The hassle of microwave popcorn?

Continental breakfast?

Americans are off microwave popcorn. At least that is the gist of a story in the Los Angeles Times yesterday that left me shaking my head. No, we are not embracing simpler, healthier  ways of popping corn. We are buying already popped and bagged corn. It seems microwaves, air poppers and stove top approaches to popping our kernels are fraught with risks.

The few comments on the story are insightful.

wdwpixie writes: “How about the fact that there’s been health issues associated with the microwave popcorn?  Every time I make a bag here at work I have to hear about it from a pharmacy associate….it’s not a lazy factor, it’s a possible health risk, plus the pre-popped can be put in a lunch bag or taken on the road as a snack.”

And, Xalm1983 says she’d “rather buy ready-made popcorn because it just tastes better and doesn’t stink up the apartment if burned.”

justdoit1 seems to prefer the limitless bounty of flavours that manufacturers add to pre-popped corn.  S/he argues that “The already made comes in various flavors, which is hard to do at home without opening up 10 different packages.  most (sic) people buy it because it’s cheaper in bulk than buying 10 different flavored popcorns.”

The thought that popping corn is easy and very inexpensive seems not too have occurred to these commenters. And I think I understand way. They’d rather pay for the convenience (and the waste that comes with it) than take that extra step in their own homes. I mean, is it really easier to buy pre-popped corn with additives to preserve freshness and flavour than air pop some kernels and top them with salt, olive oil and grated cheese?

We consume rather than create. And this focus on consumption that “saves us time” is helping us avoid the larger issues surrounding food waste, hunger, and obesity. And it couldn’t be more disappointing.

On 20 May, Jean-Francois and I “Got Wasted” with a remarkable group of people (both in the audience and on the Panel) and talked about the problem of food waste and hunger in Los Angeles. It was a motivating event that generated a lot of talk on Twitter. You can link to the audio recording of that discussion and Twitter feed below:

(BTW, we’ve moved, unpacked, found computers and plugs, and calmed our cats. And, I have finally found my rhythm in the new place…so I hope to post more regularly.)

Weekend food waste roundup – 28 April 2013

28Apr13

What happens when a politician attempts to tackle food waste? Well, if you are a politician in Great Britain, you get rotten tomatoes tossed your way.

In fact, when Environment minister Richard Benyon claimed that Britons were wasting about £50 GBP (or about $77 USD) a week, he kicked up quite the storm.

For a  while I felt like I was reading celebrity gossip and not news about ways to approach the complex issue of solving our food waste issues. And then The Guardian publishes “Should it brie in the bin?” which attempts to look at the numbers and explain how food waste is a problem in a nation facing severe austerity.

Here in the United States, Liz Neumark summarized what she learned at the National Food  Policy Conference in Washington DC. She shares some new numbers on food waste in the  nation:

  • 1 in 4 Americans need government food or nutrition assistance program.
  • 68% of food-insecure families have at least one adult working full-time.
  • About 30-40 percent of what travels from farm on the way to the fork becomes food waste. That is over 65 billion pounds of food a year according to the EPA.

And finally, there were two articles with nice tips and strategies for helping individuals reduce the amount of food they waste. First, “Having a meal plan— and sticking to it — can cut waste and your waist” in the Calgary Herald makes the case for more discipline in shopping and cooking. Second, Care2.com recommends a FIFO (First In, First Out) approach to food in your fridge.

Weekend food waste roundup – 21 April 2013

21Apr13I suppose some of you are wondering why our weekly digest of global news on food waste is getting less weekly. The answer is simple, the people writing on food waste are stuck on three basic themes:

  1. Shock: calling attention to the problem of how much food is wasted annually. Most pointing fingers at Americans and then driving the outrage home with a “but even on the local home front, we are wasting XXX tonnes of food a year.”
  2. Turning food waste into a useful resource: Methane generators, food scraps into animal feed, and composting.
  3. Food waste and Hunger: This one probably speaks for itself, but the issue of getting food that is heading to the bin rerouted is a more complex civil challenge than most of us realise.

And while all three of these are great, not one addresses the problem of our excesses at grocery store, markets, restaurants, and anywhere where food is available (think weddings, conferences, amusement parks, banquets…).

Thankfully, tomorrow is Earth Day and at least one reporter went a little deeper.

The Star, a Malaysian paper, reported on a Toyota led initiative in that nation to help turn the next generation of Malaysians into solutions-focused Eco-Citizens. These sixteen year olds are not starting with the food waste already generated. No, they are looking at ways to reduce portion sizes in cafeterias and restaurants BEFORE people even buy the food. I like how they are thinking.

Getting Wasted: L.A.'s food excess

Getting Wasted: L.A.’s food excess
photo credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

And this brings me to an act of shameless self-promotion. On 20 May, Jean-Francois and I have been asked to join a interactive panel discussion to think about how excess contributes to the food waste problem and steps might be possible to curb it through grass-roots initiatives, technology, and individual actions.

However, our experience is limited. If you could share your ideas, opinions and local solutions, it would help us in our brainstorming. I’d love to share your practical, non-compost, solutions with like-minded Angelenos.

We’d also love to see you there.

Weekend food waste roundup – 24 March 2013

Weekend RoundupI found a few good stories on food waste this week, but one has so completely captured my thoughts that I want to give it centre stage.

Let me set the scene. About two weeks ago at a dinner party, I adamantly argued that the Good Samaritan Law protects any business and individual in the United States that wants to donate leftover food to non-profits working to feed the hungry. By adamantly, I mean I was dogmatic and unwavering in my opinion. (Any one want to place odds on whether or not I will be invited back?)

Well, the Los Angeles Times published an article this week that makes me wish I had been less pig-headed that night. The Good Samaritan law protects donors, but it does not, it seems, protect the non-profits who distribute food from local health and safety codes.

This strikes me as odd. I mean, the caterers must abide by the same codes, so why would the non-profits refuse food? Because, they cannot afford to be shut down because of a violation or lawsuit.

I am annoyed enough about the red tape and obstacles facing food redistribution that I want to learn more. If any of you know of communities that have found ways to work around these codes, or change the laws to help donors and charities get food to people who need  it, I’d love to hear from you.

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.

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?

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Weekend food waste roundup – 6 January 2012

Dumpster Diver TV: Austrians Cook Up Food Waste Reality Show | The Salt : NPR Dumpster diving goes prime time in Austria. “Although I was prepared for large amounts,” the director for the project, David Gross, says, “the amount of waste left me speechless.”

Tiffins for all: Food cart owner wants to wean Vancouverites off disposable takeout containers | The Vancouver Sun – One Naan Kebab food cart owner wants to wean everyone off of disposable containers, Gandhidham style. The motivations and logistics aren’t the same in Vancouver as in India, but he thinks there is something to be learned from tiffins and dabbawalas.

Mark Lynas, environmentalist who opposed GMOs, admits he was wrong. | Slate – A big turnaround by Mark Lynas. The full text of his speech is here, or, if you prefer to watch it, I’ve embedded it below.

07 Mark Lynas from Oxford Farming Conference on Vimeo.

Weekend food waste roundup – 14 October 2012

We didn’t see very much about food waste in the news this week, though it was great to see the 222 million tons app mentioned in one of the articles we found, as well as a call for action in Singapore (my home away from home much of the time).

I’ve also included links to a couple of blog posts in this week’s roundup, from two of my favourite bloggers who go the extra mile in the composting department.

In the news

Mobile Apps Can Help Reduce Food Waste

Eagles recycling extends to the parking lot

TODAYonline | Voices | Food is to be eaten, not dumped

Composting - going the extra mile

Stealing Trash – A New High « Dirt N Kids

Hair cuts = compost | Attempting zero waste lifestyle in a military household

Weekend food waste roundup – 7 October 2012

This week’s roundup has a tips on preserving food (including using etheylene absorbers to prolong the shelf life of produce) and reducing waste (including an article on reducing Thanksgiving waste – timely, if you happen to be Canadian), as well as a couple of articles about the issue of food waste.

Tips for preserving food and reducing waste

How to Absorb Ethylene Gas | eHow.com

Budget Tip: How To Vacuum Seal Food Without a Vacuum Sealing Machine | The Kitchn

Save Your Food: Canning and Freezing 101 – Earth911.com

Cooked Apple Recipes Great for Fall, Baked Apples, Apple Crisp and More – AARP

7 ways to reduce household food waste –  News – MSN CA

Tips from the pros on cutting Thanksgiving waste – The Globe and Mail

More on food waste

UN Says Europe Wastes 50% Of Fruit And Vegetables — And America Isn’t Much Better – Forbes

Radio Prague – Study maps makeup of Czech household waste