How Do I Fight Food Waste?

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“So, what do you do to fight food waste? Give very concrete examples.”

Surprisingly enough, I have only been asked this question once. Most of my conversations about food waste involve me giving examples of wasteful practices in the food industry and how households generate waste due to obliviousness, pointing out the environmental and economic senselessness of it all. The listener usually nods and agrees in a “yeah that’s really bad (…but that’s just the way things are)” kind of way. As happy as I am to have made someone else aware of the issue, I often get the feeling that the other person has little faith in my cause to reduce waste.

However, talking with my study abroad program director gave the discussion a new spin. I talk big about the importance of combatting food waste, but what do I actually do? Am I just an armchair activist? The question wasn’t meant as a challenge – in fact, I think he was simply curious to learn what the average consumer, like him, could do. Nonetheless, it forced me to do some reflecting.

  • I’m mindful of what is already in my pantry and fridge. That means two things: 1) waiting until something is running low or has run out before buying another, and 2) using what I have before it goes bad. It’s good to have a stock of canned soups, dry goods like pasta, and frozen items, but anything that can rot, grow mold, become rancid, and/or go stale needs to be eaten. For instance, if I have bread on the counter, I’ll probably have toast for breakfast rather than a bowl of cereal. Or, if one bag of tortilla chips is open, I won’t even open a bag of pita chips until it’s finished.
  • ProduceI buy fresh produce in limited quantities every couple of days and with a game plan. Leafy greens can be used as a side-salad in any meal, but, for other fruits and vegetables, I usually have a few dishes in mind to use them up soon.
  • I take advantage of my freezer. I freeze almost all of my raw meat as soon as I buy it, leftover ingredients or sauces (especially pesto!) to save for later, and most bread, by the half-loaf, to prevent mold.
  • I trust my senses more than expiration dates. Dates can serve as good guidelines for how soon something should be eaten or frozen, but they aren’t the be-all and end-all.
  • I love leftovers. Whether from my own cooking, friends’ dinner parties, or restaurants, I am always happy to re-eat something the next day. leftover riceIt’s also fun to jazz leftovers up to create a new dish!
  • I only order things that will be eaten. There are not many things that I do not eat, but if I want a salad that comes with, say, orange slices, I will kindly specify, “No oranges, please,” when ordering. Alternatively, if I’m eating with company, I’ll ask whether someone would like to have my oranges. Also, when I see bread on other people’s tables, I’ll immediately ask the waiter not to serve me bread.
  • I happily buy misshapen, blemished, or otherwise visually-unappealing food so that it doesn’t go unsold for shallow aesthetic reasons. I haven’t had the pleasure of being to an ugly food store yet, though.

If these ‘efforts’ seem simple, it’s because they are. Consumers could easily prevent thousands of tons of waste if they just put their minds to it. To me, most of these habits come so naturally that I don’t consider them noteworthy. Still, considering our wasteful culture, I’m proud of the little things I do.

You don’t have to be freegan to take a stand against waste.

Eva

Eat Positively, Live Happily

pospizza

In our hypercritical society, not even food is spared judgment. Although it makes sense to describe healthy food as ‘good’ because it’s good for our bodies and, conversely, unhealthy foods as ‘junk’ or ‘bad’, the terms are often used to judge the eater. People say things like “I’m going to be naughty tonight” before ordering a large entrée; “I’m terrible” when they reach for a second helping; or “I’m going to be good and have a salad, I’ve been really bad this week.” Suddenly, eating becomes a reflection of character.

pos veit10I am guilty of frequently using the ‘good vs. bad’ terminology, as most of the American population has been since the 1920s. In her book Modern Food, Moral Food: Self-Control, Science, and the Rise of Modern American Eating in the Twentieth Century (here’s my review), Helen Zoe Veit traces the origins of this perception to the Progressive Era. The Progressive emphasis on rationality, building on the emerging field of nutrition science, generated an attitude that judged dietary decisions as moral ones. In other words, eating ‘bad’ foods or overindulging meant you were unintelligent, lazy, weak and/or greedy – a bad person. Although most people nowadays do not make such drastic associations when they describe their eating choices, this article by Rachel Ankley points out how the continued moralizing of food still plagues society today. We are entrenched in the idea of glorifying or condemning ourselves based on what we eat.

food shame

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My response to all of this: STAY POSITIVE. Food is a wonderful thing! Eating is good! Yes, it is important to recognize what unhealthy foods are and moderate your consumption of them; however, there is no need to drag yourself through the dirt for eating an extra slice of cake. In fact, a report from the Institute of Psychology for Eating explains that negative thoughts while eating actually impede your ability to metabolize food. That means that your guilt over ‘eating badly’ prevents your body from working properly, whereas positive thoughts stimulate efficient metabolic activity.

If the prospect of what you are about to eat makes you think negatively about yourself, that is a pretty clear sign that you shouldn’t eat it. A bowl of ice cream, an extra slice of pizza, a spoonful of Nutella straight from the jar – these are only treats if they make you happy. Eating food should bring you nothing but pleasure.

Eva

Bite sized wisdom: winter is here

saynotofoodwaste.winter.season.shadow.light.living.life.happy.joy.future.adventure.1

Dear Friends,

We are deep into winter. Leaves have fallen, birds have flown, and as I scribble down these words snow is making its second appearance. The beauty of snow is that it falls out of the darkest skies, on the gloomiest of days. It reminds us that some magic requires shadows to be seen.

This is true of our own magic and creativity. We as humans are made up of happiness and sadness, health and sickness, positivity and negativity, and yet we always seem to think that one is better than the other. It’s not. To fully appreciate the light we need to go as deeply into the darkness. I think this is why we have our own winters.

Usually winter makes us feel cold and bare. Many plants and animals are nowhere to be seen so we start believing that we are surrounded by something negative. We are not. While things may seem dead, they are actually re-energizing, planning and preparing for a new life ahead. Why do you think spring is one of the most colorful seasons? It’s because after conserving all the energy, the flora and fauna is ready to be reborn and appear in all its glory. I’d like to think this is also the reason we celebrate the New Year and the ‘new us’ during winter.

saynotofoodwaste.winter.season.shadow.light.living.life.happy.joy.future.adventure.2

On a personal note, as is evident by lack of activity on the site, I’ve been fully immersed in my own winter. Though my winter came earlier than it did for others, I believe that come spring I will be more energized to create and give back than I have in the past.

After all these years I’ve learned that taking things slow and being constant is more important than rushing ahead in bursts of energy. One of my personal goals for 2016 is to stay constant. I will commit myself to writing at least one blog a week. The reason I’m sharing my personal goal with you is because having a support system as we go through life, or an outlet into which we can pour our thoughts and get back new perspectives, will help us grow better and stronger than if we do it alone.

I’m going back to basics and learning to live simply. A lemon tree produces just one sort of fruit all its life, but it does it so well! Instead of trying to be everything and nothing, because I get overwhelmed with all that I need to do, I’m allowing myself to focus on just one thing and perfecting that art as I go.

Life is short, and we should experience as much as we can, but we shouldn’t sacrifice on quality just so that we can increase the count. I’ve come to know that more is not always better. So, I’m getting behind nature and learning to take my sweet time because I know that when the time comes the fruits of labor will be that much sweeter!

Happy New Year!
Hokuma

Grocery Stores and Expiration Dates, Revisited

grocery packaged meat

A couple of weeks ago, as the two of us were grocery shopping, my mother came across several packages of smoked salmon stamped with ‘Use By’ dates from the day before. She eagerly snatched up three packages and, when we were checking out, tried to negotiate with the cashier to sell them to her at a 50% discount. She knew that the fish were still safe but would probably be thrown out at the end of the day, so she argued that the store would be better off making a reduced sale than getting nothing at all and tossing perfectly good fish. appetizer salmon canapesThe flustered cashier quickly called over her supervisor, who told us that they could make no deals. When my mother asked, “But what are you going to do with it? Isn’t it sad to have to throw it away?” the supervisor assured us that it wouldn’t be thrown out, just “sent back.” My mother accepted her defeat and didn’t buy the salmon, unwilling to pay full price. However, we were both very skeptical about the ‘sent back’ idea.

First off, I don’t even know whether the supervisor was telling the truth. She might have been frazzled and blurted out a lie, unwilling to admit either ignorance or the shameful reality that the fish would go to waste. More importantly, if unsold fish does get sent back to the manufacturer, I doubted that would be is a better fate. Ideally, the ‘old’ fish would be put to some other use, such as making salmon cream cheese or at least cat food – but my knowledge of the wastefulness of the food industry leaves me pessimistic. The return would probably just delay the inevitable disposal of the fish. In fact, the extra step just seemed like a waste of energy via transportation.

Curious as to what happens when supermarkets return food to manufacturers, I decided to investigate the practice as well as my specific grocery store’s policy. Unfortunately, I mainly found articles about customers returning groceries and what generally happens to expired food in stores. For instance, retailers can get rid of their unwanted food products by selling them to salvage grocery stores, which resell safe-but-(officially)-outdated items at reduced prices, or by donating them to food banks. Nowhere could I find detailed information about stores returning outdated products to their sources. The most relevant result came from Inbound Logistics Magazine, which says that “many food manufacturers and retailers set up local donation programs to deal with saleable returns and procedures for destroying expired product.” Destroying expired product – exactly as I’d suspected.

store1On the other hand, my grocery chain’s website vaguely describes its commitment to sustainability and claims that at least 90% of its ‘unsellable’ items are donated, reused, or recycled. Recycling, I assume, means composting; so, while it still saddens me when edible food goes uneaten, I’m glad that the company focuses on avoiding landfills. The stores have also been phasing out unrecyclable packaging materials.

A week after the salmon experience, my dad told me that he had pointed out some outdated products to an employee at the same store and was told that it would be donated to a local soup kitchen. As with most food retailers, the donating vs. reusing vs. disposing decision seems to depend on the type of food at stake. People tend to be more cautious about reselling seafood, meat, or dairy products because they are at high risk for contamination, whereas something like stale bread is pretty safe and easy to repurpose. Still, I am disappointed in the store’s obstinacy about the smoked salmon. If only there were customer waivers reading, I will sue neither this store nor the manufacturer for selling me this fish. I suppose that is the unspoken agreement made when shopping at salvage stores.

The more consumer concern voiced about food waste, the more pressure is put on grocery stores to adopt sustainable practices. Make a point of buying outdated items, check out salvage stores, and look into your local retailers’ donation policies.

Eva

PS: See Hokuma’s article for more info.

Hello, Happy New Year, and Housekeeping

ugly cute tomato

Sorry for going quiet for so suddenly! We’re terribly embarrassed by our lack of forewarning to our readers, but, as you had probably guessed, the holidays kept us writers very busy. Even though there were no new blogs, we kept posting to our Facebook page and added new food quotes to keep the organization active.

We promise to reestablish a more regular publishing schedule in the coming weeks. Hopefully, 2016 will see positive developments in the fight against waste – we’ll keep our eyes peeled for updates to share with you. Long-time readers, thank you for sticking with us! Newcomers, welcome!

Hoping everyone had happy holidays,

Eva (on behalf of Hokuma and Ingrid as well)

An Unexpected Opinion on Processed Meat

processfeat

I am a very food safety-conscious person. Since I know how misleading eat-by and other date labels are, I rely on my senses to check whether food is still safe to consume, and I scrutinize very closely before eating. So, when I go to weekend-long ultimate frisbee tournaments, I make sure I only have non-perishable foods in my bag, as it will be sitting outside in the sun for hours on end. Nuts, energy bars, breads, peanut butter, and pretzels are my favorites. Last weekend, though, a guy on our team brought lunch provisions for everyone: loaves of bread, two tortillas espanolas (potato frittatas), a bag of tomatoes, and several packages of sliced cheeses and meats. My initial reaction was no, I’m not going to eat meat, cheese, or egg-product that has been sweltering in a bag on the beach in 25ºC heat for four hours. Then I reconsidered: Well, chorizo and salami are often kept at room temperature anyway, and smelling the cheese and tortilla will immediately prove whether they’re still good. I allowed myself to have two sandwiches (not touching the tomatoes because they weren’t washed) and found that they tasted completely fine and gave me no trouble. The story is far from exciting, but it was a really important moment for me to realize the benefits of processed food.

process2Yes, processed food. The phrase has a pretty negative connotation due to all of the health concerns associated with artificial coloring, chemical additives, high sugar and fat content, lack of freshness, etc. It brings to mind images of potato chips, Twinkies, and frozen microwave meals. I am all about promoting fresh and local products and generally avoiding junk food, but, in the interest of preventing food waste, it is important to recognize the values of food preservation. After all, these methods were developed so that people could keep and use food longer before it goes bad.

Keep in mind that preserving doesn’t have to mean industrial/chemical processing. Some of the oldest and most basic techniques for preserving meat, for instance, are still used because of the distinct flavors they create. Prosciutto and corned beef are examples of products that have been rubbed with salt or submerged in salty brine (the latter method usually means it should then be cooked to neutralize the saltiness) because salt dehydrates the bacteria that cause meat to spoil. Lots of fish and deli meats like pastrami also undergo air-drying or wood-smoking, which, as stated by The Economist, involves “carcinogens, which inhibit microbial growth; phenolics, which retard fat oxidation; and an array of sugars, acids and particulates that colour and flavour the meat.” Obviously, those carcinogens aren’t healthy for humans either, which is part of the reason to limit consumption of smoked and cured meat.

All types of cured meatAnother reason for the persistence of these techniques is that the simplicity of the meat curing process subjects it to a lot of environmental factors that can influence its taste, producing noticeable differences in flavor based on origin. Hence, one distinction between seemingly similar products like prosciutto and jamon serrano. Since humans have always been concerned with making their food last while retaining taste, examples of the history of preserving meat come from all over the world. Incans probably salted and dried slices of meat and referred to it as charqui, the namesake of jerky; European settlers brought stores of salt pork that could last up to two years on their ships; and China’s salted, fermented, and dried anfu ham dates back to the Qin Dynasty.

Alright, my research on meat preservation led me on a bit of a tangent, but back to my original point: processing isn’t a needless evil of the modern food system. It makes sense to manufacture perishables in such a way that they will keep over long-ish periods of time, especially now that the world is producing more food than it knows what to do with. In addition to preventing waste, many preservation techniques are designed to protect human health, as discussed in my previous article about pasteurization. Of course I saw the World Health Organization’s report linking colon cancer to processed meat, so, once again, the key is moderation. Appreciate the fact that you can eat a ham and cheese sandwich that has been in your bag all day (make sure you sniff it first), but don’t make bacon a staple of your diet.

A belated happy Thanksgiving,

Eva

Bite sized wisdom: accepting metamorphosis

saynotofoodwaste.metamorphosis.butterfly.change.accept.life.beauty.transform.become.love.2

The term metamorphosis is defined by dictionary.com as “a profound change in form from one stage to the next in the life history of an organism, as from the caterpillar to the pupa and from the pupa to the adult butterfly”. 

If you are not familiar with the metamorphosis of a caterpillar to a butterfly then let me give you a crash course. A butterfly lays one egg, and since it’s very picky as to what it eats, it selects a plant that it knows the offspring will like.

saynotofoodwaste.metamorphosis.butterfly.change.accept.life.beauty.transform.become.love.1The caterpillar is born in a skin that is too small for it, so as it grows the new skin forms on the inside and the older skin sheds off. After eating and crawling for most of its life the caterpillar reaches a point of adulthood where somehow it senses the need to transform. At that point  the definition of life it grew to accept begins to change.

To bring on this change the caterpillar stops moving and finds a safe shelter in its chrysalis. There the caterpillar slowly transforms its body, grows wings, develops antennas and a slew of other things. This process takes about 10 to 14 days, and varies by species.

When the process is done the caterpillar transforms into a butterfly and emerges into the same world as a changed being. While life around may seem the same, the butterfly is not, and its past reality is replaced by a new one. Yet, even in this time, the butterfly is not done transforming. It needs to dry off its wings and build up flight muscles before it can fly.

Interestingly, if you ask a caterpillar about the future it imagines for itself it won’t be able to tell you that one day it will fly. And the buttery doesn’t remember its past to tell you where it came from, yet its the same organism.

saynotofoodwaste.metamorphosis.butterfly.change.accept.life.beauty.transform.become.love.3Our lives are just like the caterpillar’s. We can’t predict the future and so we don’t know what treasures await us. We know that change is natural, but yet we fight it. And if we keep fighting off change then how will we ever transform into what we were born to become?

As another year comes closer to its end, we as creatures have no clue of what 2016 has in store, and truth be told, there is no need for guessing either. Our only task is to accept that whatever we define as our ‘life’ for the time being is subject to change. And we simply need to give ourselves the space and time to realize and transform into a new version of ourselves.

Day by day I’m learning to not fight the future but accept it as it comes.

So I’m always growing, always changing.

Happy transformation friends!
Hokuma

 

 

Midweek Delicacy Time: Pecan Crusted Oven-Fried Fish

Pecan Crusted Oven-Fried Fish

Pecan Crusted Oven-Fried Fish

Sometimes I have a craving, but a key ingredient will be missing. This doesn’t stop me from trying to come up with an alternative.  A couple of weeks ago I really wanted baked breaded chicken. However, there where no breadcrumbs where I was staying and the super market was all out. What was available to me were pecans. In lieu of breadcrumbs, I used the pecans and the results were delicious. The new coating needed refining. With a few more experimentations I got it down and added it as a coating over fish. I made sure to use a sustainably caught fish, and the results was delicious. The crust comes out perfect and super tasty. What’s best is how incredibly easy this is to make. Serve with a salad, and potatoes or rice. I made a homemade asian slaw to pair with the fish This could be your new fish and chips recipe.

I wrote the recipe using a wire rack when baking. This is the easiest way to ensure a golden crust all around. for my part I used my cast iron pan because it’s perfectly seasoned. I don’t even need to spray it and the crust is evenly crisped all over. If you have one, feel free to swap and skip lining a baking sheet.

Happy eating friends!

Ingrid

IngredientsPecan Crusted Oven-Fried Fish

Serves 4


1/2 cup Pecans
1/2 cup Cornmeal
2 large Eggs
1/2 cup Milk
1/2 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper (optional)
2 teaspoons Paprika
1 1/4 pounds skinless Cod fillet, or Haddock fillet, or other thick white fish fillet (1 to 1 ½ inches thick), cut into 4 pieces (see step 2)

Preparation

  1. Position rack on top shelf in oven. Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and set a wire rack on top. Lightly spray or brush rack with vegetable oil.
  2. Pat fish dry with paper towels. Slice fillets in half lengthwise to form long pieces.
  3. Pulse pecans in food processor until pecans is coarsely ground, eight 1-second pulses.
  4. In a pie plate or wide shallow dish, whisk eggs with milk. In another dish, stir cornmeal with, paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper.Pecan Crusted Oven-Fried Fish
  5. Working with 1 piece of fish at a time, dip into egg mixture, then  lightly coat with pecan mixture. Turn to coat evenly. Shake off excess pecan. Coat fish in egg and pecan mixture again. Shake off excess coating, then place on rack. Repeat with remaining fish, 1 piece at a time. Discard any remaining egg or pecan mixtures.Pecan Crusted Oven-Fried Fish
  6. Bake fish until instant-read thermometer inserted into centers of fillets registers 140 degrees, 18 to 25 minutes. The coating should be crisp and brown. Using thin spatula, transfer fillets to individual plates and serve immediately.Pecan Crusted Oven-Fried Fish

Food Deserts: The World’s Scariest Landscapes

food desert chicken

Most people associate ‘malnutrition’ with simply not having enough money to buy nutritious food. The image that comes to mind is of an impoverished family only being able to afford a loaf or two of bread or a sack of potatoes. However, what if the issue wasn’t a lack of funds so much as a lack of availability? What if the only fresh fruits and vegetables were at least an hour’s drive away?

Source: USDA (Department of Agriculture)

Source: USDA (Department of Agriculture)

Welcome to the horror of food deserts: generally low-income areas – urban or rural – that lack sources of fresh, healthy food. Rather than being peppered with grocery stores and markets to sell nutritious foods, these areas tend to be filled with fast food joints and convenience stores that only stock packaged and processed goods. Families are forced to derive their nutrients from boxed mashed potatoes, the scant lettuce and tomato slice on a burger, and fruits canned in corn syrup. Unsurprisingly, people stuck in food deserts are likely to develop obesity and/or diabetes due to their diets’ lack of nutrients and high sugar, salt, and fat content.

I’m surprised that I’d never come across this term until last winter, when I was reading Tracie McMillan’s The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields, and the Dinner Table. Sure, I’d passed through plenty of bleak towns where the only restaurants were McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts and there were no grocery stores in sight; but I had never actually considered what it must be like to live in those places. I’ve always been fortunate to have access to at least one grocery store with fresh products, not to mention higher-quality restaurants and organic markets. food desert market2When promoting all of the benefits of eating both healthily and sustainably, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that nutrition is, in some unfortunate places, a commodity. Not everyone has the garden, time, or knowledge to, for instance, grow their own vegetables, which would otherwise be my first recommendation to someone without a fresh produce source. Even cooking from scratch with unpackaged ingredients has become a luxury. There are glimmers of hope, at least, in the growth of the sustainable food movement and the continuous spread of nutrition science, both of which have called attention to the food desert problem. Food is Power’s page about food deserts describes how some American communities have demanded change, such as by launching fresh food co-ops or setting a limit on the number of fast food restaurants. There have also been reports from various regions of the UK analyzing the problem and suggesting solutions.

This Thanksgiving, remember to be grateful if you can buy an organic turkey, roast fresh butternut squash, or even mash your own potatoes. Recognize how precious good food is.

Eva

Bite sized wisdom: the path is the goal

saynotofoodwaste.sustainable.seed.life.purpose.future.happy.journey.1

Every seed comes with a purpose. Take the seed of a flower for instance. This seed has all the instructions on how to break open, ingest nutrients, drink water and soak in life.

saynotofoodwaste.sustainable.seed.life.purpose.future.happy.journey.2To fulfill its ultimate life goal, blooming and pollinating for the next generation, the seed realizes it purpose day by day as it unfolds into a beautiful flower.

To change its destiny would be impossible. A rose came here to be a rose and nothing else. So have we come here with a purpose of our own. We will achieve it one way or another, but enjoying the path through all its stages is something we forget to do.

We do have some control, such as the intake of three key elements: water, nutrition and energy, the portion and combination of which can either propel or hinder our development.  So, we do have input into what happens to us. Still, a rose by another other name will still be itself no matter how much water, nutrition or energy it takes in.

Nature shows us this message cycle after cycle, seasons after season, and yet we somehow forget that everything unfolds, changes and repeats. We cannot control what type of seed we are, all that we can do is accept the journey and enjoy the ride, because no one knows where it may lead to.

Right here, right now, life is happening.

Welcome life!
Hokuma