Posts Tagged ‘Environment’

Posted on May 23, 2011 - by

Why Food Waste Matters

Photo: SecretFreegan at

In today’s guest post, Jonathan Bloom, author of the book American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It) shares his thoughts on why food waste is a problem for more than just your wallet. This post originally appeared on his blog,

Today, we also share tips on how to cut back on food waste in your kitchen, helping you to save money, simplify your kitchen, reduce your environmental impact, and make the most of the food you have on hand.

If you’ve ever thought about food waste, this thought has probably passed through your mind: Why do I even care?

Or maybe you’ve heard about wasted food’s ramifications before but find yourself in need of a refresher. In either case, it’s never a bad thing to consider why we shouldn’t squander food. So here goes:

There are environmental, ethical and economic reasons why food waste matters. The environmental implications of food waste alone make it worth avoiding. A massive amount of resources–mostly oil and water–go into producing our food. When we don’t use roughly 40 percent of it, we’re squandering those embedded resources.

In addition, when we send food to the landfill, its anaerobic rotting creates methane. That greenhouse gas is more than 20 times as potent at trapping heat as CO2. Given that and our staggering rate of waste, our food-filled landfills are steadily aiding climate change. Landfills are the number two source of human-related methane emissions. And while some landfills have systems in place to either destroy or harness the methane, they aren’t all that efficient.

From an ethical standpoint, it’s pretty simple. When you consider that 15 percent of U.S. homes are food insecure, throwing away food is morally callous. And no, the food you leave on your plate isn’t going to feed anyone (here or in a developing nation). But that doesn’t mean you couldn’t donate excess food instead of preparing too much. Or buy less food–to reduce the amount you’ll discard–and pass the savings along to your local food bank.

And finally, it doesn’t make much economic sense to throw away a good without using it. That holds true for individuals, families, institutions and government. Depending on spending habits, a family of four throws out between $1,300 and $2,200 a year. And on the whole, America squanders $160 billion annually. In both cases, it’s a waste of money that could better be spent elsewhere.

To be fair, we’re never going to completely eliminate food waste. There will always be some stuff that slips between the cracks. But for all three of the above reasons, we should strive to reduce the waste we do create. Do you care enough to make an effort?

Jonathan Bloom is the author of American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It). He writes the blog and his freelance work has appeared in The Washington Post, Boston Globe, TimeOut New York, and other publications. He is also a certified barbeque judge.


Posted on March 1, 2011 - by

Saving the World: Foodies As the New Environmentalists?

Whether or not you hate the term “foodie,” it is a good time to be interested and involved in food, and I don’t just mean as measured by the popularity of Top Chef or the explosion of food photography blogs. Rather, after decades of enthusiasm for processed and frozen meals, the tide has turned in favor of local, fresh and seasonal food that tastes good. And as people realize what a difference it makes to eat real food, they are also exploring the social, economic and political ramifications of their food system—people around the world, people like you.

Has this surge in interest come at the expense of the old environmentalism movement? Recently, an article from Time seemed to think so, suggesting that the efforts of environmental groups to limit greenhouse gases and halt climate change had failed, not to mention a daunting political environment for the EPA, fostered by a hostile Republican-led Congress.

On the other hand, the timing is right for the food movement, however broadly you want to define it. Wrote Bryan Walsh, “If it continues to grow it may be able to create just the sort of political and social transformation that environmentalists have failed to achieve in recent years. That would mean not only changing the way Americans eat and the way they farm — away from industrialized, cheap calories and toward more organic, small-scale production, with plenty of fruits and vegetables — but also altering the way we work and relate to one another” (Time).

In other words, “food movement” is a misnomer—this campaign is about revolutionizing the way we live through what we eat, and is a medley of influences from farmers, doctors, consumers, businesses, policymakers and more. These disparate forces can both hinder and help the rate of progress, but we now understand that many of the today’s pressing issues are entangled and cannot be resolved without an interdisciplinary approach. To resolve childhood obesity, you might examine urban planning and food deserts. To analyze the latest political unrest in the Middle East, you could investigate climate change and rising food prices.

Does the food movement have the political momentum to forge on where environmentalists have lagged? Last week, White House Executive Chef Sam Kass gave a speech to review the progress that Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign had made. In it, he recognized the growing demand for healthier, fresher food for children and residents of underserved areas, and discussed measures that have been taken to improve public health. Marion Nestle, professor of Nutrition at NYU, noted, “This is the first time food, nutrition, and health have gotten anywhere near this kind of attention at that level of government” (Atlantic).

So, we can give ourselves a quick pat on the back, but there is plenty of work to be done. “As foodies go from promoting the perfect heirloom tomato to tackling the country’s entrenched agricultural practices, they’ll need a new level of commitment, organization and energy,” said Walsh. But this may be our best chance at creating holistic and long-lasting change in the way we live with our planet.

How are you involved in the good food fight? What food choices did you wrestle with today? Who can you teach about the politics of your plate?

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Posted on February 7, 2011 - by

What’s in a Food Mile? (Part 2)

Last week, I took a look at the myth of the food mile, and gave some reasons on why this number grossly oversimplifies the environmental impact of a food. Now what? The average consumer has no way of tabulating all the production and distribution knowledge needed to assess how green a food is; this would most likely require some serious research chops and access to academic resources.

Well, the locavore movement is certainly not dead yet. Even though you cannot prove that your locally-sourced foods are better for the planet, there are other reasons to continue buying from your region’s farmshed.

First and foremost, buying local means that your money stays local, supporting your community’s farmers, small businesses and industries. After all, the health of your local economy directly impacts you, your friends and your neighbors.

Secondly, you can get to know your local farmers, learn how their workers are treated, and investigate exactly how your food was grown. Not only is this a valuable knowledge resource, but it is impossible to develop the same human connection with a distant brand name and manufacturer.

Of course, like everything else in life, this argument is shrouded in shades of gray. Buying from a local farmer means that you may have passed up an opportunity to buy from farmers in underdeveloped countries. Access to international markets could dramatically improve the livelihoods of farmers in Latin America, Africa, and other major agricultural exporters. Mark Ashurst of the African Research Institute argues that it is important to support African farmers for ethical reasons. He notes, “Two thirds of Kenya’s horticulture harvest is exported in the holds of passenger aircraft that bring tourists home from Africa’s natural parks and beaches. If we are to avoid buying African vegetables, as local food activists advocate, we are penalizing some of the world’s most vulnerable people for the carbon footprint of holidaymakers.” Perhaps we should be looking at “fair miles” instead?

In the end, the best advice I can give is to buy mostly in season, from pretty close. Overall, it will be cheaper for your wallet, fresher and taste better to boot.

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Posted on February 4, 2011 - by

What’s in a Food Mile?

The milk that you poured into your cereal this morning, do you know where it came from? Was it delivered to your doorstep by hand? Trucked from a large dairy farm in a neighboring city? Packaged and flown across the country? Which of these results in the least amount of carbon emissions?

When it comes to sourcing our food, we are often told that it is best to eat locally to minimize the environmental impacts of food production. To illustrate this, food miles are one metric used to quantify how local your food is. Simply put, food miles measure the distance a food travels from its origin to your plate. So, an apple from a local orchard may have only 10 food miles behind it, but a frozen pizza could have been shipped 3,000 miles from a distant manufacturing plant. Moreover, the average distance that your meal travels before arriving to you has been rising. American consumers are buying processed foods more frequently, and demand seasonal produce all year long.

Intuitively, it seems like a food with lower food miles should be more environmentally friendly than a food from a more distant location. But is this really the best way to assess the environmental impact of a food?

A Red Herring

For all the attention that has been paid to carbon emissions from transportation, the truth is that they make up only a small portion (11%) of greenhouse gases generated over the lifetime of a food product. In reality, the bulk of greenhouse gases stem from production, with 83% of emissions occurring before the food even leaves the farm (World Watch). Hence, focusing solely on food miles is like mending the fence while the rest of the house is on fire.

For instance, it takes more energy to produce vegetables off-season in greenhouses than in warmer climates. Researchers in Sweden concluded that it was better for Swedes to buy Spanish tomatoes instead of locally-grown Swedish tomatoes, since the local tomatoes were grown in greenhouses warmed by fossil fuels, as opposed to the Spanish crops grown in open fields (Carlsson-Kanyama, 1997). Another example of energy-intensive processing is local produce that is kept frozen throughout winter versus a product that is shipped fresh from another place.

Not All Miles Are Equal

Meanwhile, the nuances of transportation methods throw additional kinks into the story. Trains are 10 times more efficient than trucks at transporting freight, which means you could truck a product 100 miles or move it by train 1,000 miles with the same carbon emissions impact (World Watch). In general, air transport produces the greatest amount of greenhouse gas emissions, followed by small road vehicles, large road vehicles, rail and sea freight (Pirog et al, 2009).

Let’s not forget the miles we add by traveling to and from the point of purchase. Local transportation by car and small trucks is highly inefficient compared to mass transport, and food systems that integrate bulk deliveries can be more environmentally friendly than farmers markets. One study found that driving more than 7.4 km (4.6 miles) to the farmers market to buy locally-grown food would produce more carbon emissions than purchasing from a large-scale box supplier that uses cold storage, packaging and transportation (Blouin et al, 2009).

Taking all these factors into account, you get some eyebrow-raising results when tabulating the true environmental impact of foods. Researchers found that one ton of lamb raised on New Zealand’s clover-filled pastures and transported to the U.K. by boat produced only 1,520 pounds of carbon emissions, versus 6,280 pounds for lamb raised in Britain on feed (NYT).

Blast, it appears that serious investigation of the food mile reveals that it cannot be used to make a cut-and-dried case for greener consumption. So what should the time-strapped, socially-conscious consumer do? Stay tuned next week for part two of “What’s in a Food Mile?”.


Posted on October 5, 2010 - by


Hey everyone! We here at FRESH wanted to let you know that we are partnering with on October 10, 2010 to promote the 10/10/10 Global Work Party initiative. The 10/10/10 Global Work Party is a global event to raise awareness about carbon emissions and encourage folks to work towards a greener future by participating in community projects that will cut carbon. The day will also be used to pressure political leaders to take action on climate policies that promote clean energy and ways to reduce emissions.

Join with FRESH and during the 10/10/10 Global Work Party to change carbon emissions and bring awareness to the benefits of eating sustainably. Things such as putting up solar panels, planting a community garden, or hosting a bike workshop can be great ways to provoke community awareness and cut carbon in the environment. The website ( has other great ideas that you can do in your community during this global event and well as a listing of events happening in your area.

Together, we can make a statement and take strong steps to improving the environment we live in.  On 10/10/10 we hope to you will join with and FRESH to send the message to our countries leaders that, “If we can get to work on solutions to the climate crisis, so can you.”