Prevent Food Waste, Save Money, Help the Planet

The results of an intensive 10 year study of food loss recently published through the University of Arizona reveals just how wasteful our nation is with its bounty.  The study, which also made use of decades of earlier research by the same UA Bureau, is the first to quantify the nation’s edible wastes with accurate percentages that track the entire production/consumption equation.  For example, at a commercial level the study finds that nearly half of all perfectly edible produce, nuts and grains are discarded without ever reaching intended markets, often plowed under due to failed bets on the high stakes commodities market.  This constitutes a major impact to the environment as mature crops are discarded in favor of a new bet on a new potential crop.

At a consumer level, the study finds that the average household ultimately discards 14 percent of all food purchases.  Nationwide this is the equivalent of 43 billion dollars each year!

So the question becomes, what can be done about it?  I believe we can turn this knowledge into a positive by letting it spur us to action.  In fact, the study noted three consumer actions that will have a big impact on the future direction these percentages take (given in all caps; the expounding is my own):

  1. PURCHASE PLANNING.  Keep a well-stocked pantry, free of lots of store bought cans and processed junk.  Repurpose glass jars and fill them with organic, whole foods bought locally in bulk and representative of everything your family eats the most of (i.e. don’t buy things just because they happen to be on sale).  When something is used from the pantry or you notice the bulk-jar needs a fill-up, immediately add the item to your next shopping list.  This will help you avoid impulsive trips to the store (the most likely time for you to buy a bunch of stuff you don’t need; 15 percent of such purchases statistically go to waste).  Plan your shopping trips wisely.  Examine the pantry, look in the freezer, examine the sale-ads for the store(s) you’ll be visiting, and then make a meal list for at least a week, if not two or more.  Buy on sale, but not just because it’s on sale.  For example, don’t let cheap prices lure your family into stocking-up on processed foods.  Instead look for good prices on fresh foods that can be paired with items on hand in your pantry, or turned into pantry items (i.e. a cheap price on strawberries becomes a year’s worth of homemade strawberry jam).  Also look for good sales on your common pantry items.  Try not to buy anything at the store that isn’t on your  list, unless you find a good deal on a healthy item that will expand your running list of meals.
  2. RESPONSIBLE USE.  If you appreciate flexibility like we do, avoid planning your meal list by the day of the week and instead just keep a numbered list of the complete meals you have on hand.  Remove meals as they are consumed and add them as they are acquired.  Put the meals that utilize the most perishable ingredients at the top of the list and make choices that don’t allow those items to go to waste (i.e. take-out can truly wait a night if you have fresh ingredients on hand you are letting spoil).  Save any leftovers from your prepared meals for lunches, save the unused portion of any ingredient for use in other meals (in fact, count on this when planning your list), and save the best scraps of meal preparation in freezer bags (for making great stocks, broths, gravies, casseroles, etc.).  If you see produce moving toward over-ripe, preserve it through freezing, dehydration, or canning; or let it motivate you to make something from it in impromptu fashion.
  3. EDUCATION.  Learn about the ingredients you buy and consume and how they are best stored and preserved.  Always take the extra moment to store things properly.  Label and date anything you freeze or otherwise preserve.

And if you really want to see our nation start to break its ties with the specter of mindless insatiability, I recommend a fourth.  Support one of the many programs nationwide that collects surplus foodstuffs from restaurants, grocery chains, produce warehouses, and distributes what would otherwise be thrown away to those who need it most.

An Off-Grid Future

Once upon a time I had the pleasure of living  in the beautiful nowhere of Arizona beneath an old, creaking windmill that rhythmically drew water up from the Earth for our pleasure. I have also lived without power and with a percentage of my power generated by the Wind and Sun.  These are all conditions I would return to.  In fact, I am planning on an off-grid future.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been researching innovations in the off-grid arena and thought I’d share just a smidge:

WIND

According to the Global Wind Energy Council the wind power industry grew 31% last year despite the economy, making wind power a 63 billion dollar a year industry.  Investors are not hesitating to throw their money into the wind.  Grin.

One of the most promising products for home wind energy production is Honeywell’s new gearless turbine, engineered to serve the mainstream.  It was named one of Popular Mechanics 10 Most Brilliant Products of 2009 and solves many of the issues commonly associated with personal wind turbines.  The gearless turbine requires only a quarter of the wind speed to generate power, compared to geared turbines of the same diameter!

SUN

Another promising product from Popular Mechanics 10 Most Brilliant Products list that I’d already taken notice of in the Blogosphere is the Andalay AC Solar PV Panel.  Because it’s an AC system, there’s no need for an inverter and a tricky wiring job.  All the mounts, racking and wiring are built right in.  Essentially the closest thing there is to plug-and-play power for the home user!

WATER

Unlike Sun and Wind, which can be more or less accessed by everyone to some degree, using hydro-power relies on being lucky enough to have access to a source of running water from the property.  Yet when there is a spring, creek, or river (or if you happen to live on a boat), a micro-hydro power system is the most constant and reliable source of renewable energy available.   The most recent advances in micro-hydro turbines seem to reflect a similar trends in the wind power industry toward permanent magnet motors with fewer parts.  This improves performance in every way – creating turbines with more responsivity and less parts to wear out.

BIO-DIESEL

As I don’t drive and don’t feel particularly inclined toward fuel-burning engines, bio-diesel is admittedly not my forte.   However, I am savvy enough of off-grid circles to have second-hand knowledge of the glory of the Listeroid, a heavy-duty diesel generator that can be run off of filtered waste vegetable oils.  The Lister diesel generator isn’t anything new.  In fact, it originally came onto the market in 1929 and is today a standard of the Amish.  It is also known for bringing a reliable power source to scores of remote locales around the globe.    It can specifically,  directly power older tools & equipment having belt drives, or newer devices like water pumps, as it works to generate power for your battery bank.  Good for an off-grid homestead!  Put one in your workshop and use it to power the tools, pump some water, and back-up the batteries of your primary system on calm, cloudy days!

FUEL CELL

Is this the future? The Bloom Box has been called technologies’ newest darling, perhaps in part to early high-profile customers like Google and e-bayThis fuel cell device is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, and it takes only two of these small boxes to power the traditional American household.  The suggestion is that for an initial investment of roughly $6k the standard American home will be able to become their own power center; just order on-line and set it up without having to worry about wiring.   Also, because the boxes can generate both energy and hydrogen the company describes a future where Bloom Boxes are paired with solar and wind systems to enable 24-hour power AND are used distribute hydrogen to “hydrogen fueling infrastructures”, potentially providing fuel for your hydrogen-powered car.  While you still have to feed the Bloom Box fuel after your initial investment, they are capable of using renewable bio-fuels, converting the fuel into electricity and hydrogen at over twice the standard rates.  It is this factor – that fossil fuels aren’t requisite – that is the Boxes’ saving grace and sets this technology apart from other similar (and failed) attempts at the same idea.

There are so many other amazing ideas  in development out there aimed at an off-grid future, from city-powering wave generators to kite-sails designed to harvest electricity for villages of clustered homes…the list goes on.  What I included here I kept on the home-powered, reasonably affordable scale.

The Impossible Hamster

The New Economics FoundationOne Hundred Months,  and  Wake Up, Freak Out have joined forces to produce this poignant video called The Impossible Hamster.  I really felt this and think it is probably the most adept illustration of the senselessness of unbridled economic growth anyone could hope to make in 1 minute 10 seconds:


Sustainability means Forethought

I originally composed this in response to Questions and Reflections in March of 2008.  I think it’s worth sharing here…

For me sustainability means Forethought… Fulfillment of needs (first) and desires (second) with consciousness of that fulfillment’s true impact and cost. In a sustainable system every player and every part must be considered in context of the Whole of which it is part.

It is my belief that the present civilization has everything it needs for ALL to live in sustainable abundance. The appearance of scarcity and lack are not Actuality but a reality based in horrific mismanagement and parasitic mentalities. It is accepted practice for an individual to seek out the greatest material gain regardless of larger imbalances; regardless of the risk, expense, and short fall to any other organism. Yet the economy of any organism/organized system is very much the corner stone to the sort of energetic dignity the organism maintains. (Think – root law of Cause and Effect necessitating Awareness of action and energy exchanged; economy is energy exchange; the quality of the harvest reflects the quality of the cultivation.) An economy of hording and greed propagates a reality of shortage, depletion, and extinction. An economy of Awareness and sustainability, based on Wholes instead of parts, creates sufficiency, refinement, and renewal.

Thus I feel that in our quest for sustainability, personal and collective economy will require refinement and redirection. Sustainability is greatly facilitated by eradicating the consumer mentality which values production and consumption above responsibility and true quality of Life. As our consciousness of Resources increases, so will our sustainable state.

(Note: I define Resources as the goods and services of both Nature and Humanity.)

World Change, Permaculture, and Sustainability

If the world is to be healed through Human efforts, I am convinced it will be by ordinary people, people whose love for this life is even greater than their fear!

~ Joanna Macy

I recently received an e-mail update on the World Change Conference being sponsored by Common Circle Education in Berkeley, California.  As someone interested in the intentional communities movement and intentional, sustainable lifestyles, I have followed Common Circle for years.  I deeply appreciate that they share the skills that ultimately build healthy communities.  And I love this formula that they offer on their site:

INTENTION + PRESENCE + PERMACULTURE DESIGN + HEALTHY COMMUNITIES = TRUE SUSTAINABILITY

Anyhow.  Aforementioned e-mail led me to many links I thought were worthy of passing on here…

The Earth Precepts

Video: Permaculture 101

Permaculture Principles

The Northwest Institute

Transition Culture

Gaia Trust

The Great Turning

Bioneers

Regenerative Design Institute

Ecocity Builders

The Great Turning Times

Living Mandala

Occidental Arts and Ecology Center

Permaculture Magazine

Aranya Gardens

Friends of Earth

And a few videos… enjoy!

Be Aware: Keep Evil out of the Fridge!

If you have watched Food, Inc. then you likely remember Monsanto by way of their Nazi-esque lawyers, fighting tirelessly against the American Farmer and People on behalf of Genetically Modified Organisms everywhere.  Monsanto is scary stuff.  And if I were to start including the word ‘evil’ in my vernacular, I’d apply it to them first.  In fact, did I mention that their name means ‘Sacred Mountain’ and that Satan is often referred to as the Lord of the Mountain?  No joke.  I’ve also read that they bring their people straight into the present day from a time-machine developed in their lab to seek out the soul-less, extract them from their wicked past, and fashion them as corporate heads… not good.

Not only is Monsanto disproportionately rich and powerful, they presently own – that is, hold patent on – over 90% of the seeds used to sustain America’s food supply.  Putting all our eggs into one basket isn’t the best idea to begin with, even the basket of the best Samaritan as any number of things may happen…but what about putting all of our precious eggs into one really greedy basket that wants nothing more than to hold all the eggs?

Nearly every non-organic food product can be linked to Monsanto directly (i.e. without any degrees of separation) through one or more of its ingredients.  So guess who’s regularly one of organic food’s biggest adversaries?  Guess who makes no bones about wanting full control?

Inspired by this blog I’m jumping on the bandwagon to expose the evil that might be disguising itself beneath a variety of false but appealing appearances in your pantry and fridge.  As Bob Cesca (of aforementioned blog) says, “Let’s make Monsanto a household name!”  In the spirit of avoidance, that it.   In the same way word quickly spreads about any other plague.

The best way to counter their presence is to buy organic and obtain what you can from local Farmer’s Markets and cottage industries.  If that isn’t possible, limit your exposure to processed foods; stick with labels that your grandmother would understand! Or, better yet, start growing whatever you can!

P.S. ~ Don’t be fooled by the rather shining statements released by Monsanto’s PR rep in favor of organic, sustainable, non-GMO agriculture.  In fact, let it illuminate that such only makes them slick tongued as their actions clearly and loudly speak the complete opposite.  This is a rather obvious attempt to put some distance between themselves and evil incarnate in the eyes of the press, who drives their public, who lines their pockets.  If you let it soften you, kudos to Monsanto’s PR department.  Score for them.  Personally, I’m hoping that when they got that extra dose of greed in their construct, it was at the cost of sufficient intelligence.  Case in point –  as part of their image-altering campaign Monsanto’s representative claims that he himself only consumes locally grown, organic produce and meats!  Excuse me?  Is anyone else hearing a really shrill alarm??  This is certainly no proof of the big heart they claim to possess (unless we are talking about the one they have locked in a box somewhere and held in awe by their leaders as the one treasure they cannot patent).  That their own representative avoids feeding their genetically engineered products to his family, couldn’t be a more glaring testament to the true nature of this corporate beast.

Conscious Consumerism

Conscious consumerism first requires local action, which is largely facilitated through the concept of bioregionalism.  That is, we are called on to think about the impact of our choices on the local region and consider purchases from the standpoint of sustaining the local biodiversity.  For many that means changing the way we acquire things.  It means shopping local vendors, supporting local agriculture through the regional Farmer’s Market and CSA projects, and discovering your area’s talents and intelligences.  It means stewarding the local community and its unique culture.  Imagine what people united in this effort can accomplish!

Where to Find Organic Products and Services in your area.

Where to Find CSA Farms in your area.

Where to Find a Farmer’s Market in your area.

Where to Buy Fair Trade Certified Products in your area.

How to support Local Farmers.

How to implement your own Sustainable Action Plan.

How to start your own Buy Local Campaign. (PDF Document)

I am from a rather radical school of thought that thinks in a Golden Civilization – a Civilization truly illuminated by the Light of Consciousness – a community that wasn’t sustainable wouldn’t exist.  This is the “solution” for providing sustainable abundance to All (if that is what you desire for the Future).  In keeping with this radical idea I also think that things are best priced based on their true resource and energy consumption (that includes Human energy), and should become more expensive the further they have to travel to arrive at your door…but that’s just my freaky dream of a good future economy!

Back in today’s world, however, if you can’t find what you’re looking for where you live, here are a few good places to turn:

The Conscious Consumer Marketplace

EarthLover

Global Girlfriend

Frontier Natural Products Co-op

The Back to the Land Store