Fueling Food: Future Focused

“zero hunger” future — zero stunting of children for lack of adequate nutrition, zero waste of food and agricultural inputs in societies where people do not get enough to eat.” ~ Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary general, The Future We Want 

In a world with an unknown future before us, we have the opportunity now to influence the outcomes that will be experienced in our lifetimes and by future generations. With the current juxtaposition of hunger and  waste escalating, the issues of food waste, water and energy use in the food system are paramount to consider, study and address in the spectrum of contexts from local to global and personal to collective.


As sustained growth will continue to be needed in the face of constraints, we will need to produce more food on the same amount of land with less water. The cereal example is a prime instance where marked change is necessary, being that 30 percent of grains are lost to waste across the crops’ lifecycle.  Challenges such as these will require courageous innovators who continue to look beyond our current paradigms to create new concepts and business models that spark our imaginations. Here are some recent favorite examples experiencing marked success:

  • By creating an approachable, personal connection to food cultivation, Berkeley’s Back to the Roots is bringing a waste to food experience into homes.

  • German startup, Efficient City Farming is bringing mobile aquaponics into the heart of urban settings, requiring 50 percent less water & 70 percent less land to achieve closed loop vegetable and fish production.

  • Rubies in the Rubble is a small London producer making a large difference, birthed out of an environmental mission to divert food waste paired with the social objective of job creation – “what you put into life, is what you get out” is their vision embodied in an array of chutneys.


All this is fine & grand, but at the end of the day how can we each do our part to turn the tide? Consider these simple solutions to begin Reducing Food Waste at Events & find ways to Reduce Food Waste in 5 Easy Steps. The fundamental shift to begin to Waste Not, Want Not  starts with each of our individual decisions on a daily basis. May this result in a collective mindfulness across our world, of the bounty of food it provides us and the precious resources we must steward with gratitude.

“FAO believes that feeding all the of the earth’s population is possible if bold policy decisions are taken on enhancing poor people’s access to food, levels of food waste and how agriculture is used for non-food purposes. All depends on the choices made today in managing agricultural and food systems.” ~ FAO, Towards the Future We Want 


Fueling Food: Irony & Opportunity

Connecting many dots of previous discussions here, just this month Oregon passed model legislation allowing bycatch – which in Oregon is most often salmon (a sad loss in any amount, but especially as an average 8% is wasted across the industry) – to be processed for food bank use, a win-win for diverting a present waste stream while making a much needed source of healthy protein available.

Efforts like these are beginning to draw attention to this significant topic, as acknowledged in a fascinating McKinsey & Company study released late last year. Resource Revolution points to food waste as the third highest of fifteen areas in regards to opportunities for savings, both in resources and financial benefits – an estimated $252 total and $90 billion in reduced consumer food waste alone, which uses “8 times more energy than post-harvest waste” (Resource Revolution, p. 72). Exploring the different situational challenges in developing and industrialized countries, the main barriers regardless are summarized as capital intensity, supply-chain bottlenecks, and entrenched behaviors. Catalyzing change via pairing technology and research – whether being used to measure, track or improve food waste – is the key next direction the study targets.

Such research is being undertaken in beginning stages, such as FAO’s Global food losses and food waste 2011 study. Its results lead to illuminating, confirming data:

  • “Industrialized and developing countries dissipate roughly the same quantities of food — respectively 670 and 630 million tonnes.
  • Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).
  • Fruits and vegetables, plus roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates of any food.” ~ Cutting food waste to feed the world

The irony of this latter statistic, with vegetables being “the most commonly wasted food in U.S. homes, making up some 25% of avoidable waste” (Leftovers: Tasty or Trash?), is stunning when we consider how we’re wasting most what we need to be eating more of:


Fueling Food: Global Impact

Choices have consequences and the escalating impact of daily decisions equaling global and generational change is alarming. This year’s WWF’s Living Planet Report identifies and illustrates outcomes of our current choices, such as this:

Sadder still is the realization of how much of this commercial fishing depletion results from bycatch – while NOAA is beginning to track and monitor U.S. catch, the opportunity for improvement is massive worldwide, due to the state our our oceans.

The more thoroughly we understand our context as individual consumers in a global food system, the more possibility we can create for lasting change. Daily decisions are not stand alone and the rippling effects of a broken system and an off kilter food culture in the U.S. are showing up in lethal ways.

“One of the most striking aspects of the global food market is that while almost one billion people are undernourished, another billion are what the industry likes to call over-nourished – or obese.” ~ John Elkington

Our current ways are impacting many, from our children and to our oceans. Will we sit by, blindly eating every meal, or can we stop to think, consider our choices and their potential to create change with every bite? I know we can and hope we will.

Fueling Food: Policy & Possibility

“80% of the world’s hungry are directly involved in food production”

~ GOOD infographic

This colorful depiction of our current state and crises brings central attention to the two sides of food waste: beginning of supply chain spoilage due to challenges with storage, refrigeration and transport in developing countries and the high level of end use waste in industrialized nations. The juxtaposition of these issues framed by the opening statistic is fascinating when considering how low agricultural exposure there is typiclally with the demographic involved in the latter wastefulness. Perhaps this points to parts of the system that could lead to leverage points, and while we mull over behavior change, for now what do we do with our present waste stream to reduce its amount and capture value from inevitable food waste?

First, make the system visible – Finland has recently done so with the Foodspill I project documenting its progressive low level of waste in distribution:

Compare for example to Canada:

With a much higher percentage of household generated waste, policy efforts to effect change in this sector are beginning to bring momentum through small but substantial changes such as in Vancouver BC. Messaging to participants is as key as the policy enactment is itself and creative ways to frame the conversation continue to be needed.

“There’s no question that waste is an opportunity. Waste has incredible energy potential, and if that potential can be harnessed in a way that doesn’t unleash pollution, it can be transformative on a national scale.’’ ~ Lisa Jackson, EPA Administrator

Exciting state specific policy is being formed in the U.S. to address commercial food waste, with breaking news out of Massachusetts. The impact this could equal is illustrated by numbers captured in 24 hour waste audit  at one Illinois Whole Foods.

Beyond compostable matter, associated packaging is an interesting component of food waste these efforts will have to address. What if the possibility of less to no packaging waste existed? Or does it? Enter the upcoming Austin, Texas grocery:

Fueling Food: Mindfulness & Innovation

“Of the land-community much has been consumed, much has been wasted, almost nothing has flourished. But this has not been inevitable. We do not have to live as if we are alone.”

~ Wendell Berry, 2012 Jefferson Lecture

The current of attention on food waste is rising the tide and lifting national and global efforts to address this problem through creative innovation. JWT highlighted “Food as the New Eco-Issue” in their annual ten trends in the coming year as well as in 100 things to watch:

From these large global corporate efforts to celebrity coverage to iconic local grocers taking a stand, the motivation and relevance of this topic can no longer be overlooked.

A driver behind this growing conversation is the embedded water involved in food production.

“About 65 percent of the water that we consume is in our food….If present levels of consumption continue, two-thirds of the global population will live in areas of water stress by 2025.” ~ Waterwise

Take for example 1/3 pound of beef, raised industrially:

 From an industry with troubling costs such as these can come promising advances as well, with the potential of anaerobic digesters becoming a reality. The opportunity to combine food waste with animal waste to create energy is being tried, tested and found successful across the U.S. and the world.

The Plant is taking a systems approach even further through repurposing a former Chicago meatpacking plant and creating a self-sustained vertical farm, brewing kombucha and beer while farming vegetables and fish, all in a symbiotic closed loop system centered around a digester. With ingenious replicable models like this leading the way, hope for the future is tangible and edible.

Fueling Food: Earth Day Opportunity

96 billion pounds per year = $136 billion/annually,

11 million pounds per hour,

3,000 pounds per second

of food is wasted in the U.S.

One Third

“North American consumers make more food waste than anyone else on the planet. But there’s an upside to that:

Just about any improvement will mean progress.”

~ Monica Eng, Diving into the food waste problem

We can seek solutions on so many fronts: home, school, work, restaurants, grocery, retail, production, transportation. What if instead, these entities banded together to address the problem across a system?

A simple ask for change followed in the 2010 documentary Dive details Jeremy Seifert’s exploration of L.A. grocery dumpsters and the policies in place that lead to such waste. Taking a daring stand, feeding his young family a primarily dumpster-based diet, Seifert exposes specifically the practices of Trader Joe’s that leads to bountiful nightly waste.

“Forfeit your sense of awe, let your conceit diminish your ability to revere, and the universe becomes a marketplace for you”

~ Abraham Joshua Heschel

Turning the brokenness of the food system on its head by living off its waste, Seifert makes an important statement about the ramifications of collective corporate decisions and the potential for consumer impact upon awareness. While past & present efforts driving change exist, a unified stance will be required to turn the tide in the hearts of consumers and the minds of corporations. Sharing is caring and today, on Earth Day, with future generations in mind, may we hope, ask for & actively seek change, individually & collaboratively.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,

nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

~ The Lorax

Fueling Food: The Facts

Water, Waste & Energy

It starts first thing in the morning – our daily waking ritual, the morning coffee stop. Enough of the United States has become accustomed to a mid-commute drop in or drive through pick me up to start the day that the impact of this one purchase is massive to consider. This one beverage in and of itself is a prime example of the hidden footprint some of our most celebrated conveniences when it comes to water used in the product’s lifecycle. The water cost of products in general is a down-the-rabbit-hole concept but is especially pertinent to consider when it comes to food and beverage, and it is this aspect I hope to explore here this quarter. Take for example your average cup of to go coffee:

*2.24.12 webinar, “The Business of Food Transparency” – Gary Hirshberg, CE-Yo

Jumping from the beginning of products to the end of their lifecycle, we encounter another shadowy epidemic:

“Americans are used to sending their trash away.” ~ Dr. Ruihong Zhang, UC Davis Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department

Nowhere is this more true than with food:

In addition to awareness advocacy and habit change to lessen the amount of waste, a variety of local organizations are doing needed work to form partnerships that divert product with a useful life left to different end users than the trash. Seattle has instituted mandatory curbside compost and the statewide conversation regarding its role in soil management is encouraging. Urban Gleaners work in Portland, Oregon is connecting edible surplus with school food programs.

Harnessing the food waste stream for purposes of alternative energy generation has exciting potential as well.

“Anaerobic digestion as a means of food waste disposal is preferable to landfill not just because of this kind of power generation, but also because when methane (CH4) is burnt, the carbon in it binds to oxygen to form carbon dioxide (CO2), which is a much less potent greenhouse gas. One recent study estimated that avoiding landfill could save emissions of between 0.4 and 1 tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent per tonne of food waste.” ~ Tristram Stuart, Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal 

Q2: Occupy, Then

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
~ Maya Angelou

           Formed out of a stand against oppression and segregation, Beacon Hill’s El Centro de la Raza is a modern testament to the power of peaceful occupation and united voices. Established in 1972 as the result of Latino and Chicano actualization of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, today the center is a web of cultivated support to the surrounding community, welcoming all.

A vibrant mural originally painted during the three month occupation still graces the main floor hallway of the historic former schoolhouse. The living history has been accentuated and added to to depict changes that the ensuing centuries have brought.

The bountiful additions that each can bring to the table for all to share is captured in this section of the canvas’ story. El Centro strives to live this out via 12 founding principles19 core outcomes enacted through various social services, civil rights advocacy, educational and cultural programs.

The legacy of El Centro as a powerful voice unafraid to effect change is a vibrant current model of an organization’s founding in a time of turmoil and achieving sustained growth through succeeding eras of evolution. With continued commitment to the unwavering passion of its founder, who actively sought dialogue with Seattle populations across all sectors, El Centro’s current staff carries on this mission.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Q2: Intervention & Empowerment

“Farming issues rarely make the news.”

~ Bill Gates, 2012 Annual Letter

Lending a strong voice of attention to some of the world’s most crucial issues of our era, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a interesting case study on strategy. Bringing attention to global development, global health & domestic concerns, the newly opened vistor center depicts the varied perspectives and processes that compile to create the partnerships the Gates Foundation funds.

While many ways the funds are implemented are contentious to varying degrees, spotlights granted on unspoken realities such as these are key, coming from the world’s largest private foundation. The ingenuity unleashed and innovation catalyzed is as diverse as its grantees but the driving principles and mission of its founders speaks clearly to the strategic goals they have set sights on partnering to accomplish.

The vistor center space involves not only facts and figures but the opportunity to express individual options and cultivate creativity. Various interactive exhibits invite participants to chime in with thoughts on issues or responses to action being taken. The last room of the gallery is an innovation incubator, posing questions, challenges and platforms for live prototyping. It is a technologically beautiful smorgasbord already teeming with user generated uniqueness. The question remains as to how the foundation will incorporate this content into its operations  – the official answer is that it is being achieved. The power of asking the questions and sparking conversations will hopefully be effective in and of themselves for now, because yes:

Q2: Make It Visible

Cheerful smiles abounded during the volunteer hours of our day spent touring Seattle’s central Goodwill donation site. Before diving in to lend a hand we got to take a behind the scenes look at donation processing and internal distribution – a key diversion at the disposal stage in The Story of Stuff and astonishing in its daily scope.

“99% of the stuff we run through this system is

trashed within 6 months”

~ Annie Leonard

On a slow day this one donation site accepts an average of two semi trailers of items – in the busiest seasons up to nine containers will be filled by day’s end. The intervention Goodwill leverages in the cycle of stuff became all the more apparent thanks to our conversation with the recycling & salvage staff person. From stories of single shoes sent to countries in need to continuous salvage of materials able to be commodity traded, the opportunities he spoke of for continuous innovation and solution seeking were vast. Among them, at present no viable method for repurposing or recycling pressboard furniture (compliments of IKEA & others) is available.

Especially when it comes to the enormity of our present consumption (food waste specifically is keeping me up at night these days) this question keeps rattling around in my mind: How to make these system visible yet still hold hope? Little messages of truth & action like this are a step in the right direction: