Is it still edible?

Found a nice resource from Eat By Date that answers that question for many of the foods we buy.

In our house, “Best Before” and “Eat by” dates are taken with a grain of salt. For foods we are less familiar with, they provide guidelines, but they are not hard and fast rules. But, we rarely base on judgements on anything scientific, preferring to tempt fate by relying on our senses of smell and taste.

Others live by these dates, thinking that science has already answered that question for them. The end result: a lot of good food ends up in the bin. This online resource attempts to save Jean-Francois and me from ourselves and a great deal of food from the bin at the same time.

Eat By Date’s mission is to answer one question: How long does food really last. And with what they have learnt, they have created a useful resource that goes beyond the date. Along the way, they give us more insight into common foods and help us be smarter consumers.

Take their entry on Lettuce, for example. Not only do they provide a table showing the leafy veg’s shelf life in the fridge, but they also share tips for longer storage (like rinsing and drying lettuce before it even goes in the refrigerator) and give insight on how lettuce fairs in a prepared dish (like that take-away Chinese you ordered three days ago).

Screenshot from website showing shelf life of lettuce

Screenshot from website showing shelf life of lettuce

The site is clean, easy to use, and informative. If more people refer to this resource or others, I am sure less food would make it into the bin.

How Long Does Food Last? Shelf Life & Expiration Date Guide.

Advertisements

Feasting on Leftovers: A little pesto goes a long way

Jean-Francois arrived from Singapore on Saturday last with renewed energy and a clear goal: Complete our vegetarian cookbook in six weeks. But that requires a clean kitchen and an empty fridge. To prepare, I made all our meals with an eye to waste nothing and have no food in our home by the end of the week.

For the most part our meals at home are vegetarian. Not vegan, but meat is rarely on the menu. This week was no exception, save for an evening of miso-glazed halibut (wild caught from Alaska, approved by our Seafood Watch app) and served with flavoured rice and lemon roasted brussels sprouts.  I only mention this meal, because it is the trigger for what follows.

I had leftover rice and sprouts from that meal, so for last night’s dinner I wanted to give these morsels a second chance to dazzle. And use up some aging produce. Here is what I did.

Menu, Leftovers for two:

Pesto Blessed Leftovers

  • Vegetarian Meatballs  with okara (not egg) (recipe from The Meatball Shop)
  • Asparagus with lemon butter sauce (14 stalks)
  • Pesto Fried Rice with brussels sprouts, peppers, and onions
  • Blue cheese basil pesto

Everything but the asparagus was either a leftover or on its way out the door. (Note: I made the meatballs about six weeks ago and froze them in batches of 6, we thawed our last bag for future meals.

1. Warm the meatless meatballs.

Preheat over to 350F. Place meatless balls in baking dish, cover tightly to prevent drying.  Heat in over about 20 minutes, until heated through.

2. Prepare the pesto, add:

  • 2 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup of cashews
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 oz. blue cheese

To food processor and pulse until it becomes a coarse paste. Set aside.

3. Start the rice, Cook:

  • 1/2 onion, chopped fine
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped fine
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed

In a skillet with 1 Tablespoon olive oil, until onions start to brown. Add:

1 1/2 cups leftover rice (no need to be exact) and leftover brussels sprouts. Stir until hot. Add:

  • 2 gobs of pesto
  • Salt to taste

Set aside until ready to serve.

4. Pan-fry prepared asparagus in a bit of olive oil over medium heat

Until browned, about ten minutes. Turn off heat and add 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice and 1 tablespoon butter and toss until sauce coats stalks evenly. Serve.

The pesto also serves as a dipping sauce for the meatballs. Jean-Francois topped his rice with the lemon-butter sauce.

Comments on the meal: 

  • We thought the blue cheese might over power the pesto, but the two were very nicely paired. We will use the remainder of the pesto with pasta on Saturday.
  • The rice was rather tasty.
  • We had enough fried rice leftover to make an egg hash for breakfast. Just add two eggs.
  • Those meatballs are very dry, made more so by the freezing. Considering the long list of ingredients and the time required to prepare them, you will want to make sure you find ways to “pimp them out”. The recipe makes 24 balls, which is a lot for two people. And since I am not a fan of lentils, I doubt I will be making these again.

All told we managed to eat every bit of veg in the fridge. When we shop on Saturday, it will be like starting with a new fridge.

On another note: I am in search of muslin cotton for making tofu and soy milk. My supply has turned to rags and I cannot find any cheesecloth here that is fine enough. If anyone can point me to a decent vendor, I would be over the moon. We miss our tofu and milk. Thanks.

Weekend food waste roundup – 16 March 2013

Recent articles on food waste.

The tone of news stories about food waste shifted a week or so ago. For nearly a month, news outlets and bloggers seemed so overwhelmed with the size of the problem, that few bothered to dig deeper. But, those rehashed stories on the amount of food wasted in developed nations are now becoming more nuanced.

According to the USDA, the annual cost of food waste for an average family of four in the United States is $2,275.

My interested in waste management was piqued by an investigation onthe life cycle of our food waste once it has been collected. This story focuses on a community that already requires food waste to be separated from other waste. For those who need to see the magnitude of food waste we generate each week, call your local waste management centre. Many waste and water treatment plants offer tours for the public.

Another report claims that LED lighting might slow food decay in grocery stores and save about 300,000 tonnes of food waste, simply because LED light do not burn as hot as incandescent lights. (Of course, the study was funded by Sedna LED, so more research is needed, but it may be a way to work with local grocery stores to help find new ways to reduce their costs and reduce food waste.)

Massachusetts is leading the way in the United States, with two approaches to reduce the amount of food that ends up in land fills. The state now requires businesses in the food industry to compost their organic waste, the goal is to expand this requirement to every home in the state.

But there is a more interesting approach to managing food waste that might be even more efficient. A province in Korea has implemented a mandatory “pay-as-you-throw” system charges households for throwing food in the bin. What appeals to me about this approach is that economic cost of wasting food becomes more transparent and big wasters pay more for being wasteful than those who are frugal.

And, finally, it looks like the plastics industry is jumping into the food waste debate and looking for ways to help reduce food waste with better packaging. This report has me wondering about other landfill issues, but we work hard to reduce packaging waste  at home too, so I may be a bit biased.

March: It’s Celery’s Month

Does anyone out there know who decides which events, foods, people will be celebrated each month of the year? I ask because March is National Celery Month. (It is also Nutritional Health Awareness month, Women’s History month, and frozen foods month.) Why does celery deserve a whole month of celebration?

Sausage pizza with cornmeal crust

Celery: only good as a supporting role?

Personally I get it. This blog owes its existence to celery (or rather our lack of it) when we lived in Japan and pined for days when we could buy more than one stalk of celery at a time. Silly us. Now in Los Angeles, we always looking for new ways to use a full head of celery before it goes limp.

After all, there has to be more to celery than mirepoix and hors d’oeuvres?

Moving beyond Ants on a Log

Last March, Jean-Francois wrote about a surprisingly refreshing tall glass of celery. What he did not mention Pepsi’s attempt to market cucumber soda in Japan for a week or two. And Dr. Browns sells a celery soda. Maybe drinking celery (and cucumbers) might be fun way to bring out our Irish this week.

Celery is crunchy, naturally salty, and nutritious. It can be grilled, pureed, creamed, steamed, fried, pickled, infused, baked, and braised. Huffington Post has some fun ideas for celery, including a salsa with green olives and mint.

Yesterday, cooking for one, I attempted to make celery and mushroom ravioli. If you are vegan, try substituting wet okara or soy-cheese for the egg and cheese.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 chopped onion
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 5 button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 6 wonton wrappers

Recipe:

  1. Heat olive oil in skillet.
  2. Add onions and celery. Cook until translucent.
  3. Add mushrooms and salt. Cook until all water evaporates.
  4. Transfer onions, celery and mushrooms to food processor. Add cheese and egg and blend into a paste.
  5. Put about 1 teaspoon of paste in each wrapper. Use water or egg to seal the wrappers.
  6. Cook ravioli in boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes.

I ate these bundles with a lemon butter sauce. However, I have no photo to share because I ate them in 3 minutes flat. But I will try this again, maybe adding nuts to the filling to help give the meal more weight. And I will take a photo.

In January, The New York Times published five celery recipes that put my creative effort to shame. I can’t wait to try the “Pan-Cooked Celery with Tomatoes and Parsley” and “Celery Risotto with Dandelion Greens or Kale”.

Healthy Family, a blog dedicated to living organically and healthfully, also shares four celery recipes for March, including a breakfast drink, a soup, a salad, and a treat with salmon.

By the way, 22 March is World Water Day. May we all slake our thirst and raise our passions with a stick of celery, an ice cube, and Betty Friedan.

Blogging and deterministic non-linear systems. And butterflies.

Once upon a time, I made my living doing mathematics – and one of my favourite mathematical truths is this: deterministic nonlinear systems are extremely sensitive to initial conditions. You may know that truth as the butterfly effect.

It’s an amazing thing, when you think about it: if you take two identical planet Earths, and change one little thing in one of them – one little puff of air – you nudge it down a whole new path.

You can change the world right now if you want to: all you have to do is put your lips together and blow.

Go on, you know you want to.

Butterfly

The world you just created looks very similar to the one that would have existed had you not blown – but eventually, the differences between them will become bigger and bigger. Storms will happen on different days; people’s life paths will be altered; different people will be born; different people will die.

Anyone who’s ever told you that you couldn’t make a difference was wrong.

When people ask me why I bother to reduce food waste in my life, and why I blog, I tell them about non-linear systems and butterflies, and about the power we all have to nudge ideas and culture and behaviour in any direction we want. I tell them that those small nudges make a huge difference … eventually. And, if I’m feeling particularly lyrical that day, I tell them that that’s what a soul is: the consequences of our actions, rippling through time, forever magnifying, and forever reshaping the world — no matter how small we were in life.

Given that, you may not be surprised to learn that I’ve been disappointed that I haven’t been able to attend to this blog much in the past couple of months – but work has taken over most of my evenings and weekends, and it promises to keep doing that for at least a few more months.

The good news is that Bonnie Lee has agreed to step in to help pick up the slack, and keep those little puffs of 222 million tons wind flowing out into the world. I’ll add in my two hundred and twenty-two cents when time allows, including some overdue comments on the blogs I follow.

Butterflies

When you’re trying to change the world, two butterflies are better than one.

And now, back to work…

Weekend food waste roundup – 27 January 2013

Recent articles on food waste.There was a lot of coverage on food waste again this week, mostly inspired by the UN’s Think, Eat, Save initiative, and the comments of Yuan Longpin, who thinks food waste should be a legal offense in China.

The Conundrum of Food Waste | NYTimes.com This week, two United Nations agencies opened a global campaign calling for changes in the way that food is harvested, transported, processed, sold and consumed. Different regions need different solutions. Developing regions tend to suffer food losses in the production process through poor harvesting techniques, spoilage or improper storage, while industrialized nations in the Americas, Europe and prosperous parts of Asia waste food at the retail and consumer end.

And more on the UN initiative:

Fines for Food Waste and the “Clean Plate Campaign” | China Digital Times (CDT)  Yuan Longping, an agricultural scientist at the Chinese Academy of Engineering and the “father of hybrid rice“, has publicly endorsed the implementation of fines for wasted food. “I suggest the government prohibit wasting food by treating it as a kind of crime and shameful behaviour,” he said. “Many banquets I have attended offered dozens of different dishes to the guests, who only briefly tasted each dish and then threw them away. The authorities should fine them.”

Scientist wants food waste criminalized | China.org.cn Another article about Yuan Longpin – his recent statements got a lot if coverage, and have been forwarded 16,600 times on the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

Eateries think small to fight food waste | chinadaily.com.cn Nearly 750 restaurants in Beijing have joined a campaign against wasting food by offering smaller dishes. This represents a huge shift in a country where providing more food than people can eat is the proper etiquette, and was inspired by Yuan Longpin’s recent statements (see above).

Branstad: University of Iowa Hospitals could do more to reduce food waste | TheGazette University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, which wasted about 350,000 servings of food worth $181,000 in the last year, could do more to reduce food waste, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said, reacting to a Gazette report showing UI Hospitals wasted about 12 percent of food prepared for employees and visitors in seven dining areas from Dec. 1, 2011, through Nov. 30, 2012. UI Hospitals does not regularly donate unsold food, nor does the hospital recycle food waste into compost.

Hong Kong’s mounting food waste problem | CNN.com The city of seven million people is set to run out of space for its trash by 2018, with the Tseung Kwan O site set to be topped up by 2015. Some creative approaches are turning food waste into desirable products like bags and brushes, but the real solution lies in changing people’s buying habits.

Curbing food waste | ANN Food waste collection facilities in many of Seoul’s 25 wards stink to high heaven as private food waste disposal companies have stopped processing the food waste collected there amid disputes over fee hikes.

The food-waste debate could use a pinch of common sense | Macleans.ca That banana looks a bit brown. The yogurt is past its “best before” date. And no one else is eating those end slices, so why should you?

.

So, we tried to cook the Christmas tree…

It was the morning of Epiphany, and as we lifted the ornaments off the branches, it seemed like the most logical thing in the world. Why not cook the Christmas tree? Surely, that was far better aligned with our values than simply getting the thing mulched.

In retrospect, it was probably the guilt getting the better of me. The decision to get a tree had not been reached easily, as the whole idea seemed to be at odds with our approach to sustainability. What’s more, trees have never really been a tradition for us. In Japan, getting a tree simply wasn’t an option – and even before that, we had rarely spent Christmases at home. It wasn’t a choice we were 100% comfortable with. So we had hemmed. Then we had hawed. And, after careful deliberation, we had decided to indulge, just this once. A tree would allow us to hang ornaments that have sat largely unused for years, act as a festive backdrop to our Epiphany Eve party, and (perhaps most importantly) provide the cats with hours of entertainment.

Now that all that was in the past, all I saw was a tree that had been chopped down for no justifiable reason. It didn’t help that the cats, who go insane when a single flower enters the house, and who took great joy in beating up our little paper tree in Japan, had doggedly ignored the eight foot giant covered in shiny baubles from the day it had been put up. That had been a particularly cruel twist of the knife.

Obligatory family Xmas portrait

Cooking the tree would make all this right.

Yes, guilt was definitely a factor, as was the knowledge that such guilt lingers. The 1993 tree still haunts me … it haunts both of us. This was the only other real Christmas tree we’d ever bought. Our then nascent concern for the planet had compelled us to get a living tree for Christmas that year, one that would stay with us for years to come. Even before New Year’s came around, though, it was clear that we had managed to kill the thing. We didn’t have the gardening skills to even keep an evergreen green. As stewards of the planet, we were batting 0.

It’s also probably important to point out that I’d had a few drinks the night before, and that was definitely affecting my judgement – though not because there was still alcohol coursing through my veins. What I’d drunk the night before were some Dark ‘n Stormy’s, made with our homemade ginger beer. The ginger beer was dry, exploding with ginger, and had been a hit with the guests. I felt some lingering pride over the brew … and somehow that pride convinced me that I could do wonders with tree.

Dark 'n stormy night ahead

Pride and guilt alone, however, were not solely responsible for my new plans for the tree – nostalgia also played a role. Christmas trees and ornaments come with thoughts of childhood, and with those thoughts a memory of something I hadn’t thought of in years emerged: bierre d’épinette, a.k.a. spruce beer. This was a drink of childhood – a very regional one – and I the last time I’d had any was a home-brewed version at a little greasy spoon in Montreal, over 20 years ago. I can still taste it.

So, once Bonnie Lee was on board, we pruned off a few branches, boiled them for a while, then added some sugar and yeast and waited for the magic to happen, happy in the knowledge that we’d have a new recipe to share soon – one that would not only turn Christmas trees into food, but also cure scurvy.

Cooking the tree

It’s really hard to describe what a good bierre d’épinette tastes like. It has a pleasant complexity, and like many great local foods, the ability to repulse anyone who was not raised with it. Our version lacked some of that complexity, and, with it’s distinct pine freshener tones, lacked the charm to win over even the most diehard spruce beer aficionado.

Someday, if we move back to the land of pine trees, I will try this again – and if I make a good batch, I’ll share the recipe here. In the meantime, I’ll just leave you with my recipe for homemade ginger beer.

Ginger beer (8 cups)

Ingredients

  • 8 cups water
  • 1.5 lbs ginger, unpeeled, chopped coarsely
  • ½ cup brown sugar (or to taste)
  • 4 limes, unpeeled and coarsely chopped

Directions

  • Toss everything in a blender, and blend at highest speed for 2 or 3 minutes.
  • Strain through cheese cloth – and make sure you squeeze all the gingery goodness out of the pulp.
  • You’ll note that I don’t ferment my ginger beer, so technically, it’s not beer. If you want a little fizz, you can leave the ginger beer out for a few hours. Depending on how sweet the ginger beer is, the temperature, and how much yeast was hanging out on your ginger to begin with, you may get some small bubbles. If you want something more like a commercial soft drink, you’ll need to approach this differently than I do.

Dark ‘n Stormy

  • Pour about 3 ounces of ginger beer over ice.
  • Add 1 ounce of dark spiced rum.
  • Squeeze the juice of ¼ lime over top, and drop the lime wedge in.
Fun facts
2L Coca Cola 2L of our ginger beer
Carbon footprint 500 g 350 g*
Sugar 240 g 100 g
Plastic waste 1 bottle 0 bottles
Gingery goodness (on scale of 0 to 10) 0 10

* Used published value for brown sugar, and calculated results from Food Carbon Emissions Calculator for other ingredients (using conservative assumptions and reasonable substitutes).

Weekend food waste roundup – 19 January 2013

19 January 2013Food waste a new opportunity for entrepreneurs | CNN.com — Its great to see more businesses built around tackling food waste (I’m a particularly big fan of Rubies in the Rubble; such a great idea). Thanks to my friends at Stanley Cottage Garden (if you like this blog, you’ll like theirs) for sending me this link.

UNK Aims to Reduce Food Waste on Campus | KHGI-TV/KWNB-TV/KHGI-CD-Grand Island, Kearney, Hastings – Project Clean Plate is a four day program designed to help students at the university of Nebraska at Kearney become more conscious of the food they help themselves to in the cafeteria, compared with what they consume.

Countess: Put up food prices to stop waste. Lady Mar says higher costs would stop Brits throwing away half their groceries | Mail Online – A strategy to reduce food waste from the House of Lords … doubt this would be popular, but there’s no denying that countries where food cost is high relative to income have lower consumer waste.

Future of food composting trial in Washington County holds regional importance | OregonLive.com — Residents are raising a stink about a local food-scrap composting facility in North Plains.

Campaign to cut food waste in West Somerset gathers pace | This is The West Country — Local activists in West Somerset are teaching other members of their community to waste less.

Asian lessons in food waste

The first thing that struck me was the abundance of fruits and vegetables. I hadn’t stepped into a North American supermarket in over a decade, and had expected it to feel familiar and comfortable, but somehow it didn’t. There was something here that made me feel uneasy – which is an odd thing for fruits and vegetables to do. Against the backdrop of the bizarre food experiences I’d had living and traveling in Asia, how could a stack of onions not feel normal? From a food perspective, Asia had been such a strange ride, right from the beginning…

* * *

 It was August, 1998 – the evening of the 22nd, to be exact — and Bonnie Lee and I were heading out for a special meal. The town had no street names, and we had only a Japanese map to guide us. If we were concerned about anything at all, it was that we’d be late for our reservation, or not find the restaurant at all. We had no idea what to expect when we got there; no idea that we’d soon be greeting our long-anticipated celebratory meal with horror; no idea that this was one of the countless Asian experiences that would change our relationship with food forever.

There was a lot we didn’t know.

We were fresh off the boat. We’d been living in Kitakyushu for just over a month, and it wasn’t at all what we’d expected. The apartment we lived in was old and run down, and it had a squat toilet. The bugs in Southern Japan were like something out of a science fiction movie, and the fauna in our apartment included dani (little red biting critters that live in tatami mats) and mukade (venomous, armored centipedes). The river that ran through Kitakyushu was brown, and its basin was lined in concrete – the only legal construction material in the area, it seemed. The exotic rural charm we’d been expecting wasn’t really what Kitakyushu was known for; it was more famous as center for toilet manufacturing.

Oh, and it was hot.

The temperature had been hovering around 90℉ since our arrival; the humidity, around 85% – which was a challenge given the lack of air conditioning at home and at work. We weren’t at all sure we’d made the right move in coming to Japan for a year, and as the guy who’d suggested the move, I had a lot riding on this dinner.

We’d just gotten our first paychecks, and this was our first indulgence. Food was one of the things that had drawn us to Japan, and the restaurant had been recommended by a coworker. His English was bad, and my Japanese was worse – so I hoped that I had managed to communicate just how special I needed this night to be. I wanted something purely Japanese, something extravagant that we could never find elsewhere, something with air conditioning.

ようこそ ようこそ

We found the place easily (though we had to double and triple check the Chinese characters on the door to make sure), and it seemed perfect. The building was made of dark wood, not concrete, and the dining area was small, quaint and well appointed. There were white table cloths, and the waitstaff was attentive a very professional. The menus were in Japanese, of course, and none of the waitstaff spoke English, but that was no surprise. We were very likely the first non-Japanese who had ever entered the place – perhaps the only ones who ever would. And although we couldn’t read, we knew a few phrases, the most important of which was, Osusume wa …? – “What do you recommend?” We didn’t quite understand the whole answer, but it contained a few words we did know: sake, oki and ebi – rice wine, big and shrimp. Perfect. Local wine and jumbo shrimp. We ordered that.

The sake came along with a few small, beautiful starter dishes, and it was lovely. It was served cold, and complex – nothing like the pure, harsh ethanol they call sake in North America. We were excited to see what would follow. It wasn’t long, however, before that excitement turned into something quite different.

The oki ebi – which was actually lobster and not jumbo shrimp – came out in a small basket. On some level, it was beautiful. It was served on a bed of shredded daikon, and decorated with wasabi, a couple of slices of carrot, and a few fresh, bright green shiso leaves. But all that freshness and beauty were juxtaposed with something else altogether. The lobster meat, which was uncooked, was garnished with the head and thorax of the mutilated but still-living lobster, which sat upright in the daikon in obvious distress.

Now, many people would argue that a lobster’s capacity for pain is minimal, if not nonexistent – but here’s what I know for certain: whatever that capacity is, this lobster was feeling the extent of it. It was having as bad a day as any lobster can have. Its eyes were wiggling back and forth frantically at the end of their little lobster eye stalks. Its antennae, which were long and fell outside the basket, were in constant motion. If its legs were still attached, it would have been trying to get away – but those legs were impotent now, and arranged neatly in front of it on a bed of daikon.

We were a little taken aback.

Although neither of us was (or ever became) a fan of raw shellfish, we felt that we had to eat our new tablemate. To not eat it at this point seemed like far too great a waste – though there was no way we wanted to eat it while it was still staring at us. Our initial plan was to wait until it stopped moving, but after 15 minutes it became clear that the creature was determined to live despite its obvious challenges. We placed it face down in a (clean) ashtray, and ate its flesh while it died.

* * *

Despite the disturbing meal, despite the concrete, despite the bugs, despite everything, we ended up enjoying Japan that year, and for the next twelve years after that. In that time, we traveled both in Japan and in the rest of Asia, and our notions of food were constantly challenged. Some images that stand out: buckets of silk worm pupae sold as snacks in Seoul, bright purple meat topped with the disembodied dog heads in a street market in Hanoi, fried grasshoppers in Bangkok, perfectly bronzed Peking duck served with bill and all … well, you get the picture.

All the larvae you eat

Sparkle

So what was it about this supermarket in L.A. that I could possibly find so disconcerting? Well, for one thing, the celery. In Japan, celery is sold by the stalk, and each stalk costs about a dollar. Over the years, that had come to seem normal. When you spend a dollar or more on a stalk of celery, you don’t do it casually. You buy it because you have a use in mind. You don’t just slather it in Cheese Whiz and wolf it down. You prepare something that highlights its crunch and flavor. You savor it, perhaps over two meals … or even three.

On some level, I’d been looking forward to buying bunches of celery again, but now that I could, it seemed wrong. The bunches were huge – much bigger than I remembered – and I couldn’t even begin to imagine how I would use a whole bunch in a week. Images from childhood popped into my head – images of wilted, unused celery stalks finding their way into garbage cans by the dozen. After thinking in terms of individual stalks for so long, that was a level of waste I couldn’t comfortably be complicit in.

Not far from the celery, I saw something that surprised me: yamaimo, mountain yams indigenous to Japan – and a food which I have a personal connection to. My first year in Japan, Bonnie Lee and I had headed into the mountains in search of yamaimo with a friend. We had dug waist-deep holes for hours in hard dirt, and had emerged from the day exhausted, with one, tiny, misshapen yamaimo to show for our trouble – and our friend was thrilled with the haul. He turned that one six-inch root into three dishes that celebrated the elusive tuber’s raw earthiness and glutinous texture. He turned one little yam into a feast for three, and a precious memory.

Understanding the amount of effort that went into finding one yam, the whole notion of wasting even a gram of it was out of the question. But what did an exotic yam with a slimy texture represent to the typical shopper here? Perhaps just an experiment that could easily be discarded if it didn’t work out. On some level, that was at the core of what I was feeling in the market that day. It was as if all the food had been stripped of any intrinsic value. It was cheap, plentiful and robbed of all history, of all connection to labour and life.

In China’s Guangxi province, there is a village called Ping’an, which sits in the heart of some of the most impressive terraced rice fields in the world. The town houses about 180 families, and their ancestors carved the terraces out of the surrounding mountains over a period of about 300 years. The slopes are steep, and the only way to get there is by foot. It’s well worth the walk. From Ping’an, the terraces spread out as far as the eye can see. When the rice fields are flooded, the landscape is made of giant mirrors — and during the growing season, the mountains are ringed with bright green contour lines.

Ping'an village from above

In Ping’an, people get the value of arable land – they had to build theirs from scratch – and they get the value of the food that grows on it. We were fortunate enough to have a meal there, which was a tribute to the valley that spread out in front of us. Our lunch for two consisted of six bite-sized pieces of chicken fried in a glutinous rice paste, a light soup made from the wild mountain vegetables that grow between the terraces, and a small bowl of rice – and it was served with an 8 ounce glass of sweet, smooth, weak rice wine.

Everything was from the land, and the portion size was enough to thoroughly satisfy, but not enough to stuff – designed to virtually eliminate the possibility that guests would leave something uneaten. Nothing was wasted. When you waste food in Ping’an, you see what you are wasting: the effort that went into building the very land, and the effort of those you can see working in the fields.

Out standing in his field

Not so in our local supermarket. Here, it seems that the relationship we have with food is broken. Half the aisles are filled with chemical experiments that our ancestors would barely recognize as food. We’ve transformed produce and meat into an industrial products, and commoditized them, removing all our connection to them. At least dog heads on piles of meat are honest. They remind you where the meat came from. They remind you what was given up so you could eat. They remind you not to waste. And, although I didn’t enjoy watching that one lobster suffer, that memory serves as a constant reminder of where I chose to stand in the food chain, and of the connection I have to the living things that are affected by my choices.

Weekend food waste roundup – 12 January 2013

paint roundupYou may have noticed that I don’t post a weekend roundup every week. When I don’t post, it’s usually because I haven’t found enough articles or videos that have something new to say about food-waste-related issues. Most of this week’s articles are ones that I wouldn’t usually post, but what I found interesting this week was the sheer number of articles that have been published on the topic. In my recent post on citrus rinds, I linked to a few articles that suggested that concern over food waste was becoming mainstream. This week’s glut of articles seems to suggest they were right.

Andrew Gunther: Big Ag Profits From Food Waste | Huff Post Food

How to cut food waste | Oliver Thring | guardian.co.uk

Living in the United States of Food Waste | Businessweek

How fresh thinking can save on food waste | Mirror Online

Food Waste: Half Of All Food Ends Up Thrown Away | Huffington Post

Time to stand up to food waste (and walk more) | Michael White | guardian.co.uk

Staggering Global Food Waste Creates Green Tech Opportunities | Forbes

INCPEN and LINPAC respond to food waste report | Food Production Daily

Nick Curtis: Put men in charge of shopping and cooking and you’ll see waste just waste away | London Evening Standard

Food Prices Drop, But Food Waste Increases, Reports Say | International Business Times