Expo Milano 2015: You’ll Wish You Were There

When learning about the appalling levels of food insecurity and waste in our world, one can quickly become cynical about whether these problems will ever be resolved, especially when it seems like so few people in power are truly aware of, much less concerned with their consequences. The organizers of Expo Milano 2015, however, beg to differ. From May 1st through October 31st, the city of Milan is playing host to representatives from 145 nations and international organizations (including Oxfam, the WWF, and the UN) as they participate in a global showcase of food security presentations, proposing sustainable solutions to one of our world’s most dire crises. The theme of the expo, ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life,’ emphasizes the importance of international coordination in addressing issues of nutrition while respecting our planet’s resources.

Expo2Of course, the expo isn’t all work and no play. In addition to sharing their insights on food security, participating countries share their food culture with visitors through exhibits on their gastronomic traditions and samples of their cuisines. Every participant (country or organization) has its own pavilion or a space within one of the nine Thematic Clusters where it can display its exhibits based on its chosen theme. For instance, the Afghan exhibition ‘Eating for Longevity, Afghanistan Amazingly Real’ can be found in the Spices cluster and aims to rectify cultural misconceptions by showcasing the country’s local foods as well as recent advancements in hospitality and women’s rights. Some of the thematic areas are based on globally-significant foods, such as Rice, Fruits and Legumes, and Coffee, while others, like the Bio-Mediterraneum, are more conceptual, described as providing “multi-sensorial and educational experiences” to educate visitors about the history and future of food through social, cultural (i.e. artistic), technological, and ecological lenses.

Courtesy of corelanguages.com
Courtesy of corelanguages.com

For those of us who can’t make it to Milan in the next 5 months, there is an online magazine that shares photos and highlights from the expo, articles on the central topics, and interviews with various speakers (‘Expo Ambassadors’). There is also a map that shows off the creative designs of the various pavilions, clusters, and thematic areas. I highly recommend checking the site out, although I must warn that it might fill you with a painful sense of sorrow for not being able to see the expo in person. Unfortunately, I had to decline an invitation to participate in a food waste event being held there in June, but I’m sure Expo Milano 2015 will be inspiring several more of my posts here on SayNotoFoodWaste over the next few months. After all, it’s wonderful to see so many people celebrating the value of food to our world and working to make a real, global impact.


PS: The US pavilion has its own website.

The Mediterranean Diet: What You Need to Know

When people hear the word ‘diet,’ they tend to think of temporary food restrictions and exercise regimens geared towards weight loss. However, the alternate, original definition of diet just refers to a person’s or group’s eating pattern. The duality of the word can generate a bit of confusion, especially when talking about the Mediterranean diet, whose emphasis on healthy fats might confuse those trying to slim down. The diet is not a plan for rapid weight loss but rather a lifestyle, modeled after that of Italians and Greeks, designed to improve general health – which could include shedding some extra pounds.

medit salmonMediterranean cuisine emphasizes fresh produce, whole grains, legumes, and healthy fats including olive oil, nuts, and fish. As the Mayo Clinic’s guidelines explain, “the focus of the Mediterranean diet isn’t on limiting total fat consumption, but rather on choosing healthier types of fat.” This fat substitution means swapping butter for olive oil and red meats for seafood as well as seeking out low-fat dairy products. Olive oil and fish are the two features most commonly associated with the diet not only because they’re so prominent in it but because they respectively contain antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, which decrease blood clotting and regulate blood pressure. To further promote heart health, the diet discourages eating processed foods (especially meat), added sugars, refined grains and oils, and trans fats while encouraging the use of spices rather than salt to flavor meals. It even allows for moderate red wine consumption to lower risk of heart disease.

In addition to lessening the risk of heart disease, the Mediterranean diet has been recently linked to improved brain function thanks to a study published earlier this week that compared participants’ performance on a variety of cognitive tests before and after following specific diets over a few years. Participants on a low-fat diet suffered a decline in many aspects of cognitive performance, whereas those on the Mediterranean diet supplemented by healthy fats from nuts and oils improved their performances on various cognitive function and memory tests. More investigation is needed into how exactly the diet affects the brain, but the scientists have some preliminary hypotheses, such as that antioxidants might counteract stress. This study has made the rounds on several news outlets because it serves as a breakthrough in connecting heart disease prevention to brain health and suggests that diet can be used to preemptively prevent cognitive deterioration.

Courtesy of medical-reference.net, 2013
Courtesy of medical-reference.net, 2013

Of course, eating nutritious foods isn’t enough to guarantee a healthy body. For one thing, eating any foods in excess or consuming an imbalance of nutrients can be harmful, which is why the Mediterranean diet encourages eating in a social setting. While some people argue that being surrounded by fellow eaters stimulates them to consume more, the logic used by proponents of the diet is that of the slow meal: conversation distracts you from your food, allowing you to eat more slowly and your body to register its fullness. The diet also includes regular, at least moderate exercise as the vital counterpart to mindful eating in maintaining a healthy body.

Interested in trying this magical diet? Here’s a helpful guide to get you started.


How Seafood Sustains Modern Slavery

“Our products come fresh from the hands of overworked, malnourished slaves.” No one would ever want to buy food from somewhere with that statement on its label. The sad truth, though, is that thousands of consumers worldwide unknowingly finance a Burmese slave trade just by buying seafood.

Shrimp pastaAccording to a new report by the Associated Press, hundreds if not thousands of Burmese workers have been trafficked through Thailand to fish in the waters around the island of Benjina, Indonesia. On the boats, slaves subsist on minimal portions of curried rice and unsanitary water, work at least 20 hours a day for little to no pay, and are subject to physical punishment if they complain or try to rest*. Their catch is sent back to Thailand for commercial sale, whence it is seamlessly mixed with legally-caught seafood and distributed across Asia as well as to Europe and the USA. Since roughly one-fifth of Thailand’s $7 billion annual seafood exports are to the US (importing $1.5 billion worth in 2013-14, according to NOAA), slave-sourced seafood can work its way into any stage of the American food supply. The untraceable, ‘tainted’ fish may be sold as-is in grocery stores, incorporated into processed and pre-packaged foods, or even served in high-class restaurants.

The governments of Thailand and Indonesia are, of course, aware of the problem and working against it. Thailand is in the process of creating a national registry of illegal migrant workers, while Indonesia has temporarily prohibited most fishing as it tries to rid its waters of foreign poachers. Meanwhile, the US Department of State blacklisted Thailand for human trafficking violations in 2014, but the wrist-slap does not seem to have had any effect. The AP also asked for comments from a few major food companies, who declared that “they were taking steps to prevent forced labor, such as working with human rights groups to hold subcontractors accountable.” However, some smaller seafood distributors commented on how difficult it is for their companies to guarantee the cleanliness of their supply when it comes from hundreds of thousands of miles away.

Fish marketIf this exposé proves one thing, it is the importance of knowing where you get your food. The picturesque idea of personally knowing the farmer who grows your vegetables and raises your meat is pretty idealistic, but by buying domestically- if not regionally-sourced goods, you can at least guarantee that slaves weren’t involved in providing your dinner. Although the economics and ecological soundness of ‘going local,’ undoubtedly one of the biggest food trends of the decade, have been rightfully questioned, this is one regard in which the farmers’ market is definitely a better bet than the grocery store. Hopefully, the combination of government intervention and consumer pressure – i.e. buying more local seafood – will bring an end to this disturbing problem.

Ignorance is bliss, but staying informed makes change possible.


*Read the full AP article for more details about the slaves’ conditions and responses from various corporations that have been linked to the slavery

California’s Drought Teaches Valuable Lessons about Water Use

Dining out in an Italian restaurant in California, you can probably expect to have a basket of fresh bread brought to your table within 15 minutes of being seated, as in most of the United States. If you’re waiting for a glass of water, though, you’re out of luck. In light of the state’s ongoing water shortage, California has passed a new series of water conservation measures which include a rule that prohibits restaurants from automatically serving drinking water. Patrons must now order a glass of water just as they would any other beverage, although they still get to enjoy the fact that it is free of charge.

Serve chilled.

Frankly, I find this directive a lot more sensible than the custom of immediately bringing water to people who might not even want it. I’ve long been frustrated by the way water gets treated as dispensable in dining establishments (as much as anywhere else). Just in January, I was at brunch with a friend in a restaurant that leaves water pitchers on the table to allow diners to refill their glasses at their leisure. When the waiter came to take our check after our meal, however, he instinctively grabbed my glass and filled it to the brim! I was shocked by the absurdity of it. Did he think I wanted to gulp down another 8 ounces just as I was preparing to leave? I doubt so. Rather, he just wanted to do his job: providing me with food and drink.

Restaurants train waiters to constantly refill glasses that have barely been sipped so as to impress their customers. Providing patrons with something before they even ask for it is supposed to demonstrate that the staff care about their clientele, know what it wants, and have means to supply it. However, there are plenty of eateries that don’t instantly offer water, and that’s probably because most of the appreciation on the customer’s part is subconscious. No rational person would criticize a restaurant for not providing water upon arrival. In other words, the practice is wholly unwarranted. It is a prime example of instant gratification at the hand of abundance – well, perceived abundance, considering that less than 1% of the Earth’s freshwater is actually available.


While most Americans don’t pay much attention to their freshwater use, severe water shortages have forced states like California and Colorado to face the finiteness of their water supplies. California’s other water-conservation measures include limiting outdoor watering to twice a week and requiring hotel guests to ask to have their linens and towels washed, and farmers are even expecting to have to leave up to a million acres unplanted this year. My hope is that learning about these extremes will make Americans a little more mindful about their daily water use.

Next time a waiter tries to top off your glass, feel free to decline!


Not so virgin: the fraud of the olive

saynotofoodwaste.oliveoil.health.fraud.consumer.power.knowledge.olives.1Drizzle it on top of a lush green salad, prepare a bowl to dip warm slices of bread into, or sip a teaspoon on an empty stomach- just some of the uses for olive oil. 

This century old ingredient promises beauty and overall health.

Recent scientific studies also confirm the health benefits of olive oil, a main staple of the Mediterranean diet. 

Lucky for us (who live in developed countries), we can find this golden liquid packaged inside glass bottles and aerosol cans (but please, whatever you do, don’t ever buy olive oil in a spray can, you will regret it!) on supermarket aisles.

With so many wanting to lead a healthy lifestyle, the demand for continued production of olive oil is high, especially for the oils exported from Italy. Being naive believers in packaging and marketing, consumers happily buy up olive oil that says ‘Natural’ and ‘Made in Italy’. If you fall prey to these deceitful schemes, then watch out!

Recent studies showed that “70% of cheaper extra virgin olive oil sold is a fraud.” And labels that say ‘Extra Virgin’ and ‘Made in Italy’ are legal even if the product wasn’t produced in Italy. This means that 69% of olive oil sold in the USA is doctored.

Big brands, such as Filippo Berio and Bertolli, make customers believe that their product is made in pristine olive fields of Italy. However, most of the time, their olives hail from diverse corners of the world like Tunisia, Turkey, Greece and Spain. 

So, how can this be possible? Unfortunately, the FDA in USA and the EU don’t test olive oil due to high costs. Big brands, hungry for profit, utilize these loopholes to make loads of money without ever getting caught. It’s like taking part in trafficking illegal drugs but never being held responsible for the crime.

Isaynotofoodwaste.oliveoil.health.fraud.consumer.power.knowledge.olives.3n 2010, UC Davis carried out a study of olive oil. Results showed that 69% of imported and 10% of California-based oils labeled ‘Extra Virgin’ failed International Olive Council (IOC) and USDA standards for extra virgin olive oil. Luckily a small percentage of products did pass the test and these brands should be applauded for selling quality goods. Corto Olive, California Olive Ranch, Kirkland Organic, Lucero and McEvoy Ranch Organic all sell real olive oil.

It’s unfortunate to see big companies finding loopholes to make money by advertising false products to their consumers. It’s also alarming to see government agencies failing to protect consumers from these frauds. This is why, more than ever, it’s important that we share our knowledge with each other. The power is in our hands. I hope this post has been helpful!

Happy eating!

The Red Scare: How Red Meat Hurts Humans

saynotofoodwaste.happy.healthy.love.give.care.share.sustainable.diet.rare.meat.green.vegetarian.2Doctors have long been warning against red meat because it contributes to heart disease, but a University of California study published in December also links it to cancer. The study identifies the culprit as the sugar Neu5Gc, which is found in most mammals, especially in sources of red meat (cows, lamb, deer, sheep, etc.), but not in humans. Humans, unlike most other carnivores, cannot process the sugar, meaning that their immune systems have to generate antibodies to try to break the molecule down after consumption. This constant antibody-production can cause chronic inflammation, which can lead to cancer. In short, the more animals containing Neu5Gc a person eats, the higher his/her chance of developing cancer.

While the study’s findings are tentative and require further research, there are many other health consequences to eating red meat. As is commonly known, red meat’s high saturated fat content raises blood cholesterol levels, which can prevent the heart from getting sufficient blood and oxygen. The compound carnitine, which is associated with meat’s red color, has been known to have a similar, artery-clogging, effect that often leads to heart attacks. Other, non-heart-related, conditions have also been connected to red meat consumption outlined by two studies from 2013. The first, from the Journal of the American Medical Association, shows that eating red meat heightens the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes, a chronic condition resulting from damage to the body’s ability to metabolize sugar. The second was published by the University of California Los Angeles and ties the development of Alzheimer’s disease to high levels of iron, which red meat is rich in. Of course, iron shouldn’t be cut out of diets entirely – just not consumed in excess.

saynotofoodwaste.happy.healthy.love.give.care.share.sustainable.diet.rare.meat.green.vegetarian.3So, from a health (as well as environmental – more on that next week) perspective, there is no reason to eat red meat; yet people, myself included, still do. Personally, I know that my body doesn’t need it, since there are plenty of healthier, more sustainable sources of protein and nutrients that could take meat’s place in my diet. I also have a very broad, vegetable-appreciating palate, so I know that I could be happy as a vegetarian or even just eating non-red meats and fish. I don’t even eat that much red meat anymore – so, why do I do it at all? The answer is simple and unjustifiable: I like it. All of the aforementioned considerations have made me very conscious of my beef consumption, which is why I limit it and make myself go vegetarian for a day for every time I have beef – but the fact is that I have never made an effort to eliminate it from my diet completely. I’m not trying to excuse myself but rather comfort my fellow red meat-eaters who feel guilty for their choice but not enough to do something about it. If you aren’t willing to give up brisket and venison, at least try to cut down on how much you eat. I would much rather live a longer, healthier life with the occasional steak than become diabetic and suffer a heart attack at age 40 due to too many burgers.

Let’s make red meat less of a staple in our diets and more of a rare (very deliberate pun) treat.


Thanksgiving Waste

Happy Thanksgiving! Today is a time to eat delicious traditional food, surround yourself with family and friends, and be grateful for what you have. Whether it’s the history, the food or the being grateful, this can be considered the best US holiday.

Thanksgiving FactsUnfortunately, it is also a pretty wasteful one. After the friends have gone and the food is too much to eat, a lot of turkey meat ends up in the garbage. In fact, 35% of the holiday turkey, valued at more than $282 million, is wasted per year. On top of the nutritional and financial losses, it also leads to environmental ones.

Organic matter that decomposes in landfills anaerobically (without oxygen), produces methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 21 times more potent at trapping heat inside the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Besides that, it wastes all resources that went into growing the food. For instance, one pound of turkey requires 468 gallons of water to produce, and releases 12 pounds of CO2 emissions. With many US families producing more than one pound of wasted meat, it’s obvious that Americans need to be more grateful and less wasteful.

The Environmental Working Group says that wasting the meat is like driving the car for 11 miles or taking a 94-minute shower. Swapping the turkey waste for a real adventure or a long warm bath sounds like a better option. The choice of which a family can afford depends on the leftovers they produce. Looking at the millions of wasted dollars, Americans can save a lot more at home than through sales on Black Friday.

Let’s eat well, do well and be thankful!

Hunger isn’t pretty

A world that throws away 40-50% of the food it produces must be super healthy and wealthy, right? No, not at all. Our world is filled with millions of people who are hungry and malnourished. In the USA, close to 50 million people are unsure about their next meal. They have to choose between paying their bills and buying food.

A new series looks at this problem in the UK. “Britain Isn’t Eating” was created by the Guardian newspaper. Through short videos, viewers take an honest look at what it’s like to have nothing to eat. Or have food, but no electricity to cook it with.

Hunger isn’t pretty, and some need outside assistance for proper nutrition. When will governments and supermarkets realize that $165 billion worth of food should be on the table, not in the landfill?

Here’s to being the change we want to see!

Pleasure Study of Food

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 10.56.30 AMEver noticed how the first spring roll seems to taste better than the other five? Or how a fun-sized Halloween candy bar is more satisfying than the regular one? This feeling isn’t necessarily because your stomach is telling you that you’re getting full; rather, it’s your senses becoming accustomed to the flavor. Boredom with flavor is a real sensory phenomenon that develops as you consume food over a period of time. The food is still yummy, but its taste-novelty wears off with every bite, exciting your senses less and less.

A study by Novakova et al. investigated how smell influenced people’s enjoyment of food while eating. Participants were asked to look at, sniff, and chew (taking ten seconds for each ‘step’) ten individual banana slices and then rate their satisfaction on a 21-point scale. Half of the thirty participants had congenital anosmia (loss of smell), while the rest could smell normally. Since taste and smell are intertwined, the idea behind removing the aroma factor was to isolate the food’s flavor and its pleasure effects. Quick semantic note: taste is the way your body interprets a food’s objective flavor.

As expected, the control (‘normal’) group demonstrated a clear decrease in enjoyment as participants made their way through the ten slices. More noteworthy was the fact that the anosmic group continuously gave higher satisfaction ratings than the control group. Not only did they rate that the food tasted better initially, but their pleasure ratings waned to a lesser degree than those of the control. One proposed reason for this is that the absence of the smell lessened the overall habituation effect that normally causes loss of flavor appreciation. Another possibility is that, much like how blind people tend to have better hearing, anosmics have a more receptive palate. In any case, the study shows how our senses influence our perception of flavor and dull to its enjoyment as we eat.

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 10.57.29 AMWhile the effect of prolonged sensory stimulation is really interesting in itself, recognizing it could also be helpful in preventing food waste. For instance, when many people say that they’re ‘full’ from a dish, they mean, “I have satisfied myself with this taste,” rather than, “My stomach has been filled.” They might even proceed to another course, typically dessert, to provide their senses with new delights. This becomes a problem if the initial meal wasn’t finished and its leftovers aren’t saved: food is wasted simply because the eater got bored. However, people who frequently find themselves in this situation can easily resolve it. If, for whatever reason, saving leftovers isn’t an option, simply take less food to begin with. Other options are to share with friends or assemble a diverse plate, full of small portions of unique flavors that will, hopefully, encourage you to finish what you have.

Cherish your food and relish the experience of eating it.


Healthy and Sustainable on Halloween

Pumpkins, fall colors, scary jack-o’-lanterns and pounds of candy!

Highlights of the deliciously scary day are abundant. For Americans, October 31st is the day of celebrating their inner child. Dressed in scary, or sexy costumes, adults and kids alike stroll the streets and neighborhoods in search of candy. Of course, for adults it’s usually ‘eye candy’ that really motivates the evening plans.

Either way, one thing far from people’s minds on Hallow’s Eve is food waste. Yet, as a very scary topic, I’m surprised it’s not adequately covered.

final pumpkin

A Statistic like this: ‘95% of pumpkins sold on Halloween are wasted, with 5% re-used in meals,’ is scary! In UK, 18,000 tons of pumpkins end up in landfills after all the ghosts go home.

With so much hunger and malnutrition, these pumpkins can serve a higher purpose than decoration. For a vegetable, there’s no worse a death than failure to meet your life’s purpose to nourish a soul.

Another concern on Halloween is the rate at which Americans consume candy. Colorful chocolates, shiny wrappers and cocaine like addiction, drives adults and children to overindulged in sugar. Considering that on a daily basis Americans consume TRIPLE the World Health Organization (WHO) suggested sugar dosage, is it really necessary to set aside an annual day to celebrate a fructose overdose?

boo.scary.halloween.healthy.candy.sugar.sweets.trickortreat.saynotofoodwaste.foodwaste.hunger.share.care.sustainableSugar leads to many health diseases, including obesity and diabetes. To limit these effects, here’s an idea for the concerned parent. Instead of throwing away your pumpkins, celebrate Halloween with a home-cooked meal. Try something exotic, such as Azerbaijani Qutabs with Pumpkin! You’ll not only expand the life of this fall vegetable, but enrich your child’s palette. As for sugar, switch from sugar rich sweets to more nutritious options, like baked goods. An oatmeal cupcake, or a homemade apple pie will be less harmful than processed candy.

If you don’t have time for baking, check out these delicious alternatives to hand out on Halloween. Whatever comes your way, I wish you a great time with family and friends! Have fun and stay safe!

Happy trick or treating!