Category Archives: Politics

The Grocery Challenge

So in your wanderings of the Internet, somewhere between work and life, you may have come across a post filled with pictures that looked something like this:

Hungry Planet
Norway: The Glad Ostensen family in Gjerdrum. Food expenditure for one week: $731.71.

This photograph is part of a large and fascinating project put together by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio, in which they traveled the globe to photograph a diverse cross-section of the world’s eaters. All of the photographs, along with some very interesting commentary, can be found in the book Hungry Planet, but more on that to come.

Here at Lust for Cooking, we decided to take this project to heart LFC logo 1 copy. Inspired by the work of Menzel and D’Aluisio, we thought, “What if we photographed our own grocery haul for the week?  What would we reveal? What would we learn?”

It is no small task to display the contents of one’s grocery bag to the world. We found it to be a rather personal display of our eating habits, our food budget, and our impulse buys. It also forced us to take a hard look at what we plan to put in our mouths over the course of the week. As bloggers for the joy, lust, and world-changing effects of cooking, photographing our weekly groceries really makes us put our money where our mouths are (works on so many levels).

But since intimacy is one of our M.O.’s here at Lust for Cooking, we rose to the challenge:

LFC Groceries

This food was purchased with a strict weekly budget of $150.00 and includes not only dinners but planned leftovers for lunch and our alcohol intake (now you see why this can get so personal). Some may find this number very low and some may find this high. As Hungry Planet points out, a family’s food budget is relative to many factors, particularly location.

Granted, you don’t see us in the picture. Just imagine two typical, slightly pudgy, but adorable Americans.  🙂

So the question is, who else is willing to take this challenge? What will you learn about yourself?

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Waste Not, Want Not. Really. Part Two.

New strides are being made to cut back on food waste!

We at Lust for Cooking rejoice!

As we mentioned in our previous installment on food waste (to catch up, mustard, click here), there are two major holes in the system where perfectly good food slips through our fingers and into the landfills: The Retail and The Consumer. In our last post, we focused a great deal on what you, as the consumer, can do to help close this gap. In this installment we will look at some new developments in the retail world.

Denmark

Denmark has opened a new, non-profit grocery store, WeFood, that exclusively sells food that would otherwise have been thrown out. How does that even make sense? Well, the thing is, there are a lot of reasons, as NPR point out, that a grocery store would toss perfectly good food:

“Those items might include treats for a holiday that happened last week, a ripped box of cornflakes, plain white rice mislabeled as basmati, or anything nearing its expiration date.”

Through the tireless efforts of a volunteer force, those food items are located and transported back to WeFood, and then sold at a heavily discounted rate. But the store is so popular, across economic borders, that the sheer logistics of keeping the shelves stocked has become daunting. But they are optimistic that these details will become easier as relationships are established with other retailers. Still, as the Danes are passionate about conserving food waste (They’ve managed to cut their country’s food waste by 25%. No small feat.), lines are forming out the door.

Boston

A similar store has opened up in the Boston area as well. Daily Table was established by the former president of Trader Joe’s, Doug Rauch. They receive food donated by wholesalers and markets alike, making the prices substantially lower than other stores in the Boston area.

In addition to selling groceries they also sell prepared meals. The menu changes each day, as it is dependent upon what food is donated, but that way they can be sure that all the food that comes in goes to use.

Unlike WeFood in Denmark, Daily Table does not entirely rely on volunteers, but it still struggles with the logistics of locating donors and transporting the food.  If the experiment is successful they home to expand to other areas.

New York

Logistics seem to be the key issue for those who are trying to make surplus food available to those who need it. That’s where Rescuing Leftover Cuisine comes in.  They are a non-profit based in New York but also operating in 11 additional cities. Their entire purpose is to solve these logistical issues through such services as “food waste consulting, excess food delivery, co-branding services, and tax credit assistance.” With their services, an organization like WeFood or Daily Table can operate smoothly and at low cost.

Keep up the good work. We at Lust for Cooking salute you!

For more facts on food waste, and how to prevent it, check out this Australian based (and similarly titled) infographic.

Featured image provided by Pixabay.

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Going Organic. What’s the big deal?

There’s that word again. Organic. OR-GA-NIC. It may be the trendiest word in recent history. And, though we at Lust for Cooking are definitely in favor, it is admittedly controversial. Those that are major proponents aren’t always getting as many benefits as they think, and those that aren’t proponents don’t know what they’re missing. And to top it off, that’s not the only thing out there now. There’s also “All Natural” and “Non-GMO” and “Gluten Free” and “Grass Fed” and “Free Range” and more! How is anyone supposed to get any shopping done?!

And they’re all so expensive. It’s baffling that less processing = more cost, but it does.

At Lust for Cooking, we will continually be looking at the organic food industry, as well as its relatives listed above, to assess the reality of Going Organic.

But, for starters, what the hell does it mean anyway?

Well, technically it doesn’t mean what everyone thinks. It used to mean, “noting or pertaining to a class of chemical compounds that formerly comprised only those existing in or derived from plants or animals [not minerals], but that now includes all other compounds of carbon.” Which means cyanide and arsenic are both organic compounds.

But now it has come to mean “of food : grown or made without the use of artificial chemicals.”

This is the key definition. Organic now means limited pesticides, fertilizers, and hormones. It means no Agent Orange in your food. Good! Yay! It does not mean that it was farmed or raised on an idyllic pasture in a ma-and-pa-farm setting. Good? Well, not really, but it’s ok. To get that, you need a few more labels. Or to go out and find said farm. But limited pesticides, fertilizers, and hormones is an excellent first step. Take a look at this study in Sweden of one family that switched to organic:

Food for thought, isn’t it?

So what’s with the prices? Basically, in a nutshell, here it is. In America (and elsewhere) we’ve transformed the agricultural system in such a way that it is very difficult for farmers to profit unless they are mass-producing a single crop (or livestock). In order to keep mass-produced crops from succumbing to a single pest or disease that could wipe out their entire yield, farmers turned to the help of chemicals and hormones, without really knowing the consequences. This has become traditional agriculture. Raising crops or livestock Organically means taking greater risks and producing less yield. That’s why it costs more. For more on this check out The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan. He covers this brilliantly.

But remember, as consumers, each purchase we make is a political choice. Your willingness to choose Organic over traditional food, despite the price increase, sends a message to the agriculture industry that this is what we want to eat. The more we buy, the more the industry will change their ways, and then, with greater supply and new innovations, should (we hope) come lower prices.

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Zomieeeeeeees and Food: 4 ways you may be eating like a Zombie and what to do about it.

Entry #1 in our ongoing look at zombies and food: Mindless Eaters

So this is weird, right? Why is Lust for Cooking talking about zombies? I mean we all love a good zombie flick, but what’s the relevance?

I’m glad you asked.

Zombies represent everything we at Lust for Cooking are against: mindless eaters who destroy civilization through (cannibalistic) over-consumption. Not sexy.

Seems pretty straight-forward now doesn’t it? Since this will be an ongoing series, I’ll start by breaking down this definition.

Zombies are Mindless Eaters

Mindless eating is destructive. And not just in the mouth of a cannibalistic reanimated corpse. It’s destructive for those of us who are still living.

Mindless eating has many manifestations. There’s the couch potato snacking. The microwavable dinner. The instant rice lunch (cause that’s all that I bought at the store). And of course, overeating. Many of us have fallen victim to at least one of these bad habits. I personally have eaten A LOT of instant rice.

All of these habits are a result of a society that has moved away from home cooking.  And each one can be seen as a step toward the chronic health problems that Americans uniquely face.

Couch potato snacking.  When done infrequently it can be one of the best uses of a Saturday ever. But the problem is, if you do it at all, you probably do it a lot, amiright? It’s the “Ooo! Piece of candy. Ooo! Piece of candy. Ooo! Piece of candy,” that when put on repeat leads to no real meals for that day and a belly full of food-like substitutes. This is like your legless zombie that happened to land in a high-traffic area. It just grabs the ankle of an unsuspecting traveler and gorges until the next unsuspecting traveler comes along.

The microwavable dinner. Ok, yeah, it says it’s edible. Or maybe it doesn’t, but it’s from a grocery store and sold in the “frozen food” aisle, right? It’s cheap and prepackaged, because they really don’t what you to think about it. But if you read the back of the box, it probably has a list of ingredients the size of the Gettysburg Address, and maybe one item on that list is actual food. It’s been processed so much that they feel the need to add the nutrients back in (that’s what they mean by “fortified”). And it’ll just leave you hungry in a couple hours, because you didn’t actually eat anything your body could use. Trust me, just because the reanimated corpse is walking and moving it’s jaw does not mean it’s a person. In this case it’s the food that’s the zombie. Reanimated dead food.

Instant rice ’cause that’s all I bought. This used to be my biggest mindless eating problem. Before I learned how to cook, I just bought… whatever. Which means I just ate… whatever. Going to the grocery store was a little like going to a foreign country. It was so intimidating. All of these food items and I hadn’t the faintest idea how they went together. So instant rice happened, because I could handle “boil water and let it sit.” Zombies will just eat whatever happens to come along as well. This means skunk, bear, or sickly human. Sometimes it’s gross (even for a zombie). Sometimes it lops their head off. Whatever.

Overeating. This might be the number one mindless eating problem in America. Most of us are trained from an early age to clean our plate. That would be fine, except remember the last time you went out for Italian food? The pasta bowl was so heavy they had to wheel it out to you. In America we seem to have a silent competition going for who can fit the most food on a plate. This is your zombie that has a big hole right below the rib cage and everything that goes in the mouth just falls on the floor. It would make sense that all zombies would end up this way eventually. They have no limits, so they would just eat until their torso explodes (ewwww). And in a way, the other mindless eating habits all seem to lead here as well.

There are solutions to these problems, most of which start at that foreign country, the grocery store.

  • Limit your snack purchases to a small quantity of healthy items, like fruit or nuts. Does that sound incredibly boring? Then get one package of your favorite snack and divvy it up into portions ahead of time. That way you won’t run out either. Bonus!
  • Read the ingredients list. If you can’t pronounce it, it’s not food.
  • Don’t be intimidated by all of the options. The easiest way to deal with the grocery store is to avoid the center aisles altogether and loop the perimeter. This is where your raw ingredients live: fruits, veggies, dairy, bread, meat, (alcohol). No, they don’t come with instructions, so if that’s still a problem stick around. Here at Lust for Cooking, our goal is make sense of those ingredients as we go.
  • Planning your purchases also helps prevent overeating. That way you don’t just grab and eat whatever bodies-ahem-food stuffs are lying around. But also, put less on your plate, or get smaller plates. Really, this helps. And eat slower (a huge issue for me). There (hopefully) are no zombies behind you that will gobble your meal up before you do. It takes 20 minutes for the brain to know the stomach is full. The slower you eat, the easier it will be for your brain (cause you do have one) to catch up. You’ll be surprised how satisfied you can be with a smaller nutritious meal.

Don’t be a zombie. Our goal at Lust for Cooking is to invert the definition of a zombie. Mindless Eaters become Mindful Eaters.

Remember the zombie isn’t just mindless. It’s also dead. For reals dead. And death can be a consequence of mindless eating. Hey, zombies make more zombies.

For more on the subject check out: Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink.

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Waste Not, Want Not. Really.

No one likes waste. Regardless of your political stance, waste just sucks. It doesn’t benefit anyone, and it’s so not sexy. And food waste is just a travesty. We’re not talking about food that has spoiled or gone bad. According to a report from the USDA that came out in February of 2014, “‘Food Loss’ represents the amount of edible food, postharvest, that is available for human consumption but is not consumed for any reason.” Perfectly good food. So, just how bad is it? That same report had this to say:

“In the United States, 31 percent—or 133 billion pounds—of the 430 billion pounds of the available food supply at the retail and consumer levels in 2010 went uneaten. The estimated value of this food loss was $161.6 billion using retail prices. For the first time, ERS estimated the calories associated with food loss: 141 trillion in 2010, or 1,249 calories per capita per day.

“1,249 calories per capita per day” = Enough to feed everyone everyday. That’s a whole lot of waste.

That’s the problem. But here at Lust for Cooking, we’re all about solutions.

Looking back at the above quote, there are two major holes in the bucket, so to speak, “the retail and the consumer levels,” and things can be done at both levels.

  • In Italy a law is set to pass that will make it easier for grocery stores to donate their older food to charity. They can receive a reduction in “rubbish tax” in correlation to amount of donated food.
  • France takes it one step further, and has introduced a law that would actually require supermarkets to donate their food and would fine them if they do not.
  • A non-profit in Denmark has opened a supermarket that sells the food cast-offs at a significantly lower price to those with limited incomes.

Is it possible that any one of these may work in the United States as well?

And how about the consumer level? That’s the level that we have the most control over. We are the consumers, so how do we manage waste in our homes? There are so many ways, and one thing that becoming a passionate home cook will allow you to do is take control of the food flow in the kitchen. Here are my top recommendations.

It starts in the grocery store –

The absolute best thing you can do is pre-plan your meals. Going to the grocery store with no plan, and often with a growling stomach, can lead to serious impulse shopping. “Oooo! Smoked Salmon!” Yeah, that will probably get thrown away. And it will probably still be edible. Plan your meals for the week, and then buy only what you will need for those meals. Limit the snacks to those that you absolutely have to have.

Don’t buy processed food, or limit it as much as you can. It sounds like it would be a good idea, in theory. All those preservatives, it will sit on my shelf forever! The problem is, they do. And then when you finally have that impulse to clean out the cupboard, it’s all those boxes of supposedly stale crackers and cereals that get thrown in the garbage.

Compost! If you garden, composting is the best. Most of your veggie scraps can be turned into awesome plant food. So can your coffee grinds (filter and all) and your eggshells. Just remember, nothing from the onion family. They don’t get along. For more on composting, check out this site.

If you, instead, have a no outdoor space, are particular repugnant to plants, or, like me, live at high altitudes where composting would be a critter dinner bell, you can still put those veggies to good use! Put a large Tupperware in the freezer and fill it with your veggie leftovers throughout the week and then when you’re at capacity make a stock. Chicken, veggie, beef, pork, whatever. The onion family is welcome here, but I would skip the coffee grinds and eggshells. Just sayin’.

If you know of some good household tips to prevent food waste, or know of any region or organization that is championing the cause (food rescuers in the US?), please share in the comments.