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.

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

Pesticides in Agriculture: Why You Should Care

pic2First, a general introduction: pesticides are chemical substances used to repel or kill pests. Most people think of them as insecticides, but pesticides also target non-insect animals, weeds, fungi, bacteria, algae, and viruses. While the focus of this post is on their use in agriculture, pesticides actually have a wide variety of applications, ranging from: killing vector-borne diseases in public drinking-water containers to household cleaning supplies.

Farmers use pesticides to keep animals, weeds, and diseases from endangering their crops. Pesticides are common in modern agriculture because most agroecosystems have been developed as monocultures, which are easy targets for pests. Synthetic repellants aren’t cheap, though, some farmers concentrate their use on highest-valued like grains, rather than most-harvested crops – fruits and vegetables. Hence, those wary of pesticides emphasize washing fruits and vegetables, not bread.

However, it is important to recognize that pesticides aren’t the only means of pest control. There are a number of natural, as well as, physical farming techniques that are just as, if not more, effective at protecting crops. Fallowing, rotating crops, weeding by hand, erecting physical barriers, strategically growing trap or companion plants, and permitting beneficial predators, are all examples of pest-deterring practices that are more ecologically beneficial and cost-efficient than pesticides.

So, is money the primary concern in the pesticide debate? Absolutely not. The indirect costs to humanity and environment are the main problems: food insecurity, human health detriment, water contamination, air pollution, and non-target species endangerment are some of the most pressing issues.

  • Food insecurity: Pesticides are meant to help farmers yield larger harvests by removing threats to crops. However, many pests, namely insects, are adept at developing chemical resistance. The ironic consequence is that farmers, having destroyed or neglected organic pest control methods in favor of pesticides, suffer even larger infestations of pests that are no longer deterred by the chemicals coating on the crops.

  • Human health: External contact with pesticides can burn the skin and eyes, while ingestion – airborne or foodborne – can cause carcinogenic, neurological, reproductive, and immune-system damage. Pesticides can be highly poisonous, causing an estimated 220,000 human deaths per year. Additionally, disease vectors, such as malaria-ridden mosquitoes, are made even bigger threats to human health because they can develop chemical resistance.

  • Water contamination: Whether introduced via run-off, leaching, spillage, or otherwise, pesticides can dangerously elevate toxicity levels in bodies of water. Toxicity can render groundwater undrinkable and make aquatic ecosystems uninhabitable to certain species.

  • Air pollution: When pesticides are sprayed onto a patch of land, some chemicals linger in the air and can be spread miles away by wind currents. This brings non-target animals and plants as well as humans into contact with toxic materials. Moreover, pesticide chemical reactions with compounds present in air account for 6% of tropospheric ozone, better known as smog, and contribute to acid rain.

I should mention that all is not as bad as I’ve made it seem. The EPA and similar agencies around the world undertake rigorous testing of pesticides and only permit them with strict usage guidelines. Moreover, consuming food that’s grown with pesticides is unlikely to kill you. Most deaths from poisoning are associated with substance mismanagement in underdeveloped countries. As one EPA brochure puts it:

“Because most crops are treated with pesticides at least some of the time, foods you buy at the grocery store may contain small traces of pesticide residues. Pesticide levels tend to decline over time because the residues break down and because crops are usually washed and processed before reaching the marketplace. So, while we all consume small amounts of pesticides regularly, levels in our food generally are well below legal limits by the time the food reaches the grocery shelves.”

Here are my points: pesticides are quite dangerous, and their use doesn’t seem justified when one considers the abundance of alternative pest control mechanisms and methods. It is worth supporting those growers who abstain from using synthetic pest control substances. Nevertheless, there is significant regulation in place to prevent mass diffusion of chemicals; so consuming food that isn’t certified organic is not going to seriously endanger your health.

Just something to consider,


Other sources:

Environmental Impact of Pesticides

Happy Food Day – Let’s fast!

food-dayIt’s Food Day. A time to stop and reflect on the bounty and beauty of colorful, healthy and fresh food. Without the fruits, which extract vitamins and nutrients from the ground and seal in kisses of the sun, we wouldn’t be as energetic and agile as we are!

So, let’s focus on the bigger picture. The food system is run by corporations and governments who created policies that favor profit over sustainability. As consumers, we are not free of guilt. Our desire to save money pushed a wave of cheap, ‘food like’ substances, which substitute real organic matters in foods we consume. And even current trends of ‘healthy’ have caused companies to green-wash our beliefs, labeling things Natural or Organic, even when they are not truly so.

Large-scale farms, over use of fertilizers and intensive farming has weakened our environment and soil. The food we produce today is lower in vitamins, lacks in diversity and lost its taste. But it looks better, and as long as it’s cheap, we buy it! This illusion of abundance, of cheap and attractive food is costing us! To solve this problem, we need to study it. We need to analyze the flaws and gaps, and really take time to share information, to collaborate on a solution.

Fasting_4-Fasting-a-glass-of-water-on-an-empty-plateSuch clarity of mind comes only with patience and silence. It also comes with the cleansing of the system. And with that said, today I’m embarking on a fasting journey for a better food system. For the next two days I will consume no food, drink lots of water, and I live simply. With a clear mind and time on my hands, I will read about the problems plaguing our food system. Then, I will share them with you through an obstacle road map. And together, we will brainstorm the solutions. If passionate about food and sustainability, I encourage you to join me. Of course, you should pick a fasting option that suits you best. But even if you don’t fast, then spend some time in thought. Ponder about the process that brings food to your table, and ask yourself: Do you like what you eat? Does the food you consume harm the planet and you? What can you do about it?

Let’s celebrate the building of a happy future!
Will you join?

By Hokuma

Sharing Your Lunch With the Poor

_R6H1954The alarm rings, you hit the snooze button. The next time you open your eyes you find that time has whizzed by and you are running late. Jumping into the shower, quickly putting on your office clothes, you dash for the car, the bike, or the metro and hurry to work. If lucky, you stop in a drive through and grab some food on the way to the office.

If you are not as lucky, you arrive at the office feeling tired. So you go to the kitchen (if one is available), or head to the cafeteria to buy coffee and food. Usually on such days you will end up buying both breakfast and lunch. This means spending more money and eating more outside food (which is not always healthy). But, what can you do?

To address this modern problem, the city of Mumbai in India began to rely on an ancient tradition of delivering lunches to working men and women. The process is known as dabbawala. Clients of this service can enjoy a home cooked lunch prepared by a family member that is delivered straight to the office. Those who are health conscious or don’t have anyone to cook for them can order produce from a delivery service, such as Calorie Care. This food chain prepares meals with specific caloric portions and pays attention to nutrition. It is also a bit more expensive. 

Those worried about their lunch getting lost on the way can rest assured! Forbes magazine gave this service a 6 Sigma performance rating, meaning that their percentage of correctness reaches 99.999999 or more. Hence, for every six million lunches delivered, only one might end up in the wrong hands. This accuracy has caught the attention of Harvard University, which covered the business in one of its case studies.

And while thousands of lunches get delivered on a daily basis, a big chunk of the Indian population goes hungry. So a new campaign originated by the non-profit Happy Life Welfare society decided to create a sticker allowing any uneaten food to go to the needy. If some lunch is left in the tin container, the eater can place a sticker reading “Share” on top of it. This instructs the individuals retrieving the can after lunch to deliver the food to the needy.

Though an ingenious idea, it received some backlash, particularly on the part of the food being served constituting leftovers of another. Others view this as good way to fight food waste and feed people. What is your opinion? Share your thoughts below.

Written by

Food Integrity Campaign

chickens in cagesIn recent months we witnessed just how important whistleblowers are for a more safe, democratic and just system.

Whether in the government, a business or any other organization, there is a need for individuals who are willing to speak the truth and shed light on injustice. But, to change the status quo and get the conversation started they need facts and evidence (which is difficult to gather, without breaking some rules). With today’s food system focused more on profit than on value, there is no doubt that many corners get cut at the price of safety.

food-Illnesses-deathsWhen looking at statistics, every year 1 in 6 Americans (48 million) get sick, 128,000 get hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne illnesses. Most deaths are caused by meat and poultry (29%), then comes produce (23%), dairy and eggs (15%) and lastly, fish and shellfish (6.4%).

So how do we bring change to a multi-billion dollar food industry? A new group thinks that empowering whistleblowers will help bring about change. The Food Integrity Campaign, part of the Government Accountability Project, wants to support and protect individuals that want to reveal hidden dangers, schemes and other practices that endanger our food. Below is a video with further details.


Discover Your Eating Habits

food graphIt is lunch time. You are starving! You head to your local cafeteria or lunch buffet and pile on the food. The plate looks more colorful with every passing second. It’s also getting heavier. Your eyes are happy, your wallet not so much, but what about your stomach?

A new study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that we consume about 92% of the food we place on our plates.  The research was carried out by Brian Wansik and Katherine Abowd, and gives us good news in our fight against food waste. The research shows that we are able to finish almost everything that we put on our plates, and certain factors help us increase this rate.

Eating food without distractions, such as TV or talking, increases this rate to 97%. Eating food that is continuous (or monotone), such as pasta or cereal, also beats the average! These findings are also useful for those wishing to lose weight. Eating salads or steamed vegetables, which are unitary items, decreases consumption to 72%. Being distracted also lowers this rate to 89%.

Food waste on our individual plates is usually 8%, which is extremely lower than the 55-65% consumers waste at home (mainly due to leftovers or forgotten produce in the refrigerator). To learn more about reducing your food waste levels, check out the top problems faced by consumers and their solutions. You can also tap into other useful resources by Dr. Wansik by learning about the Small Plate Movement, discovering your Mindless Eating habits and becoming part of the 92% Clean Plate Club.

4 steps to feed 1-4 billion people

There is more than enough food to feed our current population. There is even enough to provide for the billions of souls that will soon join us on this planet. Outlined below are 4 steps that can help us get there!

saynotofoodwaste.hunger.foodwaste.sustainability.love.volunteer.happy.3Step 1: STOP FOOD WASTE
There are currently 1 billion people on the planet facing hunger. These individuals aren’t isolated to developing countries. USA, one of the most developed countries on Earth, has a population in which 1 in 6 adults and 1 in 5 children face hunger. This country also wastes about 30-40% of its food, which is similar to the global average where 1/3 of all food is wasted. If we can collect all this food, we can feed the hungry 4 times! Read a case study about food waste in the Spanish retail sector to learn more.

Not only does meat take a lot of resources to grow, but livestock feeds on a large percentage of cereals. If the land that is currently used to grow crops for livestock was instead channeled towards human consumption, an additional 4 billion people would be fed! A new study by the University of Minnesota shows that even a small shift of crops from livestock or bio-fuels towards human consumption would improve global food security.

food-waste-graphs.treehugger.foodwaste.saynotofoodwaste.sustainable.nature.share.care.love.give.happy.Step 3: BE MORE EFFICIENT
Wasting food leads to wasted resources. Agriculture is using 28% of land to grow food that is wasted (this also includes resources such as energy, water and labor). All this waste means that agriculture is responsible for 20-35% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The new study also highlighted that 60% of nitrogen and almost 50% of phosphorus applications exceeded the norms that are necessary for crop growth. This pollutes our environment. And finally, considering that only 1% of water on the planet is available for drinking, using our limited resources in a more efficient way will help long-term food security. With more efficient and improved irrigation techniques farmers can reduce water demands by 8-15% without compromising their food production.

There area areas of our planet where agriculture has the potential to produce more food than is currently being produced. These areas are known to have ‘yield gaps‘. With improved practices and technology these areas can increase production rates. A new portal, created with the partnership of University of Nebraska, Water for Food and Wageningen, gives an analysis of this problem. The above mentioned study showed that if we close even 50% of these gaps, there will be enough calories to feed an additional 850 million people. More than half of the areas are in Africa, as well as, Asia and Eastern Europe.

New Report on Food Waste

28_percentage_waste.foodwaste.saynotofoodwaste.auckland.newzealand.sustainability.health.environment.future.food.A new report – “Food losses and waste in the context of sustainable food systems” by The High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE), takes a look at current trends of food waste. The report outlines causes, trends and solutions that will help address this global phenomenon.

Currently, our agricultural sector uses 28% of land and other resources, such as water, fertilizers, manpower, energy and more, to grow food that is lost or thrown away.  As the University of Auckland writes in their blog: “Agriculture is [also] responsible for a majority of threats to at-risk plant and animal species tracked by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).”

For more information about these statistics, visit and read the report that lists food waste impacts on our natural resources. It was prepared by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

You can also watch and share this animated video with you friends to help spread awareness about food waste. After all, to create a healthy and a sustainable food system we need to start locally, working on our own refrigerators and trashcans.

Dates that Waste

Food_waste_by_majx.saynotofoodwaste.sustainability.economy.environment.foodsecurity.health.future.Sell By and Best By, two dates causing lots of food waste in the world. A recent scientific paper by the Institute of Food and Technologies (IFT) showed that lack of proper education causes the USA to chuck a yearly supply of food worth $161.6 billion. Considering the economic and environmental strains faced by our planet, this is a cost we can’t afford.

On average, 25% of consumers thrown food after its “sell by” date, which is suggested by a manufacturer as the date by which to sell their product. Another 10% of consumers believe that eating something after it’s “best by” date could cause a health scare, which isn’t accurate. In Europe, considering landfill space constraints, government officials have discussed scrapping these confusing dates from products.

If you fall under one of these categories or would like to get better informed, then be sure to read various studies, including this report prepared by the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) and the Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic. The latest report analyzes current pitfalls of our labeling system and suggests solutions for the future. Knowledge and information is power. With the right tools and the right mindset, we can tackle our most difficult environmental problems.