Why Do We Waste $1 Trillion Of Food A Year?

Food grows in nature. Bugs crawl on it. Fish poop all the time. Cows lick things you wouldn't want to touch. And fruits and vegetables literally grow in dirt — DIRT YOU GUYS. Hey flavonoids, Trace regurgitating some food science for DNews today. We all know food comes from the earth, so why do we expect it to look perfect? Ugly food, or food that doesn't "look right," doesn't get sold, and it makes up a ton of our food supply. According to the USDA 133 billion pounds and 161 billion dollars worth of food was wasted in 2010 by retailers and consumers. That's about 30 percent of all food production! Ugly food is part of that waste. Reducing food waste could help us feed more of our population, without increasing food production, and ugly food is a first step on that path, but it has a big climb to be accepted, because some humans have cognitive bias; we don't roll with the uggos. Humans assume attractive people are smarter, and have fewer diseases, so it would make sense that we'd also assume attractive food is better. There's a principle restauranteurs and chefs use called plating or presentation — chefs place the food on our plates to make it look good. And it works.

A study in the journal Appetite and another in Flavour looked at the importance of the aesthetics of food. They found not only does good looking food positively affect the flavor, but the actual plate it's on also affects how people feel about it. Unfortunately our cognitive bias for attraction likely goes far deeper than people, plating or the plates themselves. Even potatoes have to look good. Since it's founding in 1862 the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been a source of regulation, standardization and knowledge for how we grow and consume food. Today, it fights to comprehend and regulate the U.S. food systems, but some of its original regulations don't make sense anymore." The USDA ranks food by freshness, appearance, color, and size — among other things. Grade A milk, for example, can be used for… well, milk.

While Grade B milk and lower is used for butter, cheese and so on. The idea being to protect the consumer. Milk in liquid form is more susceptible to bacterial infection. But some of these regs don't make sense. Take cauliflower color, for example. Color 1 cauliflower should be "bright white to creamy white," according to USDA standards. But not for a specific reason! The silly thing about USDA recommendations is that cauliflower left in a farmer's field doesn't stay white, it has to be harvested early to meet this standard, because the sun turns it a dull yellow! Yet, "yellow or other abnormal color [that] materially detracts from the appearance" is unacceptable, says the USDA. Our bias against ugly food goes all the way back to regulation. The USDA says this is so we can share a "common language" for our food. But, yellow cauliflower is just as nutritious as white.

Another regulation states that green peppers have to be 90 percent green. Again, same nutrition, just regulated this way for common language. So, because it can affect the grade, and thus the price, this ugly, perfectly nutritious food stays in the field to rot. Any number of things can cause this, from the wrong color, the wrong shape, not enough leaves or too many. On top of that bushels of fruits and vegetables never leave warehouses due to blemishes, bruising, or discoloration. Wasted food has a value of 1 trillion dollars worldwide, and could feed billions more people. Now, the “ugly food movement” to get these weirdo plants harvested and on the dinner table is gaining ground. More grocery stores, farmers markets, and even restaurants are buying and serving "substandard" food. Which is great, because c'mon, it's exactly the same, it just looks weird. And hey, I look weird, but y'all still like me, so why not a green pepper that's like… 85 percent green? Or a potato with an extra bump? Or a double carrot! All the way across the sky. The ugly food movement is making it big lately, and our friends at seeker stories followed a chef who transformed “ugly food” and turned it into an amazing six course meal which was served out of a dumpster.

Seriously, it's weird. But super interesting. Watch it here. Do you care what your food looks like or are you just a human trash compactor? Tell me..

“The EcoMap: Determining Your Zip Code’s Carbon Footprint” by Jared Blumenfeld

This presentation is brought to you by Arizona State University’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, and a generous investment by Julie Ann Wrigley. So the EcoMap came out of a partnership with Cisco, the computer manufacturer, and it talked about– the intro, I’m just going to talk through. You can read it. The goal was to be able to use ZIP codes to determine CO2 footprints in San Francisco. So the idea was, individuals want to make a difference, but they don’t really know what that difference would be. If you fill out a carbon calculator or do a pledge on the internet, it doesn’t really lead to any aggregated number. And so the point here was to be able to replicate what we do so that you can one day compare a Phoenix ZIP code with a San Francisco ZIP code with a Beijing ZIP code.

And this is– wait one second. So this is what you see. And the website’s launching in a few days. So you see San Francisco. You get a sense of all the ZIP codes. On the top, it tells you your ZIP code because you can now automatically– your IP address on your computer can be tabulated with your ZIP code. So rather than you having to type anything in, the computer tells you your ZIP code. And then it shows you the ZIP codes based on greenness. So the lighter the green, the better actual green you  are. So the first thing it shows you here, which is kind of maybe hard to read from where you’re sitting, but it shows you the three indicators, which are transportation, energy, and waste. And then it ranks the top 10 ZIP codes in San Francisco, and it shows you the percentage for each category. So in the first one, 50% is from transportation, 46% is from energy, and only 4% is from waste. So on energy, it shows you the amount of electricity used and the amount of gas.

So we went to our utility and said, we want, by ZIP code, the residential data for both gas and electricity, and then we looked at the amount of carbon in gas and the gas-electricity ratio, and came up with a ZIP code ranking. And you can see the little green or red arrows next to the number. So each month, there’s kind of the potential to go up or down. So in your community, if you get 30 or 40 people to do small actions, you can get your whole ZIP code to go from number two, let’s say, to number one. The other thing that it shows you on the bottom, that green bar, is the city average and the city goal. So we have these goals, but they’re very hard to translate so that people understand what they are. So the purpose here is to be able to show people, you know what? You’re not quite where the city goal is. If you took these actions, you could get there. So waste. It shows you the weight of the black cart, the weight of the green cart, so this is average per household weight– and the blue cart. And you can see huge disparities between the top ZIP code with 295 pounds, and the worst in this one is 925.

So three times more is being thrown away in one ZIP code than another. And it turns out that the ZIP code that’s doing really well is called South Beach. It’s a new development. It’s young people that live in small apartments. They’re producing three times less trash than single-family homes in the Richmond. But really, I mean, it’s startling starting to look at that data, and who’s throwing away more green material, and who’s throwing away more refuse. Transportation. We managed to get the state data and regional data so that you can start looking at the number of hybrids, the number of SUVs, and then the miles per year driven to commute in each ZIP code, which gives you your carbon footprint. So really starting to get pretty high-level granularity of data to look at this issue. You can do it by ZIP code, you can start comparing two ZIP codes, and eventually, you’ll be able to take two ZIP codes from different places on the planet and compare SUV versus hybrid ownership, for instance. So the next thing we did is look at these three key indicators, which are effort, cost, and impact.

So that’s what we learned from our market research was that those are the three drivers. People want to look at the effort they need to take to do something, the cost it’s going to be to do that thing, and then, what is the impact? So there’s some things that are very high impact, but they’re also very high effort, like going car-free. If you said, I’m going to give up my car and just walk, bike, and take public transit, it’s a huge impact, but it’s also quite a lot of effort. Putting solar panels is not a huge effort, really, but it’s a huge cost. And so some people may not be willing to do that, or able to do that. And so we tailored, rather than just coming up with generic things that you could do, based on what your personal profile is by effort, cost, and impact, we then generate a list for you of what you can do.

So it comes up with a list, and then you get to decide out of those which actual actions you want to take in the three different categories. And as you take them, it fills out your tree. And as it fills out your tree, you can then add it to Facebook. We really wanted to add the social networking dimension, and we used the mayor here, so you get to see the mayor’s Facebook page. And his tree goes on there. And then it goes back and looks at the people that live around the mayor that are also using the site through Facebook and finds out what they’re doing. So he decides he wants a plan a bicycle route. So it doesn’t just give you a high level of data. It starts to mine down deeper. So it says he’s going to go from City Hall to see the Giants, and then it shows the route. And one of the cool things that we did with the route planner is that it also shows you the gradient, you can see on the bottom right. San Francisco, we have a lot of hills. People want to know, if there’s an easy route, how long does it take? And then at the bottom, it links you to a bike buddy through Facebook.

So if you don’t want to bicycle alone, you’re just starting to bike, it helps you do that. And then it links you to other people. This person can teach you how to learn how to compost. The next person is going to be part of a green business, and they happen to have a video on Cole Hardware, which is a small hardware store that can tell you more about what you want to know about green businesses. So you can really start linking this to real-life experiences in the city rather than making it some abstract tool that is of little use. So this will launch in Seoul. We started in San Francisco. Amsterdam and Seoul are the next two cities that are going to do it. And then the goal is to replicate the model by greening each ZIP code. And ZIP codes really are a scale that you can start measuring things. I mean, if you get enough ZIP codes to do it, you can really see what the impact on the planet is going to be. This presentation is brought to you by Arizona State University’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, for educational, and non-commercial use only.