Monthly Archives: March 2011

From Farm to Fridge to Garbage Can

by Tara Parker-Pope

How much food does your family waste?

A lot, if you are typical. By most estimates, a quarter to half of all food produced in the United States goes uneaten — left in fields, spoiled in transport, thrown out at the grocery store, scraped into the garbage or forgotten until it spoils.

A study in Tompkins County, N.Y., showed that 40 percent of food waste occurred in the home. Another study, by the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, found that 93 percent of respondents acknowledged buying foods they never used.

And worries about food safety prompt many of us to throw away perfectly good food. In a study at Oregon State University, consumers were shown three samples of iceberg lettuce, two of them with varying degrees of light brown on the edges and at the base. Although all three were edible, and the brown edges easily cut away, 40 percent of respondents said they would serve only the pristine lettuce.

In his new book “American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food” (Da Capo Press), Jonathan Bloom makes the case that curbing food waste isn’t just about cleaning your plate.

“The bad news is that we’re extremely wasteful,” Mr. Bloom said in an interview. “The positive side of it is that we have a real role to play here, and we can effect change. If we all reduce food waste in our homes, we’ll have a significant impact.”

Why should we care about food waste? For starters, it’s expensive. Citing various studies, including one at the University of Arizona called the Garbage Project that tracked home food waste for three decades, Mr. Bloom estimates that as much as 25 percent of the food we bring into our homes is wasted. So a family of four that spends $175 a week on groceries squanders more than $40 worth of food each week and $2,275 a year.

And from a health standpoint, allowing fresh fruits, vegetables and meats to spoil in our refrigerators increases the likelihood that we will turn to less healthful processed foods or restaurant meals. Wasted food also takes an environmental toll. Food scraps make up about 19 percent of the waste dumped in landfills, where it ends up rotting and producing methane, a greenhouse gas.

A major culprit, Mr. Bloom says, is refrigerator clutter. Fresh foods and leftovers languish on crowded shelves and eventually go bad. Mr. Bloom tells the story of discovering basil, mint and a red onion hiding in the fridge of a friend who had just bought all three, forgetting he already had them.

“It gets frustrating when you forget about something and discover it two weeks later,” Mr. Bloom said. “So many people these days have these massive refrigerators, and there is this sense that we need to keep them well stocked. But there’s no way you can eat all that food before it goes bad.”

Then there are chilling and food-storage problems. The ideal refrigerator temperature is 37 degrees Fahrenheit, and the freezer should be zero degrees, says Mark Connelly, deputy technical director for Consumer Reports, which recently conducted extensive testing on a variety of refrigerators. The magazine found that most but not all newer models had good temperature control, although models with digital temperature settings typically were the best.

Vegetables keep best in crisper drawers with separate humidity controls.

If food seems to be spoiling quickly in your refrigerator, check to make sure you’re following the manufacturer’s care instructions. Look behind the fridge to see if coils have become caked with dust, dirt or pet hair, which can interfere with performance.

“One of the pieces of advice we give is to go to a hardware store and buy a relatively inexpensive thermometer,” Mr. Connelly said. “Put it in the refrigerator to check the temperature to make sure it’s cold enough.”

There’s an even easier way: check the ice cream. If it feels soft, that means the temperature is at least 8 degrees Fahrenheit and you need to lower the setting. And if you’re investing in a new model, don’t just think about space and style, but focus on the refrigerator that has the best sight lines, so you can see what you’re storing. Bottom-freezer units put fresh foods at eye level, lowering the chance that they will be forgotten and left to spoil.

Mr. Bloom also suggests “making friends with your freezer,” using it to store fresh foods that would otherwise spoil before you have time to eat them.

Or invest in special produce containers with top vents and bottom strainers to keep food fresh. Buy whole heads of lettuce, which stay fresher longer, or add a paper towel to the bottom of bagged lettuce and vegetables to absorb liquids. Finally, plan out meals and create detailed shopping lists so you don’t buy more food than you can eat.

Don’t be afraid of brown spots or mushy parts that can easily be cut away.

“Consumers want perfect foods,” said Shirley Van Garde, the now-retired co-author of the Oregon State study. “They have real difficulty trying to tell the difference in quality changes and safety spoilage. With lettuce, take off a couple of leaves, you can do some cutting and the rest of it is still usable.”

And if you do decide to throw away food, give it a second look, Mr. Bloom advises. “The common attitude is ‘when in doubt, throw it out,’” he said. “But I try to give the food the benefit of the doubt.”

The New York Times / Well / Published: November 1, 2010

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World Water Day

Sanitation and Hygiene: Clean water along with hygiene training and sanitation can reduce disease by up to 50%. Of the 42,000 deaths that occur every week from unsafe water and unhygienic living, 90% are children under five years old.

Education: Many children around the world spend their days collecting water for their families or home sick with a water-related illness instead of going to school. With safe water nearby, they can earn an education and build the future of their communities.

Learn more here.

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His Holiness Emeritus

by Evan Osnos

The Dalai Lama announced his retirement today, an event that will be duly recorded—and then all but ignored for the time being. It’s not that the many parties with an interest in this issue don’t agree with his decision to remove himself from the political hurly-burly of the Tibet movement. (In fact, that’s one of the few things on which both the Chinese and Tibetan government-in-exile might agree.) The problem is that, despite his persistent attempts to renounce his political functions and pave the way for a new generation of leaders who can govern without the emotional and religious baggage he represents, he simply looms too large over the Tibet conflict to be there and not there at the same time.

But the announcement is more significant than people might imagine: When it’s finalized, this will be remembered as the formal end of his five decades as head of state of the Tibetan government-in-exile. (Though, in fairness, no country in the world recognizes that government as such.) But he has always been known for far more than that. To his admirers, he is the icon of endurance, a guru, a post-political figure. To his critics: a manipulator, a ditherer, a “devil with a human face.” This announcement will not change the fact that he remains the senior religious leader of Tibetan Buddhism, and, as I wrote in a Profile last year, that neither he nor China nor Washington yet knows what will happen when he dies. (Chinese authorities recently reasserted their longstanding declaration that the Dalai Lama has no right to be reincarnated without the Communist Party’s approval.)

There has abundant speculation that his spiritual role might be filled in the years ahead by the Karmapa Lama, who was born in Tibet but fled to Dharamsala a decade ago. Now twenty-four, he has grown into a large, commanding figure who is often seated at the Dalai Lama’s side at public events. But when I interviewed the Karmapa last year, he was a surprisingly fitful figure: Internet-savvy, barred from traveling widely by Indian officials, some of whom suspect he is a Chinese spy, and deeply curious about the West. The notion that he might slip easily into the sandals of the Dalai Lama has always struck me as an unexamined proposition. (Further complicating the prospect of him taking over
is a swirl of controversy rooted in the fact that another man also claims to be the Karmapa.)

The emerging reality is that the Dalai Lama will never truly be able to give his power away. It must be earned, gradually and meaningfully, by the next generation of leaders, people such as Lobsang Sangay, a Tibetan legal scholar at Harvard who is a frontrunner to be the next prime minister in exile. Eventually, a new generation of leaders might help break some of the logjam with the Chinese government, though I’m not optimistic. The transition will not be swift, and it will not happen entirely until the Dalai Lama’s “change of clothing,” as he calls his own death. But today is the next step toward a change that he has sought for years.

I’ve often wondered, watching the Dalai Lama tinker with his mechanical toys or geek out with a visiting scientist over the details of brain science, whether, in some other scenario, he might have had a happy life as a bench scientist at a lab in Jersey. Now he might get a bit more time to himself. “Retirement is also my human right,” he once told an audience. They thought it was charming, and they giggled madly, as people always do in his presence. But the comment always sounded painfully sad to me. “Since sixteen years old,” he added that day, “I carried this responsibility.”

The New Yorker / Letter from China / Published: March 10, 2011

I always giggled in his presence. He deserves a break, but I miss him already. I know many will and many who have for a long time. A slightly scary beginning of an end. A hopeful beginning to another end.

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United Statesians

Get your passport. Take time to see the world. It’s smaller than you think.

Proud of my little Delaware. Expected no less from New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, California, and Hawaii. No real surprise all around, but it’s good to have the “less than 10% of Americans have their passports” theory debunked.

Based on 2000 census numbers:

State Population with Passport
ALASKA 65.01%
NEW YORK 62.47%
VERMONT 56.32%
FLORIDA 52.83%
MAINE 51.62%
ARIZONA 51.24%
HAWAII 49.94%
UTAH 49.36%
TEXAS 48.80%
NEVADA 46.84%
MONTANA 46.63%
OREGON 43.39%
WYOMING 41.40%
IDAHO 41.24%
IOWA 39.34%
GEORGIA 38.73%
KANSAS 38.18%
OHIO 35.71%
INDIANA 32.73%
ALABAMA 25.03%


[From the hard work @ Grey’s Blog and ever handy DATA.GOV.]

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Celebrating Women Around the World

It’s International Women’s Day! So we’re taking a moment to look back at all the incredible women we met last year while in the field. Some have clean water, others are still walking hours to the nearest source. Many are mothers, balancing parenting with housework, jobs or work in the community as hygiene educators and well caretakers. Some run their own businesses or entire clinics and schools.

All are beautiful.

photos: Esther Havens, Mo Scarpelli, Scott Harrison

Celebrate women today! Take a look back at some of our latest stories from the field about powerful women:

Elodi from Central African Republic: She lost a child to waterborne illness. But the Live Drill would change the future for her other kids.
Rose from Kenya: Now that she has clean water, she’s getting her grad degree.
Keisha from Haiti: She fled to an island after the earthquake — with no water, but lots of hope.
Helen from Uganda: “Now, I am beautiful.” 

jerry can
charity: water is a non-profit organization bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. 100% of public donations directly fund water projects. Learn more or donate.

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The Clock Is Ticking

Since we’ve been on the subject of revisiting: The Girl Effect.
Yes, it’s still the most important thing you can do.


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Blu Dot Swap Meet

Creative? Poor? Or just like a good deal on furniture? Swap!

Blu Dot (maker of modern furniture) is letting you turn your awesome abilities and odd collections into the furniture of your dreams. It’s not magic (maybe a little). It’s the Blu Dot Swap Meet. Here are the rules:

  1. Pick out any Blu Dot item you want. Come up with an interesting offer (collections, creations, talents, taxidermy, etc.) and upload it to their site between February 28 – March 11.
  2. Check Blu Dot throughout the period to see the status of your bid. Blu Dot may like it enough to swap, or may want you to up the ante.
  3. If your bid becomes a successful swap, you will be additionally notified via email.

That’s it!

Some winners so far:

This is my kind of shopping.

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