Bite sized wisdom: go down to go up

To grow we must challenge ourselves.

saynotofoodwaste.grow.tree.up.down.sustainable.learn.wisdom.nature.2Take plants for instance, in order for them to reach more sunlight they must go deeper into the ground (the root goes down and the stem shoots up).

What about animals? The different species we have of same family of mammals is due to environmental challenges that each group adapted to. Even fruits and vegetables have different varieties.

Nature wouldn’t create options if one was enough to address all challenges and fit all needs.

As humans we too must adapt to challenges. This is not done by running away, it’s done by facing the problem, studying it fully and finding small solutions until we overcome our obstacles. Here are three TED talks that provide solutions to common challenges of life.

  1. Face your problem.

Many times we are afraid to make mistakes. This is because we don’t like accepting that we’re not perfect. Sometimes these thought processes lead us astray and not being able to control what comes our way scares us. Yet, if we avoid problems and lead comfortable lives we will never develop. Learning to accept mistakes, face fears and turn problems into lessons will help us grow upwards, just like plants.

2. Study the challenge. 

Once the problem is isolated we try to get rid of it as fast as possible. But like weeds that grow stronger roots, stomping out problems on the surface won’t take them away. Instead, we should look deeper and resolve them from there. For many of us, learning to cook and eat mindfully in our busy lives doesn’t leave us much time to address these issues. One physical symptom of this is weight gain. To address this many turn to extreme diets and then gain the weight right back, but they don’t learn to control their cravings.

3. Set your mind to look for solutions. 

To accomplish anything we must have the right attitude and really want it. Willpower can get us moving, but it is our passion and emotion that keeps us invested even in the face of challenges. These are the things that make life worthwhile, because we know that attaining the goal will be for our own benefit. Being invested in wanting to change means you’re more likely to do it. And even if things don’t go your way, you won’t give up easily because you will know that development requires trial and error. But one thing you can be sure of is: once you do find the path to change it will definitely be a sustainable and a long-lasting one.

In a life that keeps changing we must keep growing. But, before we can run we must walk, and sometimes before we can walk we must begin by crawling, either way – keep going forward. To see more inspiring videos on growth check out this playlist on becoming “A better you“.

After all, even the tall tree under the sky was once a small seed buried in soil.

Happy growing, friends!
– Hokuma

Chocolate in Crisis?

In mid-November, Barry Callebaut (world’s leading chocolate manufacturer) and Mars, Inc. (a massive American chocolate producer) issued an ominous warning: by 2020, the world could see a 1 million ton chocolate deficit. This means that people will be consuming 1 million more tons of cocoa than farmers produce in a year. The trend of demand outpacing supply would have significant effects on the chocolate market, both in terms of prices and product quality.

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 10.00.49 AMIn a nutshell, we eat more chocolate than is grown. “In 2013, the world consumed about 70,000 metric tons more cocoa than it produced,” the Atlantic reports. Part of the explanation for this is the recent, rapid rise of chocolate demand in Pacific Asia, especially China. Another factor contributing to the intensified consumption of cocoa is the increasing popularity of dark chocolate, which requires far more cocoa per unit volume than milk chocolate. Meanwhile, cocoa supplies have been suffering from diseases such as witch’s broom and frosty pod (which has sabotaged an estimated 30-40% of global cocoa production) and, more significantly, climate effects. Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Indonesia are the world’s top three cocoa producers hit by a drought that could persist through the coming months.

What is to be done about this increasingly-imbalanced demand-supply relationship? The obvious solutions would be to raise the prices of and/or shrink the sizes of chocolate products. Chocolate manufacturers have already raised their prices in response to cocoa’s 60% price jump since 2012. An alternative strategy for confectioners is to fill chocolate bars with more nuts, creams, etc. or combine cocoa with vegetable fat and flavor chemicals to stretch supplies.

Another option currently being explored involves growers, rather than manufacturers – genetic engineering. Farmers are experimenting with new strains of cacao, such as CCN51, which produces up to seven times as much cocoa as traditional plants and is resistant to some common diseases. The main flaw of CCN51, however, is its bitter flavor. Testers have likened its taste to “lead and wood shavings” and “astringent and acidic pulp,” which don’t sound like very appetizing candy bar varieties. In discussing these findings, Bloomberg writer Mark Schatzker says chocolate could suffer the same fate as store-bought tomatoes and strawberries: going “from flavorful to forgettable on the road to plenitude.”

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 10.01.02 AMIt might seem that our intense love of chocolate will lead us to ruin it, but there is still hope! The Central American agricultural research organization Centro Agronomico Tropical de Investigacion y Ensenanza (CATIE) has developed three strains R-1, R-4, and R-6 with very similar traits to CCN51 as well as delicious flavors. R-4 and R-6 even won prizes in the International Cocoa Awards for having, respectively, “sweet, floral, and fruity notes” and “nutty and woody notes.” Although newly-planted cacao seedlings take at least two years to bear fruit. It will also take a decade of observation to determine whether their traits deserve to be preserved. These strains are quite promising and could save the world from a cocoa shortage without depriving us of the chocolate flavors we adore.

The world isn’t in a cocoa crisis, and researchers are working hard to make sure one never develops. Yet, if you feel moved to do something after reading this, consider buying fewer hot chocolates or gifting tins of gingerbread cookies rather than boxes of truffles this winter. And, of course, don’t dare throw any chocolate out!

Ever the chocoholic,


Ferdman, Roberto A. (The Washington Post) – The World’s Biggest Chocolate-Maker Says We’re Running Out of Chocolate

Garber, Megan (The Atlantic) – The Race to Save the World’s Chocolate

Javier, Luzi Ann et al. (Bloomberg) – Chocolate Eaters Drive Record Cocoa-Output Deficit: Commodities

Leberfinger, Mark – Worldwide Chocolate Shortage Linked to Drought in West Africa, Indonesia

5 Lessons from Social Good Summit

From September 21-22, 2014, I was at the Social Good Summit, organized by: Mashable, UN Foundation, UNDP, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and 92&Y. Being around incredible individuals from all backgrounds was inspiring. Each presentation left me with new facts, and new incentives on why I am needed in the fight for a better world. There were five lessons that I took away. I want to share them with you. To inspire and encourage you to make a difference in your community. We are feeling creatures that think.

You and me are fundamentally designed to FEEL first. Our Right brain helps us feel connected to energy and the people around us. Our Left brain helps us make decisions by categorizing all the information we receive. The world we have constructed favors our Left brain, to make decisions, to separate ourselves from others, and to be ‘right’. Our entire relationship with the world is based on how our amygdala is stimulated. Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor discusses how we have the power to choose what world we want to see – the decision is within us. Watch her video from the Social Good Summit.


fear.scared.anxiety.depression.saynotofoodwaste.sustainable.happy.planet.people2. Fear cripples and prevents us from change.

When you fear a new situation, a person from a different background or tasting a dish prepared from same basic ingredients, but in a new way, you miss out on life’s valuable experiences. Instead of enriching your world, expanding your knowledge and enjoying the diversity around us, you remain stagnant. And nothing stagnant in life can survive. Change is hard, change is difficult, change requires commitment, and change is best done with others. But fear, it is a poison that we drink in the thought that it is a medicine that will help us, when all it does is paralyze. Here is a song for you dear reader, to break the chains of fear and embrace your own power!  Be proud for wanting to shape your world! Thank you Natasha Bedingfield! Collaborate, share and inspire.

One person can’t change the world, because the world is filled with 7 billion. Yet, what one person can do is inspire others. To do that, they must establish themselves as someone worth knowing and learning from. To do this, we must collaborate and share our knowledge. There are things that you are an expert of, that another person isn’t. But there are many things that you don’t know, which will take you years upon years to learn or discover, unless someone is willing to explain you the basics in a matter of minutes. Collaborate, share and inspire others to be the change. That’s what our responsibility is! And that’s exactly how these young talents reached their success! Hugh Evans, Caitlin Crosby, and Kweku Mandela. Bring a ‘human’ aspect to climate change.

How does a plant feel? How does a butterfly struggle when it’s wings are wet? Why does an ant work so hard for its family? I have no answers to these questions because I don’t know how to put myself in their shoes. Since we compare and relate all the information given to us with our own experiences, it is difficult for us to relate to things we aren’t familiar with. But what helps is story telling. If we hear a story in which the plant, the butterfly and the ant are given human characteristics, and go through challenges we faced in our own life, we are able to put ourselves in their shoes. We become more understanding of their struggles. Conservation International and Edward Norton, along with other incredible actors, gave us such a story – Nature is Speaking. Now, we can know what water, soil and all other Earth’s elements are trying to say. Ready to listen? Time for talking ran out. It’s time for doing!

The planet doesn’t need saving, humans need saving! Our way of life is in jeopardy, and this struggle is about humans coexisting with nature. There are no jobs, no living on a dead planet, at least not for us. Organization and companies of all sorts have realized that our time for preserving our life here on Earth is running out. Even the Rockefellers will divest from fossil fuels! But the carbon particles we meant to stop at 350 have risen to 400! Executive Director of Greenpeace International, Kumi Naidoo, said it best: “Nothing that we can tell them [world leaders and organizations], they don’t know. Nothing that we can tell them, their own scientists don’t know. The time for words is over!”. What are you willing to do, to preserve your life on this beautiful world?

I hope you found these lessons useful! If there is something you want to add, or share, feel free to do so in the comments.

Much love,

A man who gives healthy food for FREE

rob-greenfield-2Ever wished to eat a variety of exotic, organic and delicious food, for FREE? It may sound impossible, especially in a country like USA. But those who think so haven’t heard of Rob Greenfield. A young man, who at the age of 28 challenged status quo and led a food waste campaign on his bike.

His idea is straightforward. Travel from city to city on a bike, eat out of dumpsters and create a banquet at each stop, inviting locals to eat and take home free nutritious food. All the shared groceries were on their way to the landfill, until one man decided to do something about it. His innovative and simple campaign took the country by storm.

159Whether it’s the idea of free food, or simply shocking images of good quality produce being carelessly thrown away while 1 in 7 Americans go hungry, the idea struck a chord in people’s hearts and minds. This was such a successful campaign that Rob decided to do it a second time. The latest bike campaign will finish in New York City. To join the legendary man, take part in the campaign and get FREE groceries, be sure to attend his public banquet on Tuesday.

If the past week of climate change conferences, marches and meetings taught us something, it’s that our time to save our way of life is running out. To make a difference we must start now, with ourselves. We are responsible for wasting 40% of the food we grow, and all the natural resources that are used in the process. That needs to stop. What will your action be?

What your money can’t buy!

VarietiesofVegetables_914x627_A_1024x1024Dough, moolah, smackers, all that cash. Throughout the years we coined many terms to describe money.  And throughout the years we invented many ways to chase after it.

Working 9-5, toiling away in the office, slaving away on the field, killing ourselves with chemicals and polluting our atmosphere with greenhouse gases. Man has believed and bought the illusion he created. We are a world of delusional people. No longer happy, always in search for something to fill a void created by our minds, we are disillusioned by what is ‘real’, what ‘matters’ and by what is fragments of our mind.

But let’s be real – our world is in bad shape. Everyone knows this!

All our charts are plummeting. Environmental and fresh drinking water resources, arable land, even the health performance of the people and the planet is declining. Yet we are like a hamster in a wheel. Running in circles because that’s what we are used to. Afraid that the system will break if we stop this rat race. But will it? After all, this system was created by men and functioning only because we choose to believe it.

Recent studies show that food prices are rising, but our food diversity is declining. Our diets are beginning to look more alike, and the things we choose from seem more limited. Diets become more homogenised as we rely more on only a handful of crops like rice, wheat, potatoes and sugar. In fact, wheat is now a major food in 97% of countries. And local or traditional crops such as millet, rye, yams and cassava are produced and consumed less. So while we consume more calories, declining diversity is a huge concern as it makes our global food system, which is ever interconnected, less resilient to changes.

Of course, money is not edible and if you look at it logically, it’s just paper. But its symbol has become the ultimate dream of a life of luxury, opportunity, fashion, respect and power. Yes – all that money, all that power, and still, it seems we got it all wrong. While money can help put food on your table, it won’t save you, or your family or the planet when mother nature changes its patterns and the fragile food system we built begins to crumble.

Here is a little food for thought. Food trade has been occurring for more than 4,000 years. But it hasn’t been as connected and global as it is today. We no longer have different markets, we have one big global market.

Three-fifths of the fresh produce eaten in the U.S. comes from the West Coast of Mexico, and much of the saltwater fish and shrimp comes from Mexico’s reaches of the Gulf of Mexico, Pacific Ocean and Gulf of California. Mind blowing, right? So what happens when an oil spill pollutes the waters of another country, or a natural disaster wipes out the farms of another nation? We find our own supermarket stocks dwindle and our food options decline, and no amount of money can help us change that.

Time to open up our eyes and figure out ways to change this little mess we’re in. Any suggestions, any ideas?

Let’s share our knowledge, whether you are a scientist, a small farmer or a child, we all can make a difference!

Much love,

P.S. You can get this vegetable poster from here.

Food & Climate bowl of warm rice, the steam of it rising up and floating around you. The sound of vegetables being stirred on a pan as you prepare to add them to your dish. Next to this a bubbling curry sauce releasing the aromas of ginger, coconut and other exotic spices. With all three components prepared, you add and mix the ingredients to produce one delicious meal.

Our food is exotic and amazing. Its components come from different parts of the world. They are born miles away from each other. Yet, they come together as one, blending their tastes perfectly as if they were born to be married on your plate. Your teeth clap in approval and your taste buds beg for another spoonful. 
It’s a fact, I love food! But then again, who doesn’t?

Yet, our days of overindulging in food, buying in bulk and wasting half of it will soon be ‘the selfish thing of the past’. With our climate changing and our biodiversity dwindling, food prices will rise, diversity will decrease and nutrition will outweigh our shallow behavior of discarding food due to cosmetic flaws. But, things aren’t ALL that bad. There is still a way to enjoy a wide array of exotic food if we do it more sparingly, and reach a balance between consuming and throwing away 1/3 of all produced food. To do that we need to act NOW, not tomorrow, or the week after. If we choose the latter, we are doomed.

Oxfam published a report analyzing the costs our greenhouse gas emissions have on our planet, and what we should expect if we don’t clean up our act. And their outcomes aren’t pretty. The report says that “net global agricultural yields [are] predicted to decrease by up to 2% per decade.” The decline will make the current problems of hunger and demand for food, as global population grows, more difficult to address. you are lucky to be living in a developed country and have a well paying job, continue reading. While you may not be facing hunger and it is possible that you can buy whatever you want when you go grocery shopping, it doesn’t mean you won’t feel effects of climate destruction.

Curious about what I mean? Let me explain: “Over the last six years there have been three global food price spikes in 2008, 2010 and 2012 – closely associated with supply shocks driven in part by extreme weather.” It is estimated that by 2030 our food prices will double and climate change will continue to wreck havoc on our lives. (Oxfam Report)

Even a wealthy country like the UK hasn’t managed to escape the shadow of this looming and slow approaching disaster. “The cost of food in the UK has risen by 30.5% in the past 5 years and has exacerbated other pressures such as unemployment, low wages and the removal of social protection – making it harder for people to feed themselves. This lead to a tripling of food bank usages in 2013.” (Trussell Trust) this is happening in wealthy and developed countries, then what is the fate of developing countries, such as my homeland Azerbaijan? Exactly a year ago I wrote about finding some shocking information. I saw that Cameroon and Azerbaijan were listed as two countries spending more than 45% of their income on food. If you visit the map today, not much has changed. Except for one fact, Azerbaijan’s neighboring country of Armenia, though not shaded in, seems to be doing much worse as its citizens are spending up to 60-70% of income on food. The country is facing droughts and is in the first place for spending most of its income on food.

But this is not an issue of politics or of neighbors. It is a global problem that affects everyone despite class, religion, natural resources and development. In fact, countries that begin to address the issue NOW, will be the real winners in the long run. So what I want most for my country? For it to start spending more money on research, and preparing its food system for climate change with proper mitigation and adaptation plans. is refreshing to see that the World Bank will be aiding Azerbaijan in the development of its agriculture by investing $53.25 millions into projects bettering food security. I am hopeful that such actions will be enough to address events such as loss of fruit and berry crops due to inclement weather. This year, Azerbaijan experienced a problem of sudden snowfall and strong winds in late March, after these fruit bearing crops started blooming, not a good combination for temperature sensitive food.

Stories like this demonstrate how fragile our nature is. Any slight or sudden change in temperature and weather patterns can have devastating effects. Considering that in the past 100 years our seed diversity declined by 75%, more needs to be done to mitigate our growing food problems, and to strengthen our food security nets.

That means investing more in Research and Development (R&D) in agriculture. Currently, “for every $100 of agricultural output, developed countries spend $3.07 on public agricultural R&D, whereas developing countries spend just $0.55 on average.” In 2009 Azerbaijan spent a meager 0.2% of its GDP towards R&D. According to 2013 World Bank figures, that number hasn’t changed. is my take home message: whatever we do, we must start today! In the story of the rabbit and the turtle, it was the slow and steady that won the race. Our figures seem to be showing that we are slow….but we are far from steady!

If you’re sitting at home and wondering how you can help, start by trying Meatless Mondays. By watching your diet, and consuming less meat. We can have small, but meaningful impacts on the future security of global food systems by starting with ourselves.

Happy [Conscious] Eating!