Wasting food is costing us lives!

Image shows picture of fast food and food waste and says "Wasting food is costing us lives! and "40% of food is wasted.
Image shows picture of fast food and food waste and says "Wasting food is costing us lives! and "40% of food is wasted.
Food waste costs lives! Image by Cathy Davies

There is a lot of fear in the world right now. One of the things I fear at the moment is that the people who over shopped in the last few weeks are contributing to an epidemic that has been going on for a long time – the epidemic of wasted food. Over 40% of food grown is wasted. This is because we don’t respect the work and resources that go into growing and producing food. This is really frustrating to me. 

I hope the people who stocked up last week are cooking. Creating delicious meals from food that farmers grew for us to eat; that dairies processed for us to drink; that chefs and food scientists created to help us eat with more convenience. That when you eat, you will think of the farmers, who up to now you didn’t respect. Farmers who spend every day of their lives making sure we get food that is good to eat; farmers that work mostly on small farms and worry about making ends meet. 

We’ve heard about people working from paycheck to paycheck; farmers work from harvest to harvest. And harvests are YEARLY. They put seed in the ground, feed their animals with the HOPE that they will get money back. Their work is backbreaking and dangerous and mentally draining. Look at the statistics for farmer suicides and realize the main reason for this is because we won’t pay the real price for food. 

Harvested apples showing abundance.
Apples being harvested. Image by Lumix2004 at Pixabay

Food workers, from farm labors to servers in restaurants, are EXEMPT from minimum wage laws. They do the most important work to keep us healthy and we treat them like shit! The food chain workers in Florida have asked fast food restaurants to pay one cent/pound extra for tomatoes through their Fair Food Program and Wendy’s won’t do it. 

I read about people complaining that food workers work when they are sick because that will make their food unsafe, even though COVID-19 is NOT a foodborne illness. Food workers working when they were sick was a problem before the current virus. Why? Because fast food chains don’t offer sick leave. Neither do many food companies offer their line workers sick leave. If you miss work, you are more likely to be fired than get sick pay. If you need to complain, complain about the lack of sick leave.

If you bought food last week in a panic; please please please make sure that you use it up or give it to neighbors or your local food pantry. Learn how to cook or bake while you are sheltering in place. Read up on how food is grown and processed and manufactured. 

Oh and wash your damn hands!

Wash your hands!!
Wash your hands!! Image by AutumnEvening from Pixabay

The Missing Ingredient From Food Systems Change.

Pea pod with one red pea and the rest green. Why the red pea?

An alarming trend I noticed at the many food systems conferences I attended this year – many of the new people I meet, even though they work in food and in food systems organizations, do not know what food science is and how food science must be another tool in strengthening the food system. Do you know what a food scientist is and how what they do might strengthen the food system?

Food scientists need to know more about food systems
This food scientist needs to learn about food systems change so he can make products that will support a resilient and sustainable food system. Image from Pixabay.

I wrote an introduction to food science on my first blog. Since that time the Institute of Food Technologists has updated their definition of food science:

“Food science is the study of the physical, biological, and chemical makeup of food; the causes of food deterioration; and the concepts underlying food processing.”

As a food chemist who is interested in the changes in food during processing and storage, my research is covered by this definition. However, as a food safety consultant and someone who is interested in the larger picture of food system change, I see a whole lot missing. Even in the realm of science, this definition doesn’t include sensory science and the psychology and sociology of our food choices. If food scientists ignored that, we would have a problem with our food supply. 

Oh! Wait! 

We do have a problem with our food supply! Perhaps this is explained by the fact that food scientists ignore the psychological and sociological implications of their science

Food science can support food systems change by helping local food entrepreneurs produce sustainable food.
Food science can support food systems change by helping local food entrepreneurs produce sustainable food. Image by Robyn Wright from Pixabay

Do food scientists have a responsibility to make sure our food supply is of high quality and doesn’t make people and our planet ill? As shown by the definition of  food science from UC Davis the word “wholesome” is thrown around:

“Food Science is a convenient name used to describe the application of scientific principles to create and maintain a wholesome food supply.”

What does a wholesome food supply look like anyway? I’m not sure that I know TBH! There are lots of ideas of what a wholesome food supply would look like. Probably as many ideas as there are people on the planet.

Food scientists are varied and have many interests. Unlike chefs, we aren’t necessarily interested in making food to eat straight away, but mostly looking at the underlying principles that go into a food. Not all food scientists can cook or understand how our research affects the food on your plate. Others dissect their cooking to find out exactly what happened to get the food the way it is (I’m totally guilty)!! We are mostly interested in how food behaves and how it can be altered, for good and bad. 

A food scientist can definitely help you make a better, safer food product while remaining true to your values. Arrange a free food safety strategy session NOW! 

Ode to Bread

Some homemade bread rolls.

I’ve been watching the climate change protests in London and since I can’t be there, I decided, after reading Jackie Morris’s idea of bringing the protests to her home, to recite poems or read something about food every week on my public space, here on my blog!

This poem and the future readings are to remind you that our beautiful planet is currently able to produce plentiful food for us all. A situation that might not exist when climate change occurs in full force.

If you have a poem, story or reading about food that you would like me to read one week, please put a link or a reference in the comments.

Here is an Ode to Bread by Pablo Neruda.

Ode to Bread by Pablo Neruda

Chocolate Origins

Squares of dark chocolate

Where does chocolate come from? We know that it comes from beans grown by the Theobroma cacao tree. What we don’t know is where cacao was first domesticated. How many of us think of the Aztecs in Mexico eating mole or drinking a spicy hot chocolate drink? Well it seems that chocolate wasn’t first domesticated in Mexico as we thought. Mexico was just where the Europeans first saw chocolate being used and cultivated. This theory of chocolate domestication was recently proved to be wrong or at least questionable.

Currently even the people studying the origin of chocolate are in disagreement. One theory has it that cacao was introduced to Mexico and central America some 2-10,000 years ago from the wild cacao varieties present in the Upper Amazon (Northern South America) such as Ecuador and then domesticated about 3-4000 years ago.. Alternatively, there is evidence suggesting that the chocolate tree was domesticated in the upper Amazon region 5-6000 years ago and then spread by trade to Mexico and central America.

Does it really matter? If we know more about a plant’s origins we have better access to its ancestral gene bank. This gives us access to genetic diversity which we can use if disease occurs that threaten our current domesticated cacao trees. Oh nos, we don’t want chocolate going the way of the banana, which perennially crops up (oops sorry not sorry) as being a genetic deadend and not being around much longer.

Access to a variety of cacao genes, gives us access to different types of chocolate. Each type of chocolate can give us different flavors and colors.

This image is by my brother who wasn’t very impressed with this kitkat made of ruby cocoa. Perhaps maintaining the red color reduced the flavor. I have a few friends who don’t like chocolate and a few more who won’t eat it because of all the sugar added. Perhaps we could use some of the older varieties of cacao to get some new flavors and make more interesting chocolate that isn’t full of sugar. 

Do you have a chocolate based product you want more people to know about? Message me and I’ll feature a link to your product in this post.

My Vision

Food science can support food systems change by helping local food entrepreneurs produce sustainable food.
Where are we going next? Image by Lorri Lang from Pixabay

After reading this article on leadership, I started exploring what leadership meant for me. As one of the key features of a leader is having a vision. I wondered what really is my vision for the future? I know I want to live in a world where no one lacks food, so perhaps I should start there. This is what I came up.

  • I imagine a world where everyone has enough food to eat that fits with their definition of healthy and fresh. Food eaten is locally grown and/or processed and shared within a community.
  • I imagine a world where food waste isn’t given away to people who lack food because there are no people without food.
  • I imagine a world where no one has diseases caused by the lack of healthy food, with no diabetes, heart disease or deficiency diseases.
  • I imagine a world with no foodborne illness.
  • I imagine a world where everyone knows how to grow and cook their own food if they want to.
  • I imagine a world where everybody knows what goes in their food and they know where their food comes from. 
Why is food given a moral value?
Food does not have a moral value. Image by Christian Dorn from Pixabay
  • I imagine a world where certain foods are not good or evil. Food does not have a moral value. Where everyone has the choice to eat healthy or not and no one feels guilty for what they eat and no one feels guilty for their size.
  • I imagine a world without diet-culture, fat-shaming and food police. Where eating the occasional cookie or piece of cake is not a guilty pleasure.
  • I imagine a world where farmers are fairly compensated for their labor and respected for their expertise.
  • I imagine a world where all food workers are respected and acknowledged for their skills and paid a living wage.
Shared kitchens are great for people starting a food business.
A good place to start a food business is a commercially licensed shared ktichen. Image by Robyn Wright from Pixabay
  • I imagine a world where everyone who wants it has access to a commercial kitchen, and a garden. They also have access to expertise to help them grow and create the food they want to sell.
  • I imagine a world where food is currency and so important that everyone wants to know the latest food news.
  • I imagine a world where food is front and center of all government policies. That food self-sufficiency and resilience are the guiding forces of policy decisions and cooperation is also a guiding force here.
  • I imagine a world where everyone has equal access to land, housing, education, and healthcare.
  • I imagine a world without any fear.
  • I imagine living free from all prejudice. Where there is no “them” and “us”. It is all “we”.
Everyone is equal Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

What’s your vision for the future? Let me know in the comments below and I hope we can work together making out futures come true.

Food is Joy

A view of a market stall with lots of colorful fruit and vegetables.
Enjoy Watermelon this Summer. Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

Close your eyes and remember the first time you ate a fresh strawberry or a ripe peach.

Imagine the juices dripping down your chin as you bit into a slice of watermelon.

Think about eating a tasty, crumbly, creamy cheese.

Or perhaps you remember the aroma of a juicy steak just off the grill.

Just writing this makes me feel privileged to have had those experiences. I traveled through most of Europe, eating as I go. The memories of eating a baguette with cheese in Paris, a meat tray on a wooden platter in Austria, fresh watermelon on the beach in Croatia after snorkelling, fresh pasta in Rome while eating with friends and colleagues will never leave me..

Mmmmm, cheese. Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

I have also been fortunate to have grown my own food – mostly vegetables, and some soft fruit. There is nothing that can replace going into my garden on a cool dewy morning to pick full ripe blackberries or eating fresh cherry tomatoes straight off the vine. My mum used to rave about my red cabbages – because they were straight out of the ground they tasted nothing like those from a supermarket.

There should be no privilege in enjoying food. We all must have the opportunity to experience food as joy. I was going to call this blog post “Food as a Weapon” and start listing the ways in which food is used to control and oppress people. I just attended a couple of conferences and webinars where the use of food as a weapon was clearly the goal of many governments and lead to hunger and starvation in, for example, Yemen, Syria, and Venezuela. Even without direct government involvement, political decisions in the US and in Europe mean that for some people just getting any food is a hassle removing all the pleasure out of eating. People should not have to worry whether their food is safe and healthy to eat at every mouthful. I might still write that blog post one day.  

Today, I want to remember the pleasures of eating good, healthy food. Let us never forget what that joy tastes like. We must appreciate and remember those moments of joy and make sure that we all have the opportunity to create them again and again. Do not take for granted the food on our plates and do not forget that joy because, if we do, we will lose it. Currently we have two different food systems: One for those who can afford fresh, organically grown, local food and the other for people who can only afford mass produced packaged food-like substances.

I enjoy visiting local markets when I can. Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay

Share a joyful food memory in the comments and directly share the joy of food with a friend or a family member this month. Find a local food artisan and find the joy in food again. I am about to visit my Dad, where I will cook him some of our favorite dishes: hazelnut and tomato bake, cheese omelette, and rhubarb crumble with ice cream. If I am lucky I will buy food from the local farmers market and from the local grocers, knowing where my food comes from.

I know my small food businesses and food entrepreneurs don’t forget that food is joy. They create happy moments with food every day. You should do the same.

Food Sovereignty

Image description: long colorful rows for fruit and vegetables starting with eggplant, carrots, cherries, and bananas. Picture from Pixabay

Have you observed that there is a great injustice in the food system? That many people do not have access to nutritious food? Have you wondered what you could do to help? This inequality in the food supply was the one of the reasons I left academia and started the Food Industry Employment Program.  I was frustrated because I could see that the food supply was not fulfilling the true needs of the consumer or the public. While we were being told that manufacturers supplied the consumer’s demand for high fat, high sugar and high salt food products; this carefully ignored the fact that the demand came from the ease at which these were available to manufacturers.

I saw the disconnect from the wealthy-healthy food movement. This is made up of mostly white people at my local food coop or shopping at Wholefoods. They have little, if any, conception of how food is made and how much it really cost to get food to the table.

The percentage of people with diabetes doubled in 20 years from ~4.7% deaths in 1996 to 9.5% deaths 2016 and heart disease continues to be the top cause of death in the USA.. People from low economic backgrounds suffer more from the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables and the consequences of the trauma of poverty and a poor diet. Why is that, and what can we do?

Image description: A graph showing how the percentage of US adults with diabetes has increased from 1994 to 2016. The median is in black and starts at below 5% and ends at below 10% suggesting that the percentage of adults in the US has doubled since 1994. The graph is from the CDC.

One way for me is to consider what I am learning from the readings I have found through Food Solutions New England Racial Equity Challenge.

“The challenge is designed to create dedicated time and space to build more effective social justice habits, particularly those dealing with issues of race, power, privilege, and leadership. Participation in an activity like this helps us to discover how racial injustice and social injustice impact the food system, to connect with one another, to identify ways to dismantle racism and become better leaders for a more just, equitable food system.”

A couple of the initial readings really help me put the different terminology into perspective. What do the different terms like social justice, racial equity, and food sovereignty really mean? First of all, we need to recognize that for some people the current food system is working fine. They have work, they are paid well, they get enough healthy nutritious food to eat. For those of us who recognize that the food system is problematic, there are different approaches that can be taken. In this Food First backgrounder,  Eric Holt-Giménez describes four different approaches to changing the food system:

  1. Food Enterprise
  2. Food Security
  3. Food Justice
  4. Food Sovereignty

The first two don’t really change the current system as much as build on it. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and multi-national corporations are part of this form of change. The last two are food movements. In the backgrounder, food justice is given as a progressive change, which while still working in the current food system, makes changes by economically and otherwise supporting minorities, local food producers, farm laborers and food workers. Food sovereignty is a radical restructuring and reinventing the food system. In the food sovereignty model of change, the people who make the change are the people most affected by that change.

I tend to hover between these last two. I grew up with privilege and I have worked in the food industry long enough to recognize that radical change is challenging and for it to occur there would have to be a political restructuring in many governments and in the United Nations. The focus/mission of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund would have to be totally redirected. I’m not sure how the food sovereignty movement builds the power needed to change international organizations.

Image description: A ring of people sitting on grass holding one of their hand to the center of the ring. This is a diverse group of people.

In the meantime, I continue to help food entrepreneurs and small food businesses work their way through the myriad of food regulations, so that they can stay compliant and grow their businesses by producing high quality and safe food. We are changing the food system one step at a time through our commitment to values such healthy, agroecology, fair trade, and fair labor. In that way we build a sustainable and resilient food system.

Cooking together

Image description: In the center there is a round barbecue on which there is some corn on the cob still wrapped in the leaves, some slices of lemon, and many skewers with vegetables and vegetables and meat. Hands are holding some of the skewers and we can see hands of different skin tones. There is green grass below the bbq. Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

What can you do to help?

If you are into radical action, look at organizations like Via Campesina, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, Baltimore’s Black Yield Justice, Soil Generation in Philadelphia, and other similar food groups working on Food Sovereignty. Do you know who is working on food sovereignty in your neighborhood? For UK readers perhaps you could see what Global Justice is doing action on food sovereignty. If you are not US/UK based, who is working on food sovereignty in your country? Leave a comment below and I will share that information in a later blog post.

Image description: A spade in bare ground. Some tiny green shoots can be seen. The ground beyond the spade is clumpy. Photo by Lukas from Pexels

If you want to something less radical, what about helping out at your local food bank or food pantry? Or perhaps look an opportunity to help at a community garden or glean foods that are not harvested. Shopping at a farm stand or local farmers market is an action to change and you get fresh, tasty food from a local farmer. Or find your Slow Food chapter.

Leave a comment below to let us know what you are doing or plan to do to make food more accessible to all.

Take Care! Food is out to kill us!

These peppercorns totally Salmonella free (I don’t recommending licking the screen) Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Bacteria shouldn’t survive on dry food such as flour, flaxseed meal, chocolate and black pepper. Or so we thought. Food science has a mysterious measurement called water activity which shows how much water is present in a food that is available for microorganism growth. Moisture content lets us know the total amount of water in a food. Water activity is a key factor in food preservation; like pH. Water activity runs from 0, which is no water to 1.0 which is pure water. Food scientists have known that if water activity is less than 0.6 no microorganism growth can occur. In fact, bacteria need a water activity of 0.85 before they can grow. So why did Norway just have an outbreak which was most likely caused by a dried nut mix?

A pile of tiny brown seeds
A pile of flax seeds from Alexdante at Pixabay

I am a very frustrated consumer and food science professional. I have been doing a hazard analysis and looking up all the ingredients I and my clients use. Pretty much every ingredient, especially if they are processed, has been involved in causing foodborne illness or been part of a recall because they might contain pathogens. This is pretty shocking as this implies we have a serious problem with food manufacturing in the US. Initially, I thought that recalls showed that the system is working, especially if no one became ill. Well it is in a way, if food is withdrawn from the market before anyone gets ill. However, managing a food supply by responding to the potential threat of Salmonella etc. AFTER they have been found in a manufacturing facility is NOT a safe food system. So now I believe that recalls show we have a  broken food system.

On top of all that, the American Ambassador to Great Britain claims that American agriculture is science and technology based whereas the EU uses traditional methods which should be in a museum! That will please the Germans! Britons, so far, are unimpressed with the idea of an open trade agreement with the US especially around food. There have been quite a few rebuttals from British farmers. James Rebank had a couple of great responses on Instagram. Additionally, Sustain showed that there are more foodborne illnesses per capita in the US compared to the UK, refuting his claim that US food manufacturing is safer than British ag. Did you know that your US chicken was chlorine rinsed?

Picture of a raw chicken ready for grilling with potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and a head of garlic nearby.
Chicken is ready for grilling. Hopefully those tomatoes are going to be grilled too.
Image by RitaE from Pixabay

What have we done?

  • Why are so many people in the US getting ill from food poisoning?
  • How many products made by small food businesses fall through the cracks?
  • How many small manufacturers check to see if they have bacteria in their facility?
  • How many food entrepreneurs consider food safety serious issue equal to marketing?

There has to be a better more sustainable, more resilient way to produce food on a large scale. The large manufacturers must know the risks. Do small food businesses? Is local food the answer? What do you think are the next steps to improving our food system? Comment, share, and keep the conversation going.