HOW TO FIGHT FOOD WASTE WITH FOOD WASTE
Dec 14, 2016 by Casey Coates Danson
As much of the country remains in the grip of a wicked spell of early winter courtesy of a polar vortex, the bounty of farmers market season sure can feel a long way off right about now. But thanks to one emerging food-tech start-up, we may one day soon be enjoying far fresher produce year-round—and the solution is all-natural.
For much of the last half century, the relationship between technology and food production has been one of decidedly mixed blessings—just think of all those chemical pesticides or the revolution of GMO crops. Yet today, a new generation of start-ups is trying to make a happier marriage between science and food. You’ve likely heard of (and probably tasted) the efforts of companies like Hampton Creek to replace eggs with plant-based ingredients in a host of products, such as mayonnaise. Now Apeel Sciences, based in Santa Barbara, California, is looking to bring a similar spirit of Silicon Valley–style disruption to the whole business of produce.
Despite the loads of health benefits associated with consuming fresh produce and the relentless encouragement from health experts that we eat more fruits and veggies, getting said produce to market is enormously expensive and wasteful. An estimated 40 percent of all fruits and vegetables grown in the U.S. ends up in the trash. Too much of what makes it to your local grocery store is often coated in layers of wax to keep it as fresh—or, rather, fresh looking—as possible.
Apeel has developed what appears to be a revolutionary solution to this conundrum: By taking plant material that would ordinarily be wasted (grape skins from wine production, for example, or broccoli stems) and engineering a micro-thin, invisible, tasteless “barrier” that can be applied to produce, the company hopes to dramatically extend the shelf life of everything from strawberries and bananas to green beans. That not only would cut down on the amount of produce wasted but could allow growers to harvest produce at its peak ripeness—and maybe we’d no longer have to settle for those hard, tasteless red things that pass for fresh strawberries.
What’s even more inspiring about Apeel is where it has been testing its products. As The New York Times reported, founder James Rogers and fellow University of California, Santa Barbara, grad student Jenny Du began developing the Apeel protective produce barriers in a garage (just like all the best Silicon Valley entrepreneurs) and, in 2012, received a $100,000 award from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The foundation was interested in the potential of Rogers’ work to help small-scale farmers in Africa bring their cassava root to market. A major staple of the African diet, cassava root degrades quickly after harvest. “If not consumed or processed in 24 to 48 hours, you lose significant amounts,” Rob Horsch of the foundation told the Times. “That makes it hard to generate any income from what’s produced, and a lot of it goes to waste.” Yet by using one of Rogers’ protective barriers, farmers were able to double the shelf life of cassava—a development that’s expected to create a $1 billion market for cassava in Nigeria alone, the Times reported.
So far here in the states, Apeel has raised $40 million in venture capital funding, and the company says it is in negotiations with a number of produce companies to begin selling its products at commercial scale. Ten-day-old organic bananas that stay yellow instead of turning brown-black? That day couldn’t come soon enough.
How to Make DIY Food Gifts for the Holidays
Next week is the winter solstice, and take heart: We are closer to spring than we were in September. That said, we all still have the holidays to think about—this year brings a lively mash-up of Christmas and Hanukkah—as well as everyday meals.
Although it’s great fun to write about seasonal treats such as holiday cookies, craft cocktails, potato latkes, or festive sides—it’s the latter challenge that interests me the most. Let’s face it: Trying to shop sustainably and then translating what you buy into nourishing meals on a regular basis isn’t the easiest job, especially now, when time and energy are in short supply. Last December, I wrote about a number of strategies and ideas that get me through the holidays and beyond, and this week, in what is my last column for TakePart (RIP), I feel compelled to circle back.
These are tough times, after all, for folks who love to eat and cook in a mindful way. Granted, it has never been simpler to find certified-organic produce or humanely raised meat, for example, or to feed vegetarians and vegans, Paleos, or raw foodists. But dealing with our present food system involves any number of difficult choices, leaving us stressed, depressed, hyper-vigilant, and just plain exhausted—and even more in need of the sustenance and connection that we find when we gather around a table together and eat something delicious.
Particularly in cold weather, when most of us don’t have access to a great range of local vegetables and fruits, I find myself relying on homemade condiments to provide interest and intrigue in all sorts of dishes. Not only do you have control over the ingredients used (no nasty preservatives or high-fructose corn syrup, for instance), but you can minimize packaging waste while maximizing freshness. And did I mention that they make great last-minute presents? Just saying.
With the New Year rapidly approaching, this is also an excellent time for a kitchen reset. Reorganizing or updating your pantry is a biggish project but one that will pay dividends throughout 2017. At the very least, having a stockpile of power condiments—the ultimate quick fixes—in your culinary repertoire allows you to add complexity and brightness to any number of weekday meals. You will find four of my favorites below, and I can’t begin to tell you how hard it was to choose.
Happy Hols! Happy New Year! Here’s hoping you’ve found Jane Says enlightening, entertaining, and yes, infuriating at times. Promise me you’ll never be afraid to step back from what you know—or think you know—about food. I sure as hell won’t. Now, let’s all go cook something sustainable and sustaining for the people we love.
The roasty-toasty Egyptian seed-and-spice mixture called dukkah (pronounced “dook-ah” and derived from the Arabic word meaning “to pound”) is typically eaten on bread dipped in olive oil and served at breakfast or as a starter—but why stop there? In My Paris Kitchen, David Lebovitz writes that dukkah is a great base for the world’s fastest-to-make dip, and it’s true. Mix it with good olive oil—I like to use a mild, fruity French one, such as Alziari—and serve with slices of seeded baguette, fresh pitas, or crudités. Dukkah is also delicious on roasted cauliflower à la Lebovitz or sprinkled on a fried egg sandwich or avocado toast. There are many different versions of dukkah, but my go-to recipe is from Lebovitz’s book. That’s not as much of a disconnect as it may seem; thanks to the Romans and Arabs, spices were used very early on in France.
Shopping and prep notes: Buy the hazelnuts, sesame seeds, and pumpkin seeds from a place with a high turnover and taste before using. If they’re rancid, take them back. Toast each spice separately so some don’t burn (they’ll be bitter), and let the mixture cool before grinding; otherwise, you may end up with a paste instead of a dry, loose, crumbly blend.
A compound butter is simply butter creamed with a flavoring or two—minced shallot and thyme, say. A classic French accompaniment for topping everything from steak to steamed vegetables, it is basically an instant sauce—and an easy way to add finesse to the scratchiest of scratch suppers. What’s called maître d’hotel butter is reason alone for a (grass-fed) steak: With a fork, mash together a stick of softened unsalted butter with a quarter teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, a tablespoon of lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley, and half a teaspoon of coarse salt until combined well. Put the butter on a sheet of wax paper or parchment paper and form into a log, then refrigerate for at least an hour to let the flavors develop. In an anchovy butter, a dollop of anchovy paste adds depth and that certain something called umami without tasting the least bit fishy; it’s delicious on a steak or burger, lamb, or chicken. A mustard-lemon butter is especially good on chicken and fish and makes “eating the rainbow” more delicious than ever.
Prep note: A compound butter keeps in the fridge for a couple days. Wrapped well in wax paper and foil, then frozen, it will keep at least a month; just lop off slices as needed and voilà! Dinner is served.
Quick Mexican Pickled Onions
This quick pickle from Zanne Stewart, former head of the food department at Gourmet magazine, was a staff favorite, as it adds a piquant crunch to everything from a turkey sandwich to tacos, burritos, or veggie burgers. Rosy-pink in color, the onions are as pretty as they are versatile, and a jar of them is a near permanent fixture in my fridge. Here’s how you make them: Bring 2 cups water, 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons sugar, and 1 teaspoon coarse salt to a boil in a 1-quart heavy saucepan. Stir in a medium red onion that’s been halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise. Simmer, uncovered, until the onions are crisp-tender, which takes all of about 3 minutes. Drain and cool to room temperature before refrigerating.
This blend of hot chiles, garlic, olive oil, and spices is a traditional condiment and flavor base in Tunisia and other parts of North Africa. Like dukkah (above), various versions abound. You can find commercial brands at specialty shops and online, but nothing beats the profound, elemental taste of homemade. My latest go-to rendition is from Jerusalem: A Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, and its heat is deep, rich, and perfectly balanced. Use it every which way—alongside grilled meats or fish, slicked onto a roasted chicken or vegetables, or stirred into stews, soups, couscous. I could eat it on cornflakes.
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