An essay on food from the former VP of Innovation Partnerships for Nestlé.
Food throughout history and in all cultures has always been of tremendous importance to the survival and well-being of the human race. Survival came first and well being later. Today, with everyday low prices, as-fast-as-you-can, sometimes it seems that we are back to just pleasureless survival.
Food is cheap today, cheaper than during any other historical period. Or let me rather say calories are cheap—and abundant.
During the mid 19th century, people had to work almost an entire day just to feed their family. Today we are probably closer to 1½ hours depending on disposable income.
This is not all bad but it just shows how we look at our food: It’s most of all a cheap commodity, and getting cheaper every day. This leaves more of our disposable income for other items that are presumably more important, yet not really essential for well-being.
Another thought: Twenty years ago, the size of a can of soda was typically 333ml. Now the standard is 500ml.
On the other hand, thanks to improved knowledge of healthy and nutritious foods as well as medical advances, better hygiene, and improved working conditions, we live longer than ever before.
So what’s my thought for food? Well, it is simply the recognition that our food has a profound impact on our well-being, on our life, on us, more so than anything else that we surround ourselves with or which surrounds us. Take computers, tablets, phones, work-out machines, TV sets, computer games, e-readers, cars, electric bikes, motorcycles, or any other so-called modern achievement.
Most people would not hesitate for a second to invest in a new gadget, more or less useful, more or less necessary, but would go to the cheapest discounter to buy food and beverages. Of course there is nothing wrong with wanting to optimize or minimize ones expenses, however this might be counterproductive when it becomes the only driving force for food purchases.
All this plays out in the real world, in which many people don’t have enough money to feed their family, let alone provide the non-essentials.
Getting enough food is almost as difficult and strenuous today as in the mid 19th century: Even a day’s work doesn’t seem to be enough to pay for basic nutritional needs. Food stamps offer one solution, and today there are about 45 million Americans (15 percent of the population!) receiving food stamps. What does that tell us and how can we escape this dilemma? The problem seems too big a topic to even tackle, yet we should not shy away.
The solution starts right here at our doorstep. We can reduce food waste, right here in our cities and communities, where up to 50 percent of food is thrown away and where volunteer organizations are springing up to recover the salvageable waste and bring it where it is needed.
Today, food trucks are very fashionable in large cities such as San Francisco, New York, and Portland, Oregon. I propose the reverse food truck that collects food that would be thrown away. The truck goes to restaurants after they close to collect leftovers, directly and hygienically, saving good food from the trash container. This makes it safer, more efficient, and most of all more dignified.
There could be other ways of having our food distributed in better and more efficient ways. If we typically buy too much, why can’t industry reduce packaging size to more reasonable, manageable portions for individual households. Yes, this would reduce the revenue of every food company, grocery store, and discounter but we have to start thinking whether we need to buy 100, pay for 100 and throw away 50 or whether we should not buy 50, pay for say 75, but throw away nothing.
The extra paid could go into programs for the needy, and the food industry could expend some energy manufacturing high quality, nutritious, healthy food at fair and reasonable prices. I am totally aware that such a proposal is not to the liking of many, but it’s a starting point to think along more sustainable lines. It’s my thought for food.
We need to realize that there might be food in abundance for a growing world population, but that waste due to distribution, inappropriate storage, packaging sizes, and several other inefficiencies is something that will very critically endanger the possibility of feeding everyone.
I do not pretend that the thoughts above will entirely solve the food crisis that we already face and will increasingly face in the future. But I hope my thoughts can serve as a starting point to for your own disruptive yet constructive ideas. Here’s a few inspiring examples from the American West:
In Arizona, Waste Not runs a food rescue and delivery service that collects excess food to feed the hungry. City Harvest in New York City saves 42 million pounds of food per year from restaurants, grocers, corporate cafeterias, manufacturers, and farms and delivers it to community food programs using trucks and bikes.
In San Francisco, planter boxes with vegetables cover a 900-square-foot patch of roof at Glide Memorial Church as part of the Graze the Roof Project. Children in the neighborhood work in the garden and learn to cook what they grow. The community-run Hayes Valley farm, also in San Francisco, is located on a plot of land that was once a freeway overpass.
Edible Schoolyard is an international movement to teach the next generation about the importance of food. The Edible Schoolyard Berkeley, in California, supports hands-on classes in?a one-acre organic garden and kitchen classroom. Their curriculum is fully integrated into the school day and teaches students how their choices about food affect their health, the environment, and their communities.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in collaboration with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently launched the Food Waste Challenge, inviting producer groups, processors, manufacturers, retailers, communities, and other government agencies to reduce food loss and waste, recover wholesome foods for human consumption and recycle discards to other uses including animal fee, composting, and energy generation.
A proposed piece of state legislation called the California Homemade Food Act, or “cottage food bill,” would allow Californians to sell certain items produced from their home kitchen. Bring on the nutritious, homemade food movement. Sauerkraut anyone?