Episode 3: You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby Carrot | Unfold Podcast

AMY: Hey Alexa, check it out. Got my healthy snack…a bag of baby carrots. Want one? ALEXA: Yeah, I love baby carrots. AMY: You know, these are actually baby-cut
carrots. There’s a difference. ALEXA: I bet you’re going to explain the difference to me now aren’t you? AMY: How did you know? [Music plays] AMY: So baby carrots just look like the smaller versions
of the full grown carrots, you know the ones with the leafy tops and everything? You’ve probably seen them in those fancy
restaurants you frequent, right? ALEXA: Yeah, because I go to so many of them. But yes, I know that they do sell them there. AMY: Baby-cut carrots – which are two inches
long and peeled and come in these nice little packages — were invented by a California
carrot farmer. ALEXA: Naturally. AMY: Yeah, in Bakersfield, back in the 80’s. This farmer got tired of having to throw away
imperfect carrots, those that the consumer, you know, wouldn’t go for –that might be too twisted
or knobby or whatever. ALEXA: Yeah I saw this carrot one time, on
the internet, of course, that looked like it had crossed legs. You can actually Google it. AMY: Anyway, he thought, why waste more
than 400 tons of carrots a day when you can instead take an industrial green bean cutter… ALEXA: Which obviously every carrot farmer
just happens to have lying around the house, right? AMY: Yeah, and cut the imperfect carrots into perfect
two-inch lengths, then take an industrial potato peeler. ALEXA: Again, every carrot farmer must have one of those just lying around the house. AMY: and peel it to perfection! ALEXA: Well, that’s a fabulous story, Amy. Why should we care? [Music abruptly stops] AMY: Two reasons. One, I like baby-cut carrots. and I like sharing interesting stories I find
on the internet. And two, it was an innovative solution for
preventing food waste. ALEXA: That’s three reasons, Amy. AMY: Oh, yeah. [laughs] I was never very good at math. ALEXA: Food waste is a huge problem. AMY: Yup, we found that out by talking to
Ned Spang, an assistant professor here at UC Davis in the Food Science and Technology
Department. NED: All the food that we’re cultivating
in the field, and all the animals that we’re rearing or fish that we’re capturing, you
put that all together across the supply chain and its one third of all that food never gets eaten. Amy: How does that strike you? NED: It strikes me as a major problem, I mean, you
put a lot of resources into food products, it requires a lot of land, a lot of water
to grow crops, a lot of energy to transport this food from one place to another to refrigerate
it, to process it, so if we put all those inputs into this food, and it’s not, ultimately
not eaten, it’s not the best use of those resources. ALEXA: Not the best use of resources? That’s probably a bit of an understatement. AMY: Yeah. ALEXA: It’s terrible! AMY: And Ned told us the waste doesn’t start
with what you scrape off your plate, right? It happens all along the food supply chain. ALEXA: And experts believe that if we could stop food from being thrown away, it could go a long way to help feed the hungry and a growing population. AMY: Not to mention preventing it from ending
up in a landfill and contributing to climate change. ALEXA: It’s MAJOR task. But maybe we could come up with ideas like that carrot farmer had in Bakersfield. AMY: Which is why we’re calling this episode
of Unfold…. ALEXA: You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby Carrot. AMY: You mean baby-CUT carrot. ALEXA: Ugh, whatever. [annoyed] AMY: [laughs] [Unfold theme music plays] ALEXA: Coming to you from our basement studios at UC Davis. AMY: This is Unfold. A podcast where we break down complicated problems and discuss solutions. I’m Amy Quinton. ALEXA: And I’m Alexa Renee. [Unfold theme music fades] ALEXA: Amy I’m guessing there’s only one good place to start a podcast episode about food waste. AMY: Yup…Where most of it ends up… at a landfill. So I went to one! In Western Placer County – that’s just northeast of Sacramento. ALEXA: Why did you go all the way out there? AMY: Good question. The Waste Management Authority in Western Placer County not only has a landfill but a composting facility and of course, a MRF [murf]. ALEXA: A what? AMY: A MRF. It’s a Materials Recovery Facility. It’s about 50 acres. And just one side of the building looks like you’re walking into a a giant airplane hangar. It’s where I met Eric Otto, the program manager, to show me around. [Landfill ambient sounds include truck motors, shuffling of garbarge] ERIC: All the residential and
commercial waste that has been received in the county shows up here, this is the receiving
floor where the garbage trucks will unload and then we’ll put it into a pile and do
some initial sorting to pull out large stuff like tires, like wood, like large pieces of
plastic. AMY: In front of us, truck after truck after truck drive in and dump trash It’s both garbage and recycling mixed together before it’s sorted. AMY: So… they just dumped one load of trash and
it is really disgusting. There’s food waste, there’s an old shoe, there’s cardboard
boxes, there’s metal, there’s an old vacuum cleaner, there’s a couch….a printer just
landed near me. AMY: Eric says about 200 trucks a day drive into this receiving area. ERIC: We take in about 1,000 tons every day- every weekday- a little less on the weekends. AMY: And some of it is food. If it ends up here, it goes to their landfill where it sits forever generating methane, a potent greenhouse gas. In California, the laws require only big generators of food waste like large restaurants, supermarkets and food processors to recycle their food waste. Eric takes me outside to show me. ERIC: We have a pile in front of us that is
relatively new and uncomposted food waste and organic products in there. So you can
see a lot of the- a lot of the food still mixed in there. I can see some sweet potatoes and some oranges
and other kinds of fruit, it looks like someone rolled it around in a bunch of dirt, and is
pretty mushy and is starting to decompose and then that’s mixed with a lot of ground up
green waste. AMY: You know look at these, some of this
food does not look like it’s spoiled. I mean obviously I wouldn’t want to eat it
now, but when it went into the garbage it probably was edible. ERIC: Oh absolutely. But you know we as a society,
when you go into the grocery store, everything has to be perfect and look nice, and even
something that is slightly blemished, you’ll find that those groceries stores take it off
the shelves because they know they know that it won’t move. AMY: Gosh. I mean this is amazing to
me. ERIC: It’s equally shocking and saddening that you see this. That there’s so many places where folks don’t have enough to eat and we’re throwing
away perfectly good food. [Music interlude] AMY: The amount of food we throw away is staggering. In California, about 18 percent of materials that go into the landfill is wasted food. We throw away about 30 million tons in the U.S. And worldwide, we waste 1.3 billion metric tons. Alexa, I gotta say, I did some math. ALEXA: Oh no. AMY: No really, this time I looked it up and
used a calculator. [laughing] To put that 1.3 billion metric tons into perspective. That’s more than 9 million blue whales,
which is the largest mammal on earth. ALEXA: That makes me really sad. AMY: I know I can’t even imagine that. ALEXA: On that note, let’s unfold how all this
food waste ends up in the landfill, because like we said earlier, food waste isn’t just
what you scrape off your plate. AMY: Right, there are also food losses, which
Ned says start where the food is grown. [Music fades] NED: There’s losses that are left in the
field, when food is not harvested for one of many reasons. Could be market prices don’t make it worthwhile
to harvest some crops in the field, or you might have weather damage to, for example, hail
damage to peaches in the field and not collect that out of the field. AMY: Some food also might not look right – right? And
farmers know it won’t sell. In fact, there are official USDA grade standards
for food that play an unintentional role in food losses. These are legal quality standards that the
industry has to meet in order to market their product with certain labels. ALEXA: Yeah so, Beth Mitcham, a UC Davis post-harvest specialist in plant sciences, told us about that. BETH: Each of these grades will allow a certain
amount of defects and misshapen product and etcetera. In a lot of cases, there are a lot of criteria
that are based on the appearance of the product, so how uniform is the shape and the color and
things that may not really have too much to do with the eating quality or the utility of that product. And therefore, it’s not worth the cost of
labor and handling for the farmer to harvest it so it gets left behind in the field. AMY: This is just extraordinary to me Alexa,
like just because just because if something looks wrong, that they are going to leave all this food
behind in the field. ALEXA: But at the same time, it makes sense,
because think about the way that our perception of things are, a lot of the time its visual. AMY: Right. So you might be asking, ”Wait, aren’t their groups
and organizations that go out on farms and pick up all those peaches?” ALEXA: Yeah. It’s called gleaning. And there are definitely people that do that and take the food to food banks. AMY: The problem is that the scale of food
recovery on the farm is so small compared to ultimately what is lost. And Ned Spang says it’s really difficult
to do. NED: One of the real issues that came up in
our discussions with growers is that during harvest time a direct quote is that they operate
like a house on fire, they have so much going on, and so many people to manage and, you know, orders
to fill that it’s really hard to have other people come onto the land at harvest time and collect
some of these additional crops, it’s just a logistical challenge. ALEXA: All these losses at harvest time add up. BETH: The estimates for post-harvest losses
in the United States from field to consumer are more on the order of about 15 percent. Once you get to the consumer level it’s
about 40 to 50 percent. ALEXA: So we only have ourselves to blame for all that food waste. AMY: Yep, consumers won’t pick out that
peach at the grocery store if it doesn’t look perfect, like we said, right? If it’s slightly bruised, like how many
times have you done this Alexa? Like that banana… just a little bruised,
I’ll go for the other one. ALEXA: And that behavior of turning away that imperfect produce that you’re talking about It actually reinforces all of those USDA grading standards. AMY: Yeah, so it’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy,
right? And here’s another thing about us picky
consumers. We live in fear of the best by date. ALEXA: Or is it sell by? AMY: Or best if used by? ALEXA: It’s all of the above! Which is why it’s so confusing! AMY: You know, the biggest misconception is that food
past its sell by or best by date is unsafe. ALEXA: But Ned told us that’s actually completely wrong. It’s not an expiration date. NED: Generally, those are recommendations
from the manufacturer. Those are not regulations or very scientific
representations of what is either going to make you sick or not. It really is a metric of quality usually to
make sure from the producer’s perspective that this should be on the shelf this long where
we can guarantee quality. ALEXA: That’s right. It’s the company telling you that it may not be perfect if you wait too long to eat it. AMY: Like a Triscuit past its best by date, might be slightly stale. What’s more… NED: The other issue with “best by” “sell by”
dates is that they’re not the same from state to state, there is a lot of variation
so that really compounds the misunderstanding on the consumer side and there really are
some efforts right now to really try to harmonize the language and the consistency of how those
labels are put on food products. AMY: The rule, according to the USDA, is that
foods that don’t have signs of spoilage can be sold, purchased, donated and consumed
beyond the “best if used by date” or “sell by” date. It’s not about safety. Of course, there is one caveat: dates on infant
formula are always about safety. ALEXA: So what can we do about all this waste? [Music plays] ALEXA: Well, our experts say there are some small things consumers can do that could make a huge difference. AMY: Number one, make frequent trips to the
grocery store rather than waiting a week or two and buying everything all at once. ALEXA: And that would prevent you from having to throw away spoiled food that you didn’t eat in time. AMY: Number two, Beth suggests planning your
meals so you know exactly how much to buy. BETH: Buying smaller quantities and then learning
about how to properly store things at home I think also can help. AMY: I have to say Alexa, it’s hard these
days to buy small quantities if you go to some stores. I went to the store the other day because
it was on my way home and I swear the smallest bag of shredded cheese I could find was three
times the size of my head, so you can imagine it was pretty big. ALEXA: [laughs] And Beth says those stores that only sell food in large quantities are in some ways feeding our food waste problem. [Music fades] BETH: Unfortunately I think it does play a
role because the quantities are just so large, if you’re not on top of it, it’s a lot
of food that can easily go to waste. AMY: Beth says unfortunately, buying in bulk
also means a huge cost savings, which is important when you’re on a tight budget. ALEXA: Amy she also mentioned how important it is to store food properly. This part I found really interesting. AMY: Yeah, I didn’t really know there was
such a thing as storing foods improperly, right? Bag of chips? Chip clip. Fruit and veggies? In the refrigerator. ALEXA: But there is a science in the way you should store your food in the fridge to make it last longer. BETH: You want to keep the ethylene sensitive
products away from the ethylene producing products. ALEXA: Yeah that’s exactly what I was going to say! [laughing] AMY: Ethylene is a gas released by some fruits
and vegetables that causes produce to ripen faster. ALEXA: How did you know that? AMY: I asked Alexa! Alexa: Oh. My. Gosh. [annoyed] AMY: I bet you never heard that one before. ALEXA: Yeah, only been hearing it for the past- two, three years? How long has Alexa existed? I don’t even know. Beth did describe what she meant. BETH: A good way to think about that is usually
it’s things that are green like lettuce cucumbers those are ethylene sensitive and
they will deteriorate faster and also turn yellow if they’re exposed to ethylene. Your fruit are the ones that are producing
ethylene. So in my vegetable bins I have one bin for the
fruit and one for vegetables. AMY: I seriously just thought that was a way
to keep the inside of the refrigerator neat and compartmentalized. Like my life. ALEXA: Yeah well Amy you are pretty chill. AMY: Or I avoid things, your call. ALEXA: [laughs] Anyways these tips for preventing consumer waste all sound like pretty easy solutions. AMY: Yet, we don’t do them. And Ned say if we ignore food loss and waste,
we do so at our own peril. AMY: Dun, dun, dun! ALEXA: Talk about a guilt trip. Well next time on Unfold, we won’t try to
make everyone feel guilty, okay? [Unfold theme music plays] In fact, we want to give you some hope. AMY: We’re going to look at how innovative
technologies – including biotechnology – may change the future of food and help feed a
growing population. ALEXA: Thanks for listening. [Unfold theme music fades]

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