28. “Wasted Food”

(I’m finally back in harness, in case anyone was wondering.  First there were the Passover/ Spring Break holidays which included both our own travel and then hosting the welcome invasion of out-of-town family;  and since then I’ve been Getting My Garden In.  That’s almost done, so now I can resume blogging.)

Actually, there are some bits of good news to report on the topic of not wasting food.  Jordan Figueiredo, an activist on this issue, reports progress on the salvaging of cosmetically imperfect/ “ugly” produce.  One brand called Misfits is now marketing ugly produce in 300 US stores involving three supermarket chains.  Also, Walmart and Whole foods have both begun pilot programs to sell odd-looking fruits and vegetables at certain of their stores.  And chefs are becoming aware that they can use “ugly” items too.

This is all still very small-scale and tentative — but any journey starts with the first step.  It is very welcome to see these first steps taken;  scaling them up is the next thing that needs to happen.

On the other hand, Kate Cox and H. Claire Brown of the New Food Economy wrote a review (on May 15) of a new study on the content of food that Americans throw away.  The study was done by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for a Livable Future and is available online in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.  It aimed to investigate not the amount of food that US citizens collectively waste but the nutritional content of that wasted food.  What they found was sobering.

It turns out that it is not just the 1,217 calories per US person per day that gets tossed, but that these are not comprised primarily of junk food calories but of valuable nutrients.  Each 1,217 calorie unit of loss includes:  33 grams of protein, 5.9 grams of dietary fiber (19%) of daily needs), 1.7 micrograms of Vitamin D, 286 milligrams of calcium (29% of daily needs), 880 milligrams of potassium, 48% of iron RDA, 43% of vitamin C RDA… and so on.  In other words, the researchers discovered that what’s thrown away is indeed nutritious stuff, which could, if salvaged and eaten, contribute to greatly improved nutrition for the US population.  And we could use it, both because too many millions of us are food insecure and also because even the food-secure among us chronically fall short in our intake of many vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

The study’s authors point out that preventing even a portion of this food from being wasted could boost the nutrition of all Americans from where we are to completely adequate.  They point to several tactics — revised and standardized sell-by dates, educating consumers, and giving tax breaks to grocery stores that donate leftovers to food banks instead of landfills — as low-cost ways of significantly decreasing the loss of good food that we actually need.  And the researchers also suggest that part of the education we need might be started by shifting away from talking about “food waste” (which we unconsciously take to mean talk about “waste”) and beginning instead to talk about “wasted food” — which would emphasize in our minds that this is food we’re discussing.

I think they have a point.

Louise “Gentle Bee” Quigley

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20. Food Waste Again

Before I go on to consider ethanol and other field agriculture issues, I take the occasion to revisit the problem of food waste, since two different publications I read brought it up in the last couple of weeks: tasteforlife, a health food store freebie magazine;  and Green American, the publication of a group, Green America, that I belong to.

Both articles reminded readers of the scope of the problem of food waste, calculated as about 30-40% of the food we grow.  The Green American article pointed out that, in addition to the hunger this could alleviate, “the greenhouse gas effects of growing, transporting, cooling, cooking, and letting that food go to landfill and rot are equivalent to 39-million cars’ worth annually.”  The tasteforlife article similarly noted that 95% of wasted food goes to landfills where it rots and releases the powerful greenhouse gas methane.  Both articles gave tips for things people can do to reduce the amount of food waste each of us is responsible for.

General strategies start with planning one’s meals and weekly menu, beginning with checking on what ingredients one already has on hand that need to be eaten soon, and including planning for how and when to use up leftovers.  Then make a shopping list based on the plan, and stick to it.  (It helps to shop when you’re not hungry.)  Another general strategy is to store food properly, so that it lasts long enough for you to get to it.  (Graphics for where in the fridge to put different items can found at ivaluefood.com/resources/food storage/  The Green American article also added many tips from Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook, a new book by Dana Gunders (Chronicle Books, 2016) involving using produce that’s starting to look less than fresh.  For example, vegetables like carrots, celery, broccoli, and greens that are starting to look wilty can often be revived and made crisp again just by soaking in ice water for little while.  Another tip is to realize that sprouting onions and garlic are still perfectly good.  If tomatoes have a crack or soft spot, just cut out the bad spot and eat the rest (but do it as soon as the problem starts or the bad spot will spread and ruin the tomato in a couple of days).  A brown spot in an avocado or gaucamole can similarly be cut away and the rest is still good to eat;  the same holds for citrus fruits with a soft spot on the peel.  Soft/ spotty/ brown bananas are of course great for baking.  If a few berries or grapes or salad greens in a bag start getting fuzzy, be quick to remove just the bad ones and eat up the rest.  And Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook also has tips for reviving and/or using pantry items that go past their prime.

A different strategy mentioned in both articles involves seeking, buying, and eating so-called “ugly produce” — that is, fruits and vegetables that are oddly shaped, dented, even spotted.  I saw a report in Prevention magazine last year which suggested that produce that looks imperfect because the plant was fighting off a pest or disease may actually be more nutritious than better-looking items.  A campaign to convince groceries to sell ugly produce is being led by Jordan Figuereido;  his website is uglyfruitandveg.org  Figuereido’s efforts have already persuaded Whole Foods and Walmart to start testing the selling of some “ugly” produce:  if you shop at such a store, buy that stuff!  You can also sign his campaign’s petition to Target at change.org/TargetGetUgly

On a different level, the Green American article mentioned efforts to rescue food that is nearing the freshness/ “sell by” date after which grocery stores won’t well it even though it is still perfectly edible.  And these efforts are popping up all over.  The Seattle Times reported that 150 such groups are currently operating in the US, and include groups like Project Angel Foods in Chittendon, VT and Dare to Care Food Bank in Louisville, KY as well as stores like Boston’s Daily Table and Kentucky’s B and E Salvage Grocery.  A Dec. 28 FoodTank listing of food-issue groups to watch included such food rescuers as Amp Your Good  and Ample Harvest in New Jersey, Food Rescue in Indiana, 412 Food Rescue in Allegheny County, PA, Cupia in San Francisco, Food Cowboy in Bethesda, MD, LA Kitchen, and Moisson Montreal. Anyone interested in this effort can support or volunteer with whichever of these groups is in your neighborhood.

And Chellie Pingrie, originator of the US Congress’ Food Recovery Act (HR4184) is still in Congress.  Ask your Congresscritters to co-sponsor this bill.

Such a huge amount of food is lost before being eaten that if we could even cut food waste in half, it would be a huge step towards solving hunger.  This is something everyone can work on.  And every one of us really should.

 

Louise “Gentle Bee” Quigley