we need to focus first on buying and eating locally, and the rest will come.