Food Waste Summit Review

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Two weeks ago I was able to attend the Food Waste Summit at Parkview Hospital.  I was not sure what to expect but they did have a lot of high profile people in their panel ready to answer questions about food waste.  Some of these people represented the EPA, Kroger, and Waste Management.

Two items given out were a sticker to place on a bin holding whatever food needs to be used up first (“Eat this first”) and a notepad similar to the menu plan list every homemaker uses.  These two items were supposed to help households throw out less food by being aware of what needs to be used and what is already available to prevent over buying at the store.

One example I found useful was the “blue bin” used by some restaurants to create a visual aid for food waste.  Every piece of produce that would be thrown away for the day (think ends of onions) instead was tossed into the bin.  At the end of the day the crew would go through the bin and see if they were throwing away portions of produce they would actually be able to use.

I also learned that Kroger plans on being “zero waste company” by 2020.  I knew they donated their unsold items to local charities but I was unaware of this initiative.  Under the Good Samaritan law there is also little legal risk to picking up donated (or donating) food to others.  I think if more people knew this more would donate or take the time to pick up donated food from grocery stores and deliver it to those who could use it.

I was not so encouraged about the lack of community composting talk.  It seems that even in places where this has been implemented it is scarcely used and used improperly.  I’d love to have a neighborhood-managed compost heap that everyone can add to and benefit from.

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Biodynamic Tea at Republic of Tea

I’ve attempted to learn what I can in this full season of life on biodynamic farming.  I truly find that it is the closest thing to “husbandry” we have a modern name for, since it focuses on the entire health of the farm and it’s ability to create a “closed loop” of self reliance.  I find when talking to people that many times when someone mentions the term “organic farm” they are often thinking more along the lines of what a biodynamic farm looks like.  The animals running free in harmony with the farmers, vegetation being grown in a companion style with as little artificial human interaction as needed.

If you are interested in the philosophy of biodynamic farming, you can look into it more here  Biodynamic Association.

From the association’s front page:

Biodynamics is a holistic, ecological and ethical approach to farming, gardening, food and nutrition. Biodynamics was first developed in the early 1920s based on the spiritual insights and practical suggestions of the Austrian writer, educator and social activist Dr. Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), whose philosophy is called “anthroposophy(link is external).” Today, the biodynamic movement encompasses thousands of successful gardens, farms, vineyards and agricultural operations of all kinds and sizes on all continents, in a wide variety of ecological and economic settings.

Biodynamic farmers strive to create a diversified, balanced farm ecosystem that generates health and fertility as much as possible from within the farm itself. Preparations made from fermented manure, minerals and herbs are used to help restore and harmonize the vital life forces of the farm and to enhance the nutrition, quality and flavor of the food being raised. Biodynamic practitioners also recognize and strive to work in cooperation with the subtle influences of the wider cosmos on soil, plant and animal health.

Most biodynamic initiatives seek to embody triple bottom line approaches (ecological, social and economic sustainability), taking inspiration from Steiner’s insights into social and economic life as well as agriculture. Community supported agriculture (CSA), for example, was pioneered by biodynamic farmers, and many biodynamic practitioners work in creative partnerships with other farms and with schools, medical and wellness facilities, restaurants, hotels, homes for social therapy and other organizations. Biodynamics is thus not just a holistic agricultural system but also a potent movement for new thinking and practices in all aspects of life connected to food and agriculture.”

So I received an email a few days ago from the Republic of Tea, sharing some new type of blend they are bringing on.   I was beyond excited to see that they carried a slim amount of blends grown on biodynamic farms.  How cool!  I know there are a lot of herbs that come from places that take great care in sustainability (Mountain Rose Herbs being one), but to see an actual label mentioning biodynamic was so neat.

Republic of Tea’s Biodynamic Collection

 

American Dietary Guidelines & Sustainability

 

 

The American Dietary Guidelines were officially released for the next five years (2015-2020) and there is a lot of information to go through considering the fact that nutrition research is always changing how we view food.  I might end up breaking these into a few different posts as I find interesting changes, but the biggest interest I found was that the USDA openly stated that sustainability would not be a factor in these guidelines, even though the data was requested in 2010.

I understand what both sides said.  I understand the concern, as stated in the above article:

Merrigan argues that “by acknowledging benefits of sustainability, the government would open itself up to greater demand for sustainability investments and would signal to consumers that such foods are preferred.”  

I understand that the government may not want to openly show favor to certain foods that could change the balance of how things are now.  But by putting yourself out there from the beginning as a source of nutritional recommendations, you are in fact ‘signaling’ to consumers what foods are preferred.  Ever notice how the recommendations often mention both meat and dairy (not protein source and beverage source)?

But sustainability issues are not just raised with beef and dairy, as many expect.  There is the issue of almonds, too.  And if it truly is about farming responsibly and caring for animals consciously, no mass food source should be left out of the questioning.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s plate.  (A different ‘plate’ response.)

Johns Hopkin’s Sustainability in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines: What the Advisory Committee Really Said, and Why USDA and HHS Should Listen (If you are only going to read one article about this, read this one.)

So what does this mean for the little guy?  What can we do to live intentionally concerning our food?  We can grow our own, we can purchase locally, we can join garden-mobs or food co-ops.  We can learn more about farming techniques that incorporate the entire ecosystem, like biodynamic farming.  We can learn about different ways to cook foods that are healthful, filling, and not wasteful.  And most importantly, we can learn about these things without them becoming idols in our lives, so that we do not become enslaved to a specific diet or plan.  We can be free by growing for ourselves and getting involved in our community, and by carrying around the knowledge that you are consciously doing the best you can.

myplate
USDA’s healthy plate
harvardhealthyeating
Harvard’s healthy plate

Handling Information & Local Food Enconomy

A worry that many people have when purchasing food that has been packaged and/or processed at a distance is that we do not know who, where, and sometimes how it was done.  In many cases we may not even know if the company handling the food products were using safe practices, or even slave labor.

An example that came up on my Facebook feed recently: Slave-peeled shrimp exported to major U.S. Stores

When faced with the knowledge that cheap food often carries the price tag of cheap or forced labor, what can we do?  Understandably, if the purchaser themselves in a tight bind and can not afford an alternative, what is to be done?  A educated decision must be made for each family personally.

Beyond slave labor there are other issues relating directly with the food.  How many hands touch the food product before it reaches your plate?  How long does it sit waiting to be delivered?  What makes one brand truly different from another?  Ever wonder why when there is a big  E.coli breakout there are many different brands and stores with the same contaminated food product, all under different names?

“Shrimp can mix with different batches of seafood as it is packaged, branded and shipped. At that point, there’s no way to tell where any individual piece was peeled. Once it reaches American restaurants, hospitals, universities and military chow halls, all the shrimp from those four Thai processors is considered associated with slavery, according to United Nations and U.S. standards.

U.S. customs records linked the exported shrimp to more than 40 U.S. brands, including popular names such as Sea Best, Waterfront Bistro and Aqua Star. The AP found shrimp products with the same labels in more than 150 stores across America — from Honolulu to New York City to a tiny West Virginia town of 179 people. The grocery store chains have tens of thousands of U.S. outlets where millions of Americans shop.” – (from the AP article above)

The simple answer to many of these concerns is shopping locally.  If your community has local markets, that is one way to know for sure what, where, and who concerning your food. Of course, the most economical and obvious way to keep track of your food is to grow your own. From a tiny pot on your apartment balcony to a half-acre garden, growing your own food lets you know everything involved with what you are eating… and you will probably find yourself with enough to share.

Easy foods to grow on your own with minimal work:
Tomatoes
Cucumbers
Green Beans
Basil
Cilantro
Kale
Mint