Should schools help reduce food waste by teaching cooking skills to kids?

Image by Murdo Macleod via The Guardian

There’s no mistaking it: our generation of young people lack many of the the basic cooking skills that our parents and grandparents were taught growing up. Add to that the fact that millennials have not seen anything close to the economic difficulties of the post-war generation, and you have a cohort of young adults who have only ever known the fast-food driven, affluent society we live in today. As a part of this generation, I can vouch for our disconnected attitudes towards food. Many of us in the western world have been raised going to grocery stores instead of markets or fast food chains instead of family-owned restaurants. In a sense, this evolution has helped us become independent and freed up time to focus on education or careers. However, we now have less of a connection with our food than ever, which makes throwing it in the trash so much easier.

Recently, former UK government advisor on food waste Liz Goodwin said that about £12 billion of food waste can be traced back to a lack of cooking skills being taught in UK schools. She explained that millennials are so detached from food that they are sometimes frightened by it, especially when it comes to food safety and best before dates. This leads to an over-reliance on best before dates to determine freshness, instead of sensory clues like smell and appearance.

“We’ve probably got a couple of generations who went through school without really getting taught how to do things [cooking skills and home economics lessons] and then they’re terrified by use-by dates: one minute to midnight it’s OK, a minute after midnight it’s not OK,” Goodwin told The Guardian.

Another theory of why millennials waste so much is that they are not aware or just don’t care about the consequences of food waste, as they have never felt the effects of rations and shortages. With modern-day, global shipping there is almost always going to be an alternative during a food shortage. Older generations, like my parents and grandparents, who either lived through war or were raised by those who did, are less likely to waste food as they are more aware of its value.

In Canada, students are not taught cooking skills until high school, where a home education course is provided as an optional elective. As a majority of Canadian food waste occurs in the home, maybe it is time to start teaching kids how to cook from a young age. Programs such as Jamie Oliver’s Home Cooking Skills have proven successful in providing American kids and youth with cooking knowledge and could be well-received in other countries. Hopefully, the next generation will then have a more meaningful relationship with food and waste it less.

This wonky Mr. Potato Head is helping to raise awareness about food waste

Image from www.gizmodo.com

Too many fruits and vegetables are thrown away because they do not meet strict aesthetic standards. Despite the success of grocery store campaigns such as Loblaw’s Naturally Imperfect and France’s Inglorious Fruit, there is still much work to do in order to rewire what consumers define as “beautiful produce”. To support the case for imperfect foods, Hasbro has made a wonky, asymmetrical, but naturally-accurate model of the Mr. Potato Head toy.

Hasbro produced the Mr.Potato Head in partnership with UK grocery chain ASDA to spread the word that even misshapen or “ugly” fruits and vegetables are still perfectly edible. However, if you’re looking to snag an original wonky Mr. Potato Head, the one and only available model has been auctioned off on ebay for no less than $950, with all proceeds going to the charity FareShare which provides affordable, healthy fruits and vegetable to families in the UK.

You can read more about the cause here.

Guelph prof develops natural spray that keeps produce fresh for longer

Jay Subramanian's has developed a spray that would extend the lifespan of peaches and nectarines by at least week - doubling its shelf life.

With the application of the spray, peaches could see an extended shelf life of up to 10 days. (Image from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/kitchener-waterloo/guelph-fruit-spray-extends-shelf-life)

A large portion of global food waste occurs when fresh produce goes bad before we have the opportunity to buy or consume it. Produce often rots on grocery store shelves or in our fridges and fruit bowls, due to the long distances that food travels in our far-reaching food system. There are solutions to this issue, such as buying local and only purchasing produce that you need, but in case that these techniques don’t work (i.e. shipping fresh produce to remote communities) science, as usual, is there to save the day.

As a professor of plant science at the University of Guelph, Jay Subramanian understands all too well the swiftness with which picked produce can become inedible. Although there are currently a variety of protective coatings and waxes that are sprayed onto fruits and vegetables, Subramanian’s protective spray is innovative in its nanotechnology-based approach.

The spray is made from hexanol, a natural component in plants which inhibits the enzyme that breaks down cell walls, causing fruits and vegetable to shrivel and rot.

“Once the walls are protected, the cells are intact and so the whole fruit stays intact,”Subramanian said in an interview with CBC.

Prof. Jay Subramanian. Photo by Martin Schwalbe

Prof. Jay Subramanian. (Photo by Martin Schwable. Image from news.uoguelph.ca)

The spray is perfectly safe for consumption and can be washed off. It can be applied as a spray one and two weeks before harvest, or the fruit can instead be dipped in a hexanol solution postharvest. The result? Fruit lasts up to 50% longer. According to Subramanian, bananas can last up to 40 days, mangos up to 23 and nectarines and peaches have an extended life of up to 10 days, on top of the usual one week they usually have to remain edible.

Subramanian’s project was funded by Global Affairs Canada, through the International Development Program. It also worked with partners in India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Tanzania and Trinidad and Tabago. The spray is still being reviewed in Canada for commercial use, but the project has hopes of going international in the next four years.

Read more about the hexanol spray here.

Frozen food safety confusion linked to food waste

freezer-food.jpg

Misconceptions about freezing food can lead to food waste , watchdog says. (Image from www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/frozen-food-safety-confusion-leading-to-tonnes-of-waste-watchdog-warns-a7119276.html)

Freezing food that is reaching expiry is a good practise to reduce food waste. However, a recent survey has shown that misconceptions about freezing and food safety can actually contribute to more food waste.

A UK watchdog organization surveyed 1,500 people, of which 43% assumed that food could only be frozen on the day it was purchased, when in fact it can be frozen up to (and often after) its best-before date. The survey also revealed that 38% of people surveyed believed that food is unsafe to refreeze after it has been cooked. However, this is not the case as food can be refrozen if it has been cooked thoroughly.

According to the BBC, frozen foods can be kept almost indefinitely, however, the quality of the food can deteriorate causing changes in texture and taste. Freezing food effectively pauses bacterial activity and once defrosted, it will spoil in the same way as before it was frozen since the levels of bacteria do not change during freezing. However, refrozen raw food could pose a health risk, as bacteria can multiply very fast after defrosting for a second time. As a result, Health Canada recommends that food be cooked the day of defrosting.

These knowledge gaps uncovered by the study are reflective of a lack of food storage and safety education in western society. Consumers often throw away food because they are wary and unsure of its quality. Studies like this will help to spread the facts of food safety and hopefully reduce health and safety related food waste!

You can read more about the study in the original BBC article here.

Do older generations understand food safety more than millennials?

Mustard best before date

Image: Graeme Roy/The Canadian Press via CTV news

A recent poll by the Huffington Post and YouGov has reinforced what many of us already know: best before dates are confusing. The poll, which involved 1000 participants and controlled for age and education (as well as other factors), found that one third of all participants believed food was unsafe to eat after its best before date.When the participants were divided by age group, the responses showed that almost half of people under 30 said they understood food freshness labelling, while only 34% of over-65s stated that they had the same confidence. Despite this, under-30s or “millennials” were much more likely to throw out food that has passed its best before date. In fact, 71% of those polled stated they would throw out food past its date, while only 17% of 65+ participants said the same.

This poll indicates that while there is confusion in all age groups, general misunderstanding is more common in younger generations, even though they claim to comprehend food labels.  One possible explanation for this knowledge gap is that younger generations have been raised in a society that is more and more aware, and more wary, of foodborne illness. Government food agencies may be contributing to the fear. Health Canada has reinforced that you should never use your nose, eyes or taste to judge the freshness of food, leading suspicious young cooks to toss perfectly edible food. On the other hand, some experts say that schools have failed to teach basic cooking skills and an understanding of food safety. The younger generation’s grandparents likely had these skills instilled at a young age and along with an understanding of wartime food shortages, are less likely to throw away food.

Millennials tend to waste more food than older generations. Image: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images via The Huffington Post

Whatever the case may be, polls like these are important as they reiterate just how confusing date labels can be. More obvious labelling should be adopted along with educating consumers, of all age groups, on food safety and literacy so we can stop throwing away perfectly delicious food!

Learn more about why the best before date should be scrapped here.

 

University of Guelph Study finds high produce prices affect consumer habits

supermarket vegetables

(Photo: Ryan J.Lane via Huffington Post)

A recent study from the University of Guelph has revealed that the continual rise of produce prices are driving consumers to make changes in their diets. The study was conducted by  Sylvain Charlebois, who was a UofG professor of marketing and consumer studies at the time of the study, along with marketing and consumer studies professor Lianne Foti and U of G’s food institute, Maggie McCormick.

In the past year, produce prices have risen substantially with an average increase of 14%, while fruit has risen 11%. This has driven consumers to alter their buying habits and even cut back on the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables they buy.

“In some locations, Canadian consumers have seen prices jump by more than 25 per cent,” Charlebois told University of Guelph News.

The trio of researchers ran a survey-based study last May of 1000 people across Canada. Factors such as socioeconomic status, gender, age and education were considered in addition to behavioural aspects.

Over 26% of participants reported reducing their intake of fruits and vegetables while 66% said that cost prevented them from buying one specific fruit or vegetable. Around 45% stated they had replaced fresh fruits or vegetables with juice, frozen fruits or vegetables.

“This study demonstrates some level of vulnerability by consumers when looking at vegetable and fruit affordability,” Foti explained. “It’s reflective of how vulnerable the Canadian economy is to macroeconomic conditions affecting the price of imported food products.”

The research was presented on June 6th, at the annual Food and Agriculture Business Seminar.

Read more about the study here.

Cafeteria serving free meals in Rio will use excess food from Olympic Village

With the Euro Cup and Wimbledon behind us, and the Rio Summer Olympics underway, 2016 is shaping up to be a truly phenomenal year for mega sporting events. Yet, mass events are nearly always associated with mass food waste. In order to ensure that all athletes, fans and workers are fed, catering companies produce incredible amounts of food, of which some inevitably is wasted.

Image via ClimateActionProgram.org

There is also an issue with garbage separation during such events. During the London 2012 Olympics, cross-contamination of biodegradable and non-biodegradable food items proved to be a challenge for properly composting discarded food. The leader of the London 2012 sustainability program, David Stubbs, told The Guardian that cities must have the infrastructure to deal with the excess amount of waste in order for any recycling or composting program to be successful. In Rio, programs are being put in place to help curb waste, including Refettorio Gastromotiva, a cafeteria set up in Rio’s favelas that uses excess food from the Olympic village. Run by world-renowned chef Massimo Bottura, the cafeteria serves free meals to anyone who comes to their door. Bottura has invited chefs from around the world to participate in Refettorio, and has worked with organizations in the city of Rio throughout the process so that the cafeteria will still operate after the Olympics are done.

You can learn more about Refettorio Gastromotiva here.

How Denmark has become a trailblazer in the food waste revolution

From discount surplus food stores to hosting the Green Growth Forum in their capital city, Denmark has established itself as a world leader in the global fight against food waste. The country has more initiatives to reduce food waste than any other European nation, which have all contributed to a 25% reduction  of food waste over the past few years. Their success is largely due to the grassroots initiative Stop Spild Af Mad or, Stop Wasting Food, a NGO founded by Danish graphic designer Selina Juul. The group aims to educate consumers on the impacts of food waste as well as bring media attention to the issue, through campaigning and being active in policy making. One particularly successful campaign tackled the issue of “UFOs” or “Unidentified Frozen Objects”.

Speaking to The Guardian, Juul said “we ran a campaign about having a clearout once a month to eat your UFOs…We also promoted ‘Sunday leftover tapas’, and the idea that if you’re going away, you give your neighbour everything in your fridge – and they do the same for you.”

Juul also campaigned, and was largely successful, in breaking the stigma associated with asking for doggy bags at restaurants. The practice was previously unpopular among Danes who were embarrassed to be taking home the leftovers, as their name implies the food is only good enough for a dog. Over the years, Stop Spild Af Mad has worked to rebrand them as “goody bags”

Image: Bo Welfare via The Guardian

Stop Spild Af Mad has also partnered with Bo Welfare, a social housing organization in the Danish city of Horsens. They have worked together to establish a pop-up shop where customers pay 20 Kroners (about $3.90 CAD) for a reusable bag, then fill it with any amount of surplus produce from the store shelves.

Another prominent organization in the food waste revolution is WeFood, Denmark’s first surplus grocery store that sells food originally destined for the trash, for 30-50% cheaper. The store has been a huge success partly due to its intentional resistance to being branded a charity. Anyone, from all walks of life can buy the discounted fruits and vegetables. This removes the stigma associated with going to a food bank and allows people from all socioeconomic backgrounds to benefit from inexpensive, healthy produce- all while reducing food waste.

A UK add for the Too Good to Go app

A startup company that has seen amazing success in fighting food waste is Too Good To Go, an app that connects users with leftover foods from all-you-can-eat buffets, which are popular among Danes. The app has now spread to 9 countries, prevented about 200 tonnes of carbon emissions by redirecting food waste and has provided thousands of meals to those in need.

Denmark is making big moves in the fight against food waste. It appears that all of the food waste organizations are taking a bottom-up approach to the issue and are working towards shifting society’s relationship with food from away from indifference and towards one that is more positive and conscientious. As a majority of food waste occurs in the household, these grassroots movements are exactly what is needed to end food waste and create a sustainable food system!

From food waste to fly larvae: the company changing the way we think about bugs

Renowned environmentalist Dr. David Suzuki teamed up with entrepreneur Brad Marchant to create Enterra, an organization that aims to simultaneously solve both global food waste and nutrient shortage issues. Enterra is working to close the broken food system cycle by using organic waste to create animal feed – but not for pigs or chickens. The organization uses food scraps as feed for black soldier flies, whose larvae are used as fertilizer, fish feed, or farm animal feed.

The larvae produced by Enterra may help to replace traditional crop feed stocks, which require a high amount of resources and land to grow. Larvae provide a sustainable, nutrient-rich protein with a much lower ecological footprint.

“Our mission is to secure the world’s food supply,” Enterra’s Victoria Leung said in an interview with The Langley Times. 

Enterra’s products: dried black soldier fly larvae (left) and larvae meal (right) from http://www.enterrafeed.com/products/feed-ingredients/

Based in Vancouver, Enterra’s products can be purchased dried, powdered, live, or in oil form. The black soldier flies are farmed in a hatchery, fed with diverted organic food waste, and their larvae are processed on site. The company also helps to maintain Vancouver’s Zero Waste policy by accepting organics from a variety of sources including grocery stores, farms, and greenhouses.

By closing the food waste loop, recycling nutrients, and creating sustainable protein, Enterra is forging a path for a sustainable food system. However, if you live in Canada, you may have a hard time accessing Enterra’s products. As of now, the company only ships to the USA and Europe; they are still waiting, four years later, to be approved by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

To read more about Enterra’s mission and products, visit their website here.

 

Flashfood app to bring discounted surplus food to Toronto

 

Recently, more and more cities are beginning to use apps that help deter food waste while providing discounted food to consumers. Apps such as Montreal’s Ubifood have seen startling success by providing a virtual platform for users to buy discounted surplus food. These programs work to reduce food waste by connecting hungry consumers with willing sellers who have surplus food on the verge of going bad. With this approach, consumers, sellers, and the planet benefit.

Set to release a beta soft launch in Toronto this August 2016, Flashfood has similar aspirations to reduce waste, while benefiting both sides involved.

“Flashfood is essentially the discount food rack on your cellphone and it’s a means for grocery stores, restaurants, food vendors, being able to resell their surplus food before they’re going to throw it out,” Flashfood CEO Josh Domingues explained in an interview with City TV.

Domingues hopes to expand Flashfood Canada-wide and eventually, go global.

“People have signed up from Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Italy, the States, India, Brazil” he told City TV. “It’s caught on.”

View the Flashfood website here to sign up for notifications relating to the app’s launch.