Category: Food

Michael Webber on SciFri

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | October 8, 2010 12:02 pm

clip_image002Earlier this week I wrote about Jonathan Bloom’s new book American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half Of Its Food (and what we can do about it). On a related note, this afternoon my wonderful and brilliant colleague Michael Webber will be on Science Friday to discuss the energy lost in the food we waste (yes, the very same topic we wrote about in New Scientist). Today’s episode is broadly entitled “Healthy Eating:”

Only 26 percent of the nation’s adults eat vegetables three or more times a day, according to a recent report from the CDC. At the same time, the USDA estimates that Americans waste 27% of their food — the energy equivalent of ~350 million barrels of oil a year. In this segment, we’ll look at our eating habits, and why they can be hard to change.

Walter Willett, Chairman of the Nutrition Department at Harvard’s School of Public Health will be on as well.

Make sure to tune in or listen to the podcast–this will be a great show! And don’t forget that Science Friday needs your support now more than ever.

American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half Of Its Food (and what we can do about it)

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | October 6, 2010 11:14 am

4925128893_d36a5c0a2cFor Day 3 of Book Week,  I’m skipping ahead to one I haven’t finished yet, but am currently devouring…  American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half Of Its Food (and what we can do about it) by Jonathan Bloom.

I previously posted about this title after the New Scientist piece on food waste I co-wrote with Michael Webber sparked a good deal of interest around the web. (Food waste accounts for a whopping 2 percent of annual energy consumption in the U.S.!).  Naturally I’ve been curious to read Bloom’s perspective considering he’s been pondering the problem since 2005:

What Tom Vanderbilt did for traffic and Brian Wansink did for mindless eating, Jonathan Bloom does for food waste. The topic couldn’t be timelier: As more people are going hungry while simultaneously more people are morbidly obese, American Wasteland sheds light on the history, culture, and mindset of waste while exploring the parallel eco-friendly and sustainable-food movements. As the era of unprecedented prosperity comes to an end, it’s time to reexamine our culture of excess.

Working at both a local grocery store and a major fast food chain and volunteering with a food recovery group, Bloom also interviews experts—from Brian Wansink to Alice Waters to Nobel Prize–winning economist Amartya Sen—and digs up not only why and how we waste, but, more importantly, what we can do to change our ways.

So far, American Wasteland is packed with a lot of startling information compiled an an easy to digest package. Bloom presents the topic in an engaging style and tackles related issues from many angles by looking at each step in the process from industry to consumer.  Ultimately he provides real world solutions that might just work to waste less and distribute more–if we makes some big changes.

I’m looking forward to reading on and absolutely recommend American Wasteland. You can learn more about the subject at Jonathan’s blog wasted food.

Our Northern Future?

By Chris Mooney | September 27, 2010 2:55 pm

World in 2050In the latest New Scientist, I have a review of a new book by climatologist Laurence C. Smith of UCLA, which is entitled The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization’s Northern Future. I have to say, it’s really a tour de force. Smith argues that four megatrends–climate change, population growth, globalization, and resource demand–are setting up a world that looks like this:

…many of the world’s 9 billion-plus people will swelter in teeming, dirty and often corruption-plagued megacities like Lagos, Dhaka and Karachi. Others will be stealing water from farms to supply unsustainable cities like Los Angeles. Meanwhile, people in the NORCs [Northern Rim Countries] are living like kings. The leaders in quality of life will be towns you’ve never heard of, like Churchill in Manitoba and Iqaluit in the Canadian territory of Nunavut. (Buy your real estate now!)

Who are the NORCs, and why will they be winners? To quote my review again:

There are 8 NORCs: the US, Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Denmark (Greenland), Norway and Iceland. In Smith’s view, they will be the grand beneficiaries of dramatic Arctic warming that will create a more hospitable far-northern climate, open up valuable resources (especially natural gas) for extraction, drive economic growth (including a boom in tourism) and trigger northward population flows.

To hear Smith tell it, the NORC cup runneth over. Much of the Earth will grow increasingly parched, but the already plentiful freshwater resources of the NORCs will only increase as global warming boosts northern precipitation. And while much of the Earth will see continuing population explosions and, in some places, struggles for food, the NORCs have sparsely populated northern fringes and will see their agricultural productivity rise.

What do you think? Is that the world in 2050? Can Smith really safely predict such a thing?

In any event, you can read my review here, and check out Smith’s book here.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Books, Energy, Environment, Food, Global Warming

Ocean Acidifi-WHAT?!

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | September 8, 2010 10:37 am

As I continue to speak around the country, I frequently ask if those in the audience who have heard of ocean acidification will kindly raise their hands. Sometimes a few do. More often I get blank stares. I’ve been writing about this subject for as long as I’ve been blogging. Longer if you count Senate memos and grad school projects over much of the past decade. Acidification is a huge deal. It’s as serious as climate change, which–despite Mr. Morano’s sorry efforts at special interest propaganda–is indeed a very real threat to biodiversity. Humans included.

So time for another post on what ocean acidification is, how it affects our world, and why this matters. It needs to become prominent on the national radar and a priority in policy discussions. I intend to keep blogging about it until more hands go up in the room. With that, another edition of:

Ocean Acidification 101

Most of us are aware that we’ve been adding lots of CO2 to the atmosphere from the combustion of fossil fuels, land-use changes, and more. But carbon dioxide is also absorbed in oceans and taken up by terrestrial plants. Initially, the marine realm served to mitigate climate change, but over time, excess accumulated CO2 has disrupted a long-established system of environmental checks and balances.

You see, in oceans, all of that dissolved carbon dioxide interacts with carbonic acid, bicarbonate, and carbonate. This leads to a decrease in overall pH making the them less basic. Readers who maintain aquariums likely know that monitoring pH is important for the well-being of the critters inside. The same goes for oceans. Read More

New Point of Inquiry — Rediscovering Fire with Richard Wrangham

By Chris Mooney | August 28, 2010 8:46 am

catching-fireMy latest hosted episode of Point of Inquiry just went up (stream here). It’s an interview with Harvard’s Richard Wrangham, who I also interviewed for the BBC’s “Culture Show.” Here’s the write up:

This is a show about evolution—but not, for once, about the evolution wars. Instead, it concerns one of the most intriguing ideas to emerge in quite some time about the evolution of humans.

In his much discussed book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, Harvard anthropologist Richard Wrangham argues that we’ve been ignoring a critical catalyst in the creation of our species—a little technology called cooking.

Cooking was the game changer, says Wrangham. It upended everything. It altered how we obtained energy, which in turn morphed our anatomy and cranial capacity. Cooking even changed how we came to spend our days, and divide labor between the sexes.

According to Wrangham, learning to cook therefore ranks among the most important things that ever happened to our ancestors. In this episode of Point of Inquiry, he discusses why cooking was so pivotal—and why its role has so long been overlooked.

Richard Wrangham is the Ruth Moore professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University, and the author, with Dale Peterson, of Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence. His new book is Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human.

Once again, the show is here, and you can stream it here.

American Wasteland

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | August 26, 2010 10:37 am

4925128893_d36a5c0a2cSince I’ve been receiving a large volume of emails related to the New Scientist piece on food waste I co-wrote with Michael Webber, I want to point readers to a book coming out shortly on the same topic called American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It) by Jonathan Bloom. While I haven’t read this yet, Jonathan got in touch and it sounds like a very interesting book for the Fall!

Here’s the description at Amazon:

What Tom Vanderbilt did for traffic and Brian Wansink did for mindless eating, Jonathan Bloom does for food waste. The topic couldn’t be timelier: As more people are going hungry while simultaneously more people are morbidly obese, American Wasteland sheds light on the history, culture, and mindset of waste while exploring the parallel eco-friendly and sustainable-food movements. As the era of unprecedented prosperity comes to an end, it’s time to reexamine our culture of excess.

Working at both a local grocery store and a major fast food chain and volunteering with a food recovery group, Bloom also interviews experts—from Brian Wansink to Alice Waters to Nobel Prize–winning economist Amartya Sen—and digs up not only why and how we waste, but, more importantly, what we can do to change our ways.

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to this one and will likely have more to say when it debuts in October. In the mean time, you can follow Jonathan on his blog Wasted Food

How Do We Change Public Attitudes and Behavior?

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | August 16, 2010 10:41 am

In my recent OpEd with Michael Webber, we discuss the energy embedded in food waste–which accounts for at least 2% of the nation’s energy budget. We point out some ways to waste less such as reducing standard portion sizes and providing the right incentives for businesses, but acknowledge that ultimately, it comes down to consumer choices:

Foremost, the public needs to be better educated about proper storage of foods to keep them edible for longer. Shoppers could be supplied with easy-to-digest, accurate information about the proper shelf life of products, so that they are able to plan meals more carefully and end up with less spoilt food at the end of the week.

Another problem is “use by” dates, which are extremely conservative and can encourage consumers to throw away perfectly edible food. Similarly, “sell by” dates are usually meant as guidelines for retailers to ensure they do not keep stock too long, not as guidance to consumers about when the food will spoil. We need to improve the way we label foods.

Initiatives targeted at consumers could also have ripple-out effects: not only will educating people about food waste reduce pressure on their wallets, it would also lead to fewer trips to the store, saving on gasoline and reducing carbon emissions. Most important, it would help to promote a culture that places a higher value on food, energy, and the way their complex relationship affects us all.

S068.jpgBut tackling this issue will be very tricky. Consider: Everyday bakeries throw out day old goods, catering companies dump excess meals, supermarkets do away with blemished fruits, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg…

I’ve long been a firm believer in the power of personal choice and am curious to hear your ideas. How might we shift public attitudes to be less wasteful and save energy on a massive scale?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Conservation, Culture, Energy, Food

On BBC 2's "The Culture Show" Tonight

By Chris Mooney | July 1, 2010 4:07 pm

catching-fireTonight at 23:20 BST, on BBC 2′s “The Culture Show,” you can find me guest hosting a segment–the first time I’ve done major TV as a host, rather than guest. The occasion is the BBC’s annual Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, and I did the segment interviewing Harvard University’s Richard Wrangham, author of the fascinating book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Humanwhich is quite a page-turner, actually, and one of six nominees for the prize (worth 20,000 pounds).

Alas, if you’re in the U.S., I don’t believe you can see The Culture Show, for complicated reasons that haven’t quite been explained to me. For those in the UK, though, check it out!

And meanwhile, for arguably one of the biggest ideas in evolution in quite some time, give Wrangham’s book a try….

P.S.: Video from the segment, and credits, are now here. Alas, it doesn’t play unless you’re in the UK….

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Announcements, Books, Evolution, Food

More Hungry Children, Fewer Free Meals

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | June 29, 2010 1:27 pm

Last week, I began writing about the relationship between energy and food – a topic that I intend to explore in detail over the coming months. That post dealt with limited micronutrients in other parts of the world, but just because they are more readily available here in the US does not mean that our children are getting what they need.

800px-School_lunchToday the Food Research and Action Center–an anti-hunger group that tracks summer meal programs–released a report called Hunger Doesn’t Take A Vacation (pdf) which looks at national trends. Using data from the Agriculture Department and state nutrition officials, they show that regional governments around the country are not adequately funded to feed low-income kids during the summer. The states most in trouble are California, Louisiana, South Carolina, Kentucky, Hawaii and Utah.

Consider: In 2009, 73,000 fewer children participated in summer meal programs than in 2008–even though the number of those in need skyrocketed due to our troubled economy. Among the students who ate free or reduced-cost lunches during the regular school term, just 16 percent were fed adequately when out of school. Back in 2001, that figure was 21 percent.

In other words, a lot more children in the United States will be going hungry this summer, which can impact development, concentration, health, and more. Surely we can do better.

Download the full report here.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Food

Food For Thought

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | June 23, 2010 10:21 am

As we continue to talk about energy, we’ll be exploring its relationship with the food we eat. Food and energy are inextricably linked, but all too often, their connections are overlooked. But before we begin considering average daily per capita intake for humans and how that relates to production and availability, it’s necessary to consider that an adequate amount of food is a vastly different topic from nutrition.

The US National Research Council has set Recommended Daily Allowances for what we consume, which includes vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. In affluent countries like ours, it’s relatively easy to obtain what we need, but micronutrient deficiencies occur at very high numbers globally. Micronutrients are necessary to make hormones, enzymes, and ensure proper growth and development. So deficiencies can lead to mental impairment, blindness, compromised immunity, infant mortality, hearing loss, and more. Billions around the world are now at risk. In Feeding the World, Vaclav Smil writes “the eradication of micronutrient deficiencies could exceed the impact of the global elimination of smallpox.”

How to get there–or at least, move in that direction? We can either provide the necessary foods to those who do not currently have regular access to them and/or make supplements readily available. The good news is that many scientists  and others have been working hard to achieve this. But we have a long way to go.

So as we press on exploring these topics, keep in mind that quantity alone is not enough when considering world food production.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Energy, Food
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