Save the Food!

Save the Food! That’s another way of saying don’t waste it. And that sound advice is the slogan behind the new Ad Council/NRDC anti-food waste campaign launching today.

This public service campaign has been in the works for a long time, but at first glance, it was worth the wait. The PSAs, produced gratis by whizs at SapientNitro, trace the journey of strawberries from farm to fork. The 30-second spot, the one you’ll likely see, isn’t quite as powerful as the one or two-minute sagas in conveying the length of that journey, but they’re all impressive. Especially neat is how much the ads can communicate with little to no dialogue. Here’s the full two-minute spot in all its glory:

It’s encouraging that, in general, the campaign is so positive. It doesn’t admonish people for wasting, it empowers them to love their food. That empowering happens on the Save the Food website, through cooking tips, an in-depth storage guide and–soon–recipes.

As powerful as the PSAs are, the print ads are even better! These materials, which you may soon see on billboards, in magazines or even plastered on bus stops, have an amazing message, ‘Best If Used,’ stamped on food packaging. Simply removing the date label transforms those harmful expiration dates into a useful reminder to actually eat the food that we buy.

Another campaign message, that plays at the end of some ads, is ‘Wasting Food Wastes Everything: Water | Labor | Fuel | Money | Love. That stark wording is effective, and communicates the major impact of our national food waste problem.

At long last, we can say, Save the Food is many things: Modern | Simple | Clean | Poignant | Empowering | Live!


April 20, 2016 | Posted in Campaigns | Comments closed


I’ve done a decent amount of media in my, gulp, 10+ years of writing about food waste. But this Meet the MISFITS feature was among the most fun and introspective interviews I’ve done. The  neat people behind MISFIT Juicery curate these interviews in addition to making beverages out of ‘aesthetically-challenged’ produce.

As an interview bonus, I got to nod at my all-time favorite food-related song, Rufus Thomas’ “Fried Chicken.” I am in love with Thomas’ mix of soul and practicality (i.e. talking about making leftover stew). Because, really, what’s more soulful than using up leftover food?? OK, don’t answer that–I may be a little biased here… But anyway, the song is embedded at the bottom of the MISFIT interview and below. Don’t miss the beauty that begins at the 1:05 mark…

Bonus ethical discussion: If we’re going to eat animals–an entirely separate discussion–the least we can do is use the entire animal. And this song espouses doing just that. #Gizzards

March 21, 2016 | Posted in Household, Life to Leftovers, Repurposing | Comments closed

Wholly Ugly!

Whole Foods just announced that they will pilot selling cosmetically imperfect fruits and vegetables in several Northern California stores. Well, the retailer didn’t really announce it, USA Today did in a recent article. And then an unnamed Whole Foods spokesperson tentatively confirmed it to NPR. But still, this is both great news and a bit amusing.

It’s great news because Whole Foods is Whole Foods. They are an industry and thought leader and what they do matters. If they do in fact partner with funky produce peddlers Imperfect–the anonymous Whole Foods source told NPR it was a “potential partnership”–it will be a huge deal.

It’s amusing because Whole Foods is Whole Foods. They are the among the leading perpetuators of produce perfection and homogeneity. Through their ‘food porny’ displays and high standards for produce appearance, they’ve helped teach us that our food should look as good as it tastes.

It would be ironic and oddly fitting then if Whole Foods were to lead the charge in knocking down the mental barriers against imperfect produce that it helped erect.  If ‘ugly produce’ can catch on there–and that’s a big if–our superficial norms may just change. So keep your fingers crossed and an eye out (if you live in the Bay Area) for this exciting new development.

No word yet on whether the imperfect fruits and vegetables will cost more than the perfect ones. Kidddding!!

March 8, 2016 | Posted in Supermarket | Comments closed

Required Watching: EXPIRED?

The Harvard Food Policy and Law Clinic (FLPC) just released a fabulous short film on date labels called EXPIRED? You can watch it below and don’t miss their stout op-ed in the LA Times. I’m pretty sure you won’t spend a better 5 minutes online today.

EXPIRED? is part of a neat companion site with plenty of resources on the mystifying topic of date labels. You know–the thing some people call ‘expiration dates.’ The things that don’t really mean anything, because they’re indicators of food quality, not food safety.

The film continues the FPLC’s outstanding work on the topic. They were among the earliest unearthers of expiration date lunacy (along with NRDC), as they evidenced by their seminal study, The Dating Game. Here’s the shorter issue brief, with then-still-unfamous Just Eat It filmmaker Grant on the cover and the full study.

The film and the study push for overarching federal guidance and standards on expiration dates. That same idea is part of Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree’s proposed Food Recovery Act. Let’s make this into law! If that happened, it would be a great victory for Expired to be past its “Best-Before” date.

February 11, 2016 | Posted in Campaigns, Food Safety, Household, Legislation | Comments closed

Weighing In On Campus Food Waste

Ever wondered what the waste looks like from one college cafeteria meal? Wonder no more:

image courtesy of Autumn Rauchwerk/Bon Appetit Management Co.

Bon Appetit!

Above is the accumulated plate waste from one dinner at Willamette University in Salem, Ore. That school’s chapter of the fabulous Food Recovery Network (FRN) organized the Weigh the Waste event last year along with the school’s caterer, Bon Appétit Management Company, to communicate just how much food is wasted every day, at every meal.

Message received. “The reaction was incredibly positive, and many students suggested that we hold the event every night in order to bring awareness to the food waste issue on our campus,” said Maya Kaup, the school’s FRN chapter President and event organizer. “A lot of students were also deeply embarrassed, however, by the amounts of food that they had wasted on their plates. We encouraged them to not beat themselves up over it, but instead to think about how they might change their behavior in the future.”

The filled bin visual, as seen above and in person, highlighted that evening’s 140 pounds of wasted food. Now imagine that 0.2 pounds of waste per student happening three times daily during the school year. And, the bin would likely be more full, had the event not occurred on a Trayless Tuesday, when trays aren’t used in an effort to minimize food waste. (Many all-you-can-eat cafeterias have abolished trays altogether, which tends to trim wasted food by about 30 percent.) To wit, a more recent Weigh the Waste event in October at Willamette yielded even more waste per student—0.25 pounds.

That level of waste explains the need for these events. And they’re not specific to Willamette. Several Bon Appétit schools held Weigh the Wastes in 2015, including Claremont McKenna College, Lewis & Clark College and St. Mary’s College. These events and similar initiatives illustrate several themes:

  • Our eyes are decisively bigger than our stomachs. Students tend to take too much food for a variety of reasons. It’s partly driven by wanting to ‘get your money’s worth,’ whatever that means. And this is also partly because we seek variety. Sometimes a busy schedule or a disliked dish prompt students to waste food. But overall, it’s because they can—there are no repercussions. And that’s because…
  • The all-you-can-eat model is problematic. Implemented in the name of hospitality, this strategy has heavy costs—both overeating and waste, not to mention bloated board coasts. And logistically, the price of always having enough is perpetually having too much. Solutions like removing trays, tracking consumer demand and preparing food as need arises all help, but they’re all just bandages on the ever-bleeding wound that college food service calls “all-you-care-to-eat.”

I organized a similar event at Bucknell University when I was an expert-in-residence there a few years ago. The exercise was a memorable one, and the massive scale and bin certainly got everyone’s attention. Some students objected, saying it was ‘disgusting’ or ‘uncool.’ I agreed on both counts, but I was referring to the startling level of waste, not the waste audit.

Without heaping guilt or blame upon individuals, these waste weighs prompt students to ponder their own role in the daily creation of food waste. While that pondering may be fleeting, I’ve heard from many students who say that the ‘gross’ visual really stayed with them. And that’s all you can hope for.’

Note: This story is crossposted on Food Tank. Check them out!

January 21, 2016 | Posted in College, Events, Trayless | Comments closed

Awareness to Action: Rep. Pingree’s Food Recovery Act

Yesterday was a special day in the fight against wasted food. Congresswoman Chellie Pingree’s introduction of the Food Recovery Act marked a culmination and a commencement.

It was a culmination of what I’ll call the wasted food awareness phase. For decades, wasted food was a problem hiding in plain site. Something so obvious, yet unseeable. Yet thanks to the efforts of many, many dedicated folks, the issue has gradually become one we–individuals and industry, press and now politicians–are noticing.

With the introduction of a detailed proposal to tackle food waste from farm to fork to landfill, it feels like that awareness has served its purpose. Personally, it was a day I’ve waited 10 years to see. My first inkling of our staggering wasted food conundrum came on a sweltering D.C. day in 2005 where I saw food recovery for the first time at DC Central Kitchen. And since that time, as I’ve learned more about our national food waste habit, I’ve continually wondered why there wasn’t more federal attention on the issue, as there was in the late ’90s.

September’s joint USDA/EPA reduction goal–50 percent by 2030–shattered a long silence from Washington on wasted food. It was both eye-opening and eye-catching, and it continued the steady march of awareness. It was also ambitious in aiming to halve wasted food. But it wasn’t a plan. And that’s why Pingree’s bill marks the beginning of a new era–the action phase.

The introduction of the bill, announced Monday at the Portland (Maine) Food Co-Op, sends a clear signal that there are plenty of policy solutions for wasted food. In the coming months, you’ll see more discussion on how best to take action (and fewer conversations on how large a problem it is). Wasted food stems from both personal and systematic failings. While government can’t legislate away the former, it can remove barriers to our improvement. For example, policymakers, together with industry, can fix our expiration date muddle.  And policy shifts can certainly tackle those systematic causes of food waste like the tax deduction impasse on food donations.

As you’d expect, the Food Recovery Act of 2015 is chock full of ideas. It is a wish list of sorts, and one that provides a roadmap to give America a chance (so you’re telling us we have a chance??) of reaching that 50 percent reduction goal. Some particularly exciting ideas:

  • Standardizing date label language. If products are to have a date on them, they’d be required to use the term “Best If Used By” followed by the phrase “Manufacturer’s Suggestion Only.” Both of which communicate that date labels speak to food quality, not safety.
  • Permanently extending tax deductions for all businesses that donate food, not just the large ones. Currently, C corporations are the only businesses able to receive the tax benefits for donating food, and smaller farms and businesses are forced to do it only for ethical reasons.
  • Attempting to minimize wasted food in school lunch. This would happen through an awareness program, and also revising the National School Lunch Program rules so it could minimize on-farm waste by accepting “ugly produce” and other items without a retail market.
  • Reestablishing the USDA Office of Food Recovery, led by a Director of Food Recovery. Having a ‘food waste czar’ to advocate for federal action, would be a real coup, as that position only existed for 4 years in the Clinton Administration. Bush didn’t renew the position.

Will The Food Recovery Act pass? Will it even come to the House floor for a vote? Remember that comment about it being a wish list? Don’t hold your breath.

But if it does, maybe, just maybe, the bill will illustrate that there’s nothing partisan about preventing food from reaching landfills. A more likely outcome, though, is that Pingree’s bill will prompt a robust debate in Washington on the federal role in fighting food waste (while the action occurs at home and in the private sector). And that would be a new phase, too.

December 8, 2015 | Posted in Legislation, Personal | Comments closed

Loving the Leftover Sandwich

Thanksgiving dinner is great, but the days following are truly special. Because those few days after Thursday are a real rarity–a time when eating leftovers is not just merely tolerated, but celebrated.

And while turkey soup may epitomize the economy of repurposing leftovers, the turkey sandwich rules the leftover roost. In my family, we’ve come to enjoy these turkey/stuffing/cranberry/mayo masterpieces at least as much as the original dinner. Gravy is a big plus, and I’m partial to using a few thin slices of challah to avoid over-breading (given the stuffing inside).

I usually have four or five sandwiches over the course of the hours and days following Thanksgiving. This beauty below was one of the better ones, and hopefully it can inspire your own masterpiece. And in the spirit of the season, stay thankful and love your leftovers!

November 30, 2015 | Posted in General, Household, Leftovers | Comments closed

Researching the Remains: A Leftovers Q&A with Food Historian Helen Veit

Last month, Michigan State University history professor, Helen Veit, wrote a killer piece for The Atlantic on leftovers. While its title—“An Economic History of Leftovers”—won’t send pulses racing, its contents will. In fact, the piece should be required reading for anyone with a refrigerator. Yes, that means you. As a Tupperware-toting leftover lover, I just had to hear more about the process of researching and writing about this oh-so-polarizing topic. And with Thanksgiving’s surfeit of surplus nearly upon us, what better time to ponder leftovers than now?

Jonathan Bloom (JB): You’ve mentioned that researching leftovers was not terribly easy- why was that?

image courtesy of Helen VeitHelen Veit (HV): Researching the history of leftovers was challenging for a couple of reasons. In the nineteenth century, people didn’t use the word “leftovers” or any other consistent term to describe food left behind from one meal to the next. People then dealt with leftovers all the time – constantly, in fact – but I had to do a lot of reading and skimming in early cookbooks to get a sense of people’s different strategies for using up leftover food. Even once the term “leftovers” was coined around the turn of the twentieth century, discussions of them appeared all over the place, not just in cookbooks or articles focused on leftovers exclusively. So I had to hunt for them.

JB: The advent of home iceboxes and, later, electric refrigerators brought revolutionary changes for leftovers. How did they alter our approach to leftovers in mindset and practice?

HV: Refrigeration transformed the way people approached leftovers. Cold storage let people preserve the same foods for days on end, even highly perishable foods like dairy, eggs, or meat. This meant that the identical meal could appear on tables over and over, making it more obvious to people that they were eating leftovers (instead of, say, having a stew incorporating scraps from yesterday’s dinner). Iceboxes and refrigerators relieved the pressure of having to use up foods immediately, but in turn this meant that a forgotten container of leftovers might languish in the back of the refrigerator for weeks. Another big result of home refrigeration was that within a single generation, American cooks stopped using a whole repertoire of home-preservation techniques like salting, smoking, drying, and pickling.

JB: Could it be that at some point, leftovers were actually…cool? When was that and what prompted that status?

HV: Working with leftovers – especially coming up with novel ways to repackage them, such as transforming them into an altogether new dish – was pretty fashionable for middle-class cooks in the middle of the twentieth century, roughly from the 1930s through the 1950s. Making leftovers appealing (and even fooling reluctant family members into eating them, if necessary) was a way for home cooks to show off their kitchen chops, their creativity, and their good domestic management skills.

JB: From what you discovered, what one person was the most significant proponent of leftovers?

HV: A lot of cookbook writers were singing the praises of leftovers in the mid-twentieth century, but one who sang louder than others was a cookbook author named Ruth Berolzheimer. Not too many people know about her today, but she was enormously popular in the mid-twentieth century. She was so popular, in fact, that she is still one of the bestselling cookbook authors in American history. Berolzheimer loved leftovers. She wrote at least one cookbook devoted exclusively to them – 500 Delicious Dishes from Leftovers, published in 1940 – and leftovers show up all the time in her more general cookbooks, too. She was an apostle of the idea that leftovers could be glamorous and cool, and that using up leftovers was a testing ground for cooks’ ingenuity.

JB: What’s one thing you enjoyed about researching leftovers and one that you didn’t?

HV: This project was really fun, and I can’t think of a low point. I can easily think of a high point, though: my favorite single moment was when I got to look through every single edition of The Joy of Cooking in the great culinary collection at Michigan State University.

JB: As a food historian, how do you assess public opinion on a certain topic, in this case, leftovers?

HV: Assessing public opinion – what regular people thought about any topic – is one of the trickiest things for historians to figure out, since most people historically did not leave written records about their thoughts on food or anything else. In this case, I did a lot of reading in newspapers, magazines, cookbooks, radio transcripts, home economics texts, and reports from government field workers. I also did some reading between the lines. For example, when I noted that in the 1960s people in large numbers started making jokes about the dreariness of leftovers and cookbook authors started feeling that they had to urge readers not to disdain leftovers, that was a sign to me that public opinion about leftovers was shifting.

JB: Are you a leftover lover? If so, what are your go-to moves? If not, what’s wrong with you?!? (kidding)

HV: As you guessed, I hate wasting food and I do my best to use up leftovers before launching into new cooking projects. My go-to move is lunch. Any leftovers from dinner get parceled out into lunchboxes, which usually makes for a healthier and cheaper meal than you’d get by eating out or turning to convenience foods, anyway. If I just have leftover odds and ends, I try to incorporate them in something like a soup or a stir-fry. This being said, however, I don’t mess around with food safety, and if a container of leftovers got overlooked for more than a few days, it goes into the compost.

JB: Your next book, Small Appetites, will be about how American children have become increasingly picky eaters. In your research, have you uncovered any guesses on how much pickier today’s children are and, thus, how much plate waste has increased in the last 50 or 100 years? And have you seen anything about decreased tolerance for leftovers amongst kids?

HV: Absolutely. Chronic pickiness was rare among children a hundred years ago and before. Obviously, that’s changed. Today, a child turning up his or her nose at a plate of food is a regular occurrence in many families, and that rejected food often gets thrown away. One thing that’s changed over the last hundred years is that food has become ever cheaper and more widely available for Americans, and tolerance of both plate waste and picky eating have increased as a result, for both children and adults. The idea that children don’t like leftovers has also been around for a while. Starting in the 1950s and 1960s, a powerful stereotype emerged about husbands and children not liking the leftovers that overeager wives and mothers were foisting upon them.

November 22, 2015 | Posted in History and Culture, Leftovers | Comments closed

Visualizing Global Food Waste XXVI

I do love a good infographic…Feast your eyes on these informative graphics, courtesy of these committed Australian restaurateurs.

As you can see, those are some tall, tall waste bins in the Food Losses and Waste Per Capita graph! They represent the poor infrastructure (poor storage, technology, and roads, etc.) throughout much of the developing world that dooms so much food to be lost in places where it is most needed, sadly.

November 9, 2015 | Posted in Infographic, Institutional | Comments closed

Imperfect Implications

We all love the fun pictures of produce oddities, epitomized by the  @UglyFruitandVeg feed and sold in the East Bay by Imperfect.  Yet, a new study from Minnesota raises some interesting questions on how increased adoption of  “off-spec” fruits and vegetables might impact farmers’ bottom lines.

On the plus side, new markets for produce with slightly subpar size, shape or coloring could mean new revenue streams. Then again, it could also hurt prices growers receive for their ‘perfect’ items, the so-called #1 produce.

That conundrum is reflected in the (sub)title of the research project, Beyond Beauty:   Opportunities and Challenges of Cosmetically Imperfect Produce. This research, undertaken primarily by JoAnne Berkenkamp for Tomorrow’s Table took two forms—a survey of 138 Minnesota farmers and one-on-one interviews with many of those growers. Berkenkamp then distilled findings from both into a presentation (view slides only here).

Market cannibalization is the key issue illuminated in this study. The real question: can the produce market absorb more product without pushing prices down? At the same time, there are other unknowns. Would increased acceptance of imperfects create markets for local growers to reach consumers with smaller budgets? Would less stringent cosmetic standards from retailers mean less pressure on growers to overproduce—to ensure enough ‘supermodel’ fruits and vegetables—and potentially lower input costs, financially and environmentally.

Berkenkamp noted (by e-mail) that this research complicates what had previously been a straightforward progression—the more uglies sold the better. The study highlights the need for further research by ag economists on the impact of expanded sales of imperfect produce and more thought on how we proceed in marketing those foods.

Some of the study’s other notable findings include:

  • An estimated 75 percent of Minnesota’s imperfect produce is plowed under, composted or fed to animals.
  • Growers are quite interested in selling more cosmetically-challenged product—82 percent of those surveyed were moderately or very interested.
  • One tomato farmer said that about 60 percent of her tomato crop used to be cosmetically imperfect, which prompted a shift to indoor growing.
  • The most commonly stated barrier to marketing imperfects is…a lack of an attractive market. Cost of labor, lack of available labor and being too busy around harvest time are other leading barriers.
  • Crops with the best prospects for expanded sale of imperfects are tomatoes, cukes, apples, zucchini, squash, watermelon, potatoes, cauliflower, pie pumpkins, and peppers.

Finally, Berkenkamp stressed that the findings are specific to Minnesota. While there parallels to be drawn to other states, all farming circumstances and cultures are somewhat unique. Just like every piece of produce.

November 6, 2015 | Posted in Farm, General, Stats | Comments closed
  • Buy the Book

  • Follow Along

  • Upcoming Appearances