“Hmmm. Preservatives make things last a lot longer. So food that lasts a long time?”
Mom nodded. “You’re on the right track, kiddo. See if you can figure out what the preservatives might be by looking at the stickers with the printed ingredient lists.”
“To the kitchen, Sassafras!” I announced. “We’re going on a preservative hunt!”
from Zoey and Sassafras: Monsters and Mold
story by Asia Citro
pictures by Marion Lindsay
The Innovation Press, 2017
(read on Libby 7/24/22)
How long does a Twinkie last? Really. That question began an over 40-year-long science experiment in a high school in Maine. The Twinkie sat on top of the chalkboard in the science lab for 20 years. In 2016, it went into a see-through case and sits on the school director’s desk.
It doesn’t look quite as good as it did in 1976. It might not even be edible, but it’s the school’s claim to fame. The director contacted Hostess in 2016 to see if they’d take it as a donation, but I couldn’t discover if Hostess has replied, yet. By the way, Hostess is scheduled to report the results of its second quarter (ended June 30, 2022) tomorrow, Wednesday, August 3, 2022, after market close.
Preservatives aside for a moment, food waste is a huge world-wide problem. Close to 1/3 of all food produced is wasted. At 30-40% here in the United States, we fall right in the middle of that average. Spoilage occurs at every stage of food production from the farm to the refrigerator. Problems can happen in planting, growing, harvesting, milling, and transporting. Equipment malfunctions can allow food to get too hot or too cold, and damage it before it is consumed.
Buying too much can be a problem. Choosing only the most beautiful peach or pineapple and leaving the rest often results in the grocery produce department’s contribution to waste. In 2015, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s agency on Food Loss and Waste set a goal of 50% reduction by 2030. That 50% means a reduction of waste sent to landfills down to 109.4 pounds per person per year. That still sounds like a lot to me.
Here's the USDA’s definition of food loss and waste: the edible amount of food, postharvest, that is available for human consumption but is not consumed for any reason. It does not include moisture loss due to cooking and unlike some recycling statistics, does NOT include inedible parts of food like banana peels, egg shells, and bones.
Food waste is the largest single category of material sent to landfills. And food in landfills produces the greenhouse gas methane. So the wasting food also wastes water and land.
A report from the Union of Concerned Scientists describes the growing number of innovative farmers and scientists who are moving toward sustainable farming to bring food and textiles to market in ways that are compatible with our earth. The impacts are environmental, economic and social.
Environmental Sustainability includes building healthy soil, managing water wisely, minimizing air and water pollution, and promoting biodiversity.
Economically and Socially Sustainable agriculture enables farms, large, small, and medium-sized to be profitable and contribute to their local economies. It supports the next generation of farmers and workers, promotes racial equity and justice, and creates access to healthy food for everyone. Economically and Socially Sustainable agriculture prioritizes people and communities over corporate interests.
The new field of agroecology studies and implements how to work with nature rather than against it. Agroecology promotes the interconnectedness of environmental, economic and social factors we need to create a truly sustainable world.
But that is them. What can we do to reduce our own food waste?
- Download the free FoodKeeper app from USDA. Type in chicken, strawberries, or pickles. Tap the “go” button and discover how long you can store your items.
- Check food safety guidelines from the FDA.
- Label and date leftovers. I started doing this at the beginning of the pandemic. I was shopping less and buying more each trip. It required a little more organization, a roll of masking tape and a sharpie, but not much time.
- If you’re interested in composting, look at the EPA’s Composting Fact Sheet.
- Use your senses. If something smells bad, it most likely is. Get rid of it. If something looks bad, check out the website www.eatortoss.com It includes a food index and “Use-it-Up Recipes.”
- Take “use by” and “best buy” dates with a grain of salt.
Canned goods? According to www.foodnetwork.com “best by” is a label assigned by the manufacturer. FoodNetwork.com quotes the Can Manufacturer's Institute, “canning is a high-heat process, so it preserves food and prevents the growth of any bad organisms. Canned food is forever safe. But, it notes quality may be affected. And dented and bulging cans are NOT safe! Toss the food, recycle the can.
Preservatives are added to processed foods to make them last longer. The FDA has the primary role in approving a particular preservative or not after rigorous and ongoing testing. For more information about the safety and controversy of food additives, check LiveStrong.com They use recent and relevant research, use experts to review their articles before they’re published. They do their own “fact checking” to assure accuracy.
LiveStrong’s bottom line is, it’s safer to eat preservatives than risk eating foods infected by bacteria and fungi. The balance comes in the next sentence. If you want to avoid eating preservatives, eat more whole foods and fewer packaged ones.
Reducing food waste is a noble goal. On my own small scale it won’t make a dent in the 820 million people in the world who are hungry or even the one in eight Americans who face food insecurity, but working together, each of our own small efforts is part of a very big picture.
-—be curious! (enjoy summer’s produce)