One way to reduce food waste: Campus Style

UC Davis Dining Commons Demonstration of what college kids waste for Love Food, Hate Waste in January 2013.

Two days ago, I saw a headline in my news feed that I nearly passed over. It read: “Elimination of trays decreases food waste in dining halls.” All I could think about were the opportunities to trip classmates struggling to carry their milk and dinner plates to a table. And then I decided to read on, and learned that in just two years Manchester University has saved:

  • 15,000 pounds of food from becoming waste, and
  • 200,000 gallons of water.

How? They removed trays from the dining halls. They removed convenience, and judging from the article it wasn’t a popular solution. But its makes a lot of sense.

If you drive to the supermarket, grab a big shopping cart, and have a lift to carry your groceries from car to home, then it is very easy to just pile unnecessary food into your life. If you have to think about how you are going to carry it all to the car and into your home, you probably make different choices.

I like that one simple decision has changed how an entire community consumes. It would be interesting to see if that same choice also helped students maintain weight. I mean, if not using a tray helps that freshman not gain infamous 15 pounds that many do gain in the first term, wouldn’t they willingly embrace the idea?

If the same could be said about using smaller shopping carts to lose weight, would people be more willing to embrace a small change?

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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.

Composting–one year later

About one year ago, Jean-Francois and I adopted a small colony of red wrigglers, following a sustainability session at the Natural History Museum. As proud parents, we immediately set about finding the best bedding, bins, and strategies for keeping our new arrivals happy. The biggest challenge for us, as apartment dwellers in a large complex with strict rules, was finding a bin that would pass as patio furniture. (Since we don’t consider compost trash, we assumed that the rule about trash did not apply.)

We settled on the Worm Factory 360. It looks enough like a Japanese Stone Lantern that it could be argued that it is decorative. We supplement our system with a bamboo compost pail for the kitchen. And, we spend an evening making our worms comfortable.

A snapshot of our colony on feeding day.

A snapshot of our colony on feeding day.

Our worms get regular doses of coffee grounds and tea leaves, toilet paper rolls and scrap paper and linens. They also get a lot of egg shells, banana peels, okara (when I cannot find a use for it in time), and bread that goes mouldy.

And they are thriving. Sure, we are still trying to figure out the right mix of brown and green (see pdf below) to add to the mix, but we are learning.

This pdf is useful for helping us determine what browns and greens our worms needs.

At six months, we even expanded our bin by adding a new layer. All winter things moved along fine, albeit a bit slowly. But as Spring set in, so did culture shock.

  1. Our worms were reluctant to move to the new layer.
  2. Worms were escaping both the bin and the balcony.
  3. Other bugs started to appear.
  4. The worm castings on the second layer were WET. We could not get them to dry.

We are now trying to manage moisture, bugs and a growing ickiness-factor (at least on my part, Jean-Francois seems to enjoy mucking around in the compost). And, we have no way to share our worm tea or our beautiful worm pooh with gardeners. The grounds here are landscaped by a company that has no interest in going green.

Any thoughts on how apartment building and condo dwellers can help urban gardens and communities by composting? We are moving to a street lined with apartments, and I’d love to find a community solution that we can advance. It may also be a way to help people eat better and waste less food BEFORE it goes to the compost.

I am not alone either. Others have written about the challenges facing us Urban Composters and some offer solutions. If you are square foot challenged, and lack a green thumb, but really want to try composting, here are a few resources we have found useful:

BTW, I would not recommend the bamboo pail. It looks old and beaten up after two months and is also too soft a material for life on our kitchen counter.

What happened to the pizza dough ball?

It’s a Montreal thing–and a darn clever one at that. It’s simple, practical, sustainable, cheap, and edible. It is a ball of pizza dough, placed at the center of the pizza before cooking, that protects the pizza from the cardboard cover. And yet, it hasn’t caught on. Instead, people gush over something that is wasteful, unsustainable, and proprietary: a plastic tripod that is made in China and shipped to pizza shops all over the United States.

Pizza with plastic tripod

There is a better (and tastier) solution

Yes, I know. Take-away pizza is hardly the smart choice to reduce one’s carbon footprint. Those boxes they come in (not to mention the fuel to bring your cheesy pie home) are sinful. But, at least the box is compostable–that plastic tripod has no redeeming feature.

The expense of those tripods alone puzzles me. Its almost like we want to be wasteful.

Yet there is a simple, sustainable option: the pizza dough ball.

And so, while waiting for my pizza at Fresh Brothers, I found my calling. I am going to nag, pester, annoy, and shame pizza shops–starting right here. So, I asked the store manager about the store’s sustainability practices. I asked if he had heard of the pizza dough ball. I searched my phone to find an image of a pizza dough ball. I asked how much those plastic bits cost, and about storage and transportation.

The manager humoured me, took my email address and promised a response. I am still waiting. I think, I could use some help.

Unless you really believe that the bottom of the pizza box really that much more sanitary than the lid that we’d need to insert a plastic tripod in the center of our pies, would you help me convince pizza joint owners all over the world to change their practice?

Especially since that cooked ball of dough is rather tasty with a little bit of salt and parmesan.

(To see what the dough ball looks like, visit http://benlefthome.blogspot.com/2011/01/pizza-update.html)

Looking for other wasteful creations for your pizza? Look right here: http://www.yankodesign.com/2012/02/15/neat-pizza-fingers/

and here: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/07/the-3-big-advances-in-the-technology-of-the-pizza-box/242116/

And if you don’t believe that people gush about those tripod things, just read an excerpt from this book: http://books.google.com/books?id=m6QsJPZcWUUC&lpg=PA7&dq=pizza%20box%20tripod&pg=PA5#v=onepage&q&f=false