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Consider this Pineapple: Some Thoughts on Food Waste

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Consider this Pineapple: Some Thoughts on Food Waste

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By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

What’s on this week’s table for your patriotic Taiwanese?

Freedom pineapples!

As the WSJ reports:

…These days, pineapple consumption is seen as an act of patriotism. Taiwan residents have been gobbling up the fruit since China—by far the island’s largest outside buyer—banned imports of their pineapples starting March 1, citing dangerous pests detected in recent shipments.

Does that mean we should all rush out and try and get our hands on a Taiwanese pineapple, in solidarity with the position of the island vis-à-vis the mainland? Must we also embrace offerings described by the WSJ:

Like many people in Taiwan, Allen Hsueh has a newfound fervor for pineapple.

The 38-year-old chef has come up with at least a dozen new recipes for his restaurant in Kaohsiung, called Pomme de Terre, including pork-wrapped pineapple with mozzarella cheese, red curry seafood with pineapple and spiced chicken breast and pineapple salad. The 20 spots for a special five-course, pineapple-inspired meal, scheduled later this month, filled up in a day.

Perhaps not – I think I draw the line at pineapple with mozzarella cheese.

But there are other sound reasons not to jump on the pineapple bandwagon, whether or not the fruit comes from Taiwan and depending on where one lives. A Gizmodo article also caught my eye, for its discussion of the problem of food waste, The World Wastes 1 Billion Tons of Food a Year, and It’s Frying the Planet;

If you’ve ever overstuffed your fridge and let some leftovers go bad in the back of it, you’re not alone. People toss more than 1 billion tons of food in the trash every year, according to a new United Nations report. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

A Thursday report by the UN Environment Program and the UK-based food charity WRAP found that in 2019, the world wasted 1.03 billion tons of food. That’s 17% of all the food the world produced that year, or enough to load up 23 million food trucks that would circle the Earth seven times if lined up bumper-to-bumper.

Nearly two-thirds of all food waste came from households. Another 26% came from food service waste, and 13% came from grocery stores and other retailers. The billion-ton total in the report doesn’t take into account food wasted earlier in the supply chain, like on farms and in factories. If you factor those in, the report estimates a third of all food gets tossed annually.

That sounds bad enough on it’s own, but when you also consider that 820 million people went hungry in 2019, it’s absolutely maddening. And to make matters worse, all this food waste is also feeding the climate crisis. It takes a lot of energy to grow and harvest crops and then transport, process, and package them, and when food rots in landfills it also produces methane, a greenhouse gas 80 times more planet-warming than carbon in the short term. The authors estimate that up to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food that is not consumed.

“If food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions,” Inger Andersen, the Environmental Programme’s executive director, said. “Food waste also burdens waste management systems, exacerbates food insecurity, making it a major contributor to the three planetary crises of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste.”

That’s a lot of food. One billion tonnes. But I think rotted food per se comprises only a proportion of the resource waste that the current food production system generates. Another source of waste is shipping foodstuffs vast distances, so that consumers with means can enjoy just about any food during any season of the year.

The Gizmodo does gesture at the notion that the current food production system is deeply flawed:

…Our capitalist food production system churns out food with an emphasis on increasing profit, not maintaining sustainability or wiping out hunger. To really get to the root of our food waste system, that’s what has to change.

But I’d be a bit more specific and say that  if we’re going to come to grips with the full impact our approach to food contributes to global warming, we have to consider the energy costs of moving the food hither and yon  as well. (Other than this transportation, I leave aside the contribution Big Ag makes to global warming.)

My husband and I do try to eat seasonally and locally, thus compressing the miles food travels from where it originates to our table – although achieving this goal has been more difficult since I returned to New York the week before Christmas, having mostly been out of the country since early December 2019.

Now whereas in New York City, where I have a home, I can shop at the city’s greenmarkets – both the official ones, and others that had popped up to cater to the appetite of city residents for locally-produced food. Or at least I could do so before the onset of the pandemic. Like so many other aspects of New York City life, I I imagine that the pandemic has damaged the city’s greenmarkets.

At the moment, however, I’m spending much of my time at  Point Lookout, on Long Island, and here, at this time of year, I’m limited to supermarkets – and not very good ones at that.  (I find them so depressing that I’m happy for my husband to do our  weekly shopping and in fact he just left to complete that chore.)

Certainly none feature any local produce. From late spring through autumn, there ‘s a decent Saturday farmer’s market in Long Beach, as well as others in surrounding towns.. And I recently discovered the amazing Two Cousins Fish Market, on the Freeport Nautical Mile. Since my first visit on the last Saturday in  February when I bought and then immediately froze much of what we’d purchased, I’ve both grilled fresh ardines and home-cured them; made scallop ceviche with some cherry tomatoes I’d fermented; sautéed prawns and served them over spaghetti; and made a Thai curry with mixed fish – calamari, scallops, prawns and monkfish. All fish were caught in the waters surrounding either New York or New Jersey, save for the prawns, which I think came from Florida. This fishmongeris a real treasure: they sell lots of whole fish, which they’ll clean for you, and rather than jacking up prices the way many specialty food purveyors do, the prices here are a fraction of specialty food shops or supermarkets. And did I mention the fish is super fresh?

Alas, I’m not so lucky with my sourcing of either fruits or vegetables, all of which have logged far too many miles during their journeys to our table. So, I’ve found myself eating citrus fruits from Florida and California. Lots of vegetables trucked across from California: fennel, carrots, celeriac, beets, onions, potatoes, tomatoes. Spinach, arugula, radicchio. various forms of sprouts. Some avocados.

We eat whatever we buy and when vegetables look like they’re turning, I make them into stock. I also save peels and trimmings in the fridge, and that ‘waste’ also gets made into stock.

I’ve also succumbed to the occasional pineapple.

Which is not a local food here in New York.

The taste of the pineapple has made me miss India, which I’ve typically visited as a tourist many times during the last decade and a half. Now, is a great time to be in India, just before the summer heat arrives. All the versions of tropical fruits – bananas, pineapple, papaya – taste so much better in India. What I can get here in New York just don’t taste the same: the fruits mere pallid imitations of the real thing. I think that’s because India, for all the problems it still has with wasting food as it travels from source to table, the distance food travels to get from farmers to consumers is far less than it does in the U.S. Indian agricultural production is still distributed throughout the country, Fewer miles mean food is fresher, and better tasting. I should mention that even residents of the vast city of Calcutta enjoy access to very fresh food and vegetables, at cheap prices, much of which is brought to the city from where it’s grown in the surrounding wetlands via small vehicles and bicycles – although I understand that this food distribution system was disturbed first by COVID lockdowns and then by cyclone Amphan that slammed West Bengal in May – the worst such storm since the 18th century (see Climate Change: Hurricanes Getting Stronger; Cyclone Amphan Pummels Bengal).

While I’m discussing the lusciousness of Indian fruits, I must mention mangoes – a culinary consolation that makes it easier to endure the braising of a Calcutta summer. Mangoes I’ve eaten in the U.S. fall far, far short of the Indian ideal. They’re rarely properly ripened, and they lack the complexity of a Himsagar or Langra – and don’t achieve the perfection of mangoes I’ve been gifted by friends whose families still grow traditional varieties,  because their taste is so magnificent even though they’re unsuited suited to commercial production.

(And, allow me to digress for a moment, and forestall the inevitable comment from one of our Indian readers, and make it clear I deliberately ignored the alfonso, often extolled as the king of mangoes – although I think it’s over-rated, too large, too sweet, entirely one-dimensional. And I’ll offer a hypothesis as to why it enjoys such a fine reputation: it’s a Bombay specialty. And residents of that city are not known for being shy and retiring. It’s no accident that Bombay is home to Bollywood (For more on types of mangoes, see From Alphonso to Dasheri to Langra: 10 types of mangoes and how to identify them).

I’ll now head away from my mango memories and back to my subject: my pineapple. I admit that my purchase of that fruit is in one sense wasteful: it traveled far to get to me.  Alas, so did much of the other fruit and veg we’ve eaten since December. I see no way around that during this time of pandemic. if I want to each fish fruit and veg.

But if I’m going to be wasteful on the food miles front, I’m not going to be wasteful long on the rotted food dimension. Nor will I waste any part of that pineapple.

Now, I think it was Fergus Henderson, the chef and author of Nose to Tail Eating – and here I paraphrase – who said if one’s going to eat animals, one owes it to the animal to eat all parts of it: nose to tail (see Jay Rayner’s recent piece in the Guardian, Fergus Henderson’s ‘whole animal’ recipes inspired chefs on both sides of the Atlantic).

So, applying a variant of that Henderonian principle to my pineapple – and employing my newly-cultivated skill at fermenting food – just as soon as I load this post, I’m going to make tepache – a Mexican specialty made from the skin of a whole pineapple. Alternatively, one can ferment bananas- one of the most wasted foods on the planet, and there’s of course only so much banana bread one can make; tepache can also be made from banana skins as well My recipe comes from the Fermentation: River Cottage Handbook No.18, and includes filtered water, brown sugar, ginger root, cloves, cardamom pods, and a cinnamon stick.

This only takes a day or two to ferment: I’ll report back sometime on the success of this project.

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