Agricultural Biodiversity: Bean Days

Genetic erosion is a process where a limited gene pool of some species diminishes even more. In wild endangered plant and animal species, low genetic diversity leads to a further diminishing gene pool pushing that species towards eventual extinction.

Yet during the last century humanity has lost also a significant amount of agricultural biodiversity despite it being important for food security and dealing with a changing climate. [Read more…]

Food waste: Free carrots and no sticks

Food waste. An enormous problem. Approximately one-third of all the food humans produce gets wasted and remains uneaten.

Food waste is a major part of the impact of agriculture on climate change. In order to grow food, we cut down forests, we use fossil fuel to run farm equipment, produce nitrogen fertilizer, and distribute food to consumers. Moreover, when organic waste is not handled properly (through composting), it produces methane, a greenhouse gas, from anaerobic digestion of organic matter in a landfill. Also, non reclaimed phosphorus in food waste leads to further phosphate mining, which is a finite natural resource.

On one hand, humanity wastes a lot of food that we produce. Meanwhile, millions of impoverished people experience hunger and malnutrition. [Read more…]

Recipe: How to cook summer squash flowers, leaves, and stems

As soon as you look into ways how to reduce food waste, you realize that a lot of ingredients that people throw out are actually edible and tasty. Next you realize that for years you have been wasting lots of food and money and wish you had known sooner that some ingredient you used to throw out is tasty.

Summer squash flowers, leaves, leaf stems, and tiny immature fruit are edible. Same goes for zucchini, marrow, courgette, pumpkins, winter squash, etc. (Is it just me or are the English names of these vegetables confusing?) [Read more…]

Insidious Sexism

Everyday sexism. The small things in life. When I complain about such “minor” incidents, people tend to accuse me of nitpicking and making a fuss about nothing. But they are frequent, they happen all the time, again and again, day after day, and together they create a deeply sexist environment that enforces upon people outdated patriarchal gender roles. [Read more…]

Planning Fallacy: The Hidden Depths of Weeds

The planning fallacy is a phenomenon in which predictions about how much time will be needed to complete a future task display an optimism bias and underestimate the time needed. People commonly fall prey to this fallacy, so it would be advisable to start working on projects early. Then again, my own experience is that I tend to work more efficiently and focus on a task much better when I know that I have little time left and I cannot drag on some job. Thus for me starting some project way too early is counterproductive. The solution is then to plan my schedule so that I have enough time to comfortably finish some job but without having too much spare time, because the latter would unconsciously prevent me from working efficiently. [Read more…]

Rare and tasty: Chaenomeles japonica aka Japanese quince

In the world there are thousands of edible plants. Nonetheless, the average person probably consumes only a few dozen of those on a regular basis. Lowers of processed foods probably eat even fewer than that. In grocery stores there are hundreds (or thousands, in cases of supermarkets) of items that have an ingredient list consisting of refined wheat flour, sugar, and palm oil. Or corn. Or potatoes. Or something like that, one of the few ingredients that are everywhere, in almost every ready-made food item.

Some of the rarely eaten foods are ignored for good reasons: be it poor taste or difficult harvesting process or small harvests. Thus these plants are known as edible yet seldom eaten and labelled as a “survival food” and reserved for times of famines. But many of the neglected plants are really tasty and amazing. They are ignored merely because the corporations that provide our dinners are busy producing and processing wheat, corn, and potatoes and don’t care to add new ingredients to their recipes.

[Read more…]

Size is Relative: When Oversized American Kitchens Are Called “Tiny”

Americans have a skewed sense of size. They will use adjectives like “tiny” to describe living spaces and kitchen appliances that would be considered “huge” or at least “normal” in the rest of the world. I have long since learned to expect to see the trend towards glorifying large size and wasted space in American mainstream interior magazines. What surprises and worries me more is to see American environmental activists embracing the idea that their perfectly normal or even large living spaces should be called “tiny.” In my opinion, environmentally conscious people should refuse to accept and embrace American mainstream ideas about what ought to be considered “normal” in terms of size and also in terms of lifestyle choices. After all, size is relative, and we can choose our own vocabulary and benchmarks for what constitutes “large” or “small.” [Read more…]

Do this One Thing for the Climate

Scientists routinely identify some lifestyle habit that contributes to global warming and come up with a better alternative that causes less environmental harm. Then people recommend that others should change their lifestyles and do the better alternative whenever possible. So far so good. And then somebody shows up and says, “Let’s all do this one thing and we will save the planet.” Um, no, that’s not how it works. [Read more…]

The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread: How Consumer Demand for Convenience Increases Food Waste

The idiom “greatest thing since sliced bread” always felt odd for me. I am not a native English speaker; I learned the language when I was already in my teens. And this idiom clashed with the cultural background in which I had grown up. In my opinion, sliced bread is a pretty terrible idea, there’s nothing great about it. When you compare another invention with sliced bread, you are basically saying that this new thing is just as terrible as sliced bread. Here’s the problem: I was raised to not waste food and not spend extra money on packaging and convenience-enhancing processing methods that don’t really save that much time anyway. I mean, sliced bread requires more packaging and it tends to cost a bit more even though for me slicing my own bread only takes a couple of seconds and it is not hard at all. [Read more…]