Monthly Archives: December 2015

Food Waste 2: The Pragmatists StrikeBack

No, this isn’t a movie script, or even a review. But it is a sequel. The last article left us with staggering facts about food waste and a glimpse of hope. This time I want to talk about how we have a chance to help combat massive food waste that leaves people starving and the environment a wreck. I know the title sounds a bit like a movie you might watch on the sci-fi channel, if at all, but this is no Dora the Explorer type solution. No shouting answers at the TV and her pretending to hear you and saying, “That’s right, ___” no matter what one says. These are just two topics in the food waste issue with fairly pragmatic opportunities to help oneself, the environment, and others.

The first issue I want to address is one of aesthetics. I’ve touched on it in the previous article, so I’m just going to give it a quick look before going on to the other topic. Of the 31% of food wasted in this country , 0% percent of that is food left unharvested because of aesthetic reasons. This isn’t to say that no food gets rejected because it’s only an 8 or 9 instead of a perfect 10. No, it’s just that food doesn’t even get counted, bringing the waste total closer to horrifying 40% .

So what can one do about this? Well, I suppose one could eat food that’s perfectly good but doesn’t give you butterflies in one’s stomach when one looks at it. The truth is, unless one is eating something both raw and whole, food doesn’t generally resemble its original form once prepared. If it did, there’d be no such thing as mashed potatoes. True, your cousin couldn’t mash up a banana and stir it into said mashed potatoes to see what people will do when they eat them, but how often does that happen really? By eating food that doesn’t look like it came from a lab, we can do our part to cut down on a substantial portion of wasted food. Anyway, if we took nature out of food, eventually, we’d be left with Soylent Green.

The second issue hinges on food that gets harvested but never eaten. The solution? Pre-selling produce. Normally, a group or individual guesses how much of a given product should be grown, harvested, or purchased at each level of the farmer -> distributor -> retailer -> consumer chain (and any steps in between). Anyone who guesses wrong gets left holding the bag for a potentially sizable loss. With pre-selling, produce stays ‘on the vine’ until purchased. The farmer then harvests only what’s needed, and the rest of the produce stays fresh in the field instead of rotting unwanted somewhere. Ok, cool, but how does that help anyone?

For starters, food stays fresh longer while it’s still, well, alive; that way, food that can be eaten later can still be eaten later. Not only does the supply of food in a starving world improve, but both the environment and humans benefit. Environmentally, natural resources like water and land are better used, because resources don’t go to food that slowly moves to the landfill. Speaking of landfills, less food ends up there, reducing the amount of greenhouse gasses produced in the United States. Economically, we should see an improvement, too. Reduction of waste means a reduction of overhead, which I would hope in turn reduces price. A plethora of reasons to reduce food waste is out there, but that’s really more of a subject for another article .

In most cases, each layer between the farmer and consumer adds waste, ranging from just a bit to a sizable chunk. Now, each individual contacting each farmer directly to order precisely what one needs and then going to pick it up is hardly pragmatic for anyone involved. But if you could find a single entity to speak to all the farmer’s for you, then pre-selling produce could become an effective way to reduce waste while guaranteeing you the freshest produce possible. If you’re reading this, you probably already know the easiest and most effective way in our area. Yup, it’s Papa Spud’s. You order, we tell the farmers, they harvest, and we bring the goods to your door. Pre-selling produce is a major tenant of the way we do business because it lets us help the environment, local farmers, and you. Whenever you open your box, you’re participating in an agricultural model that benefits your society and your planet as a whole, all the while receiving produce harvested just for you.

To wrap things up, I want to get honest with you. I’m no caped crusader fighting food related societal problems or someone trying to get in your face about your personal responsibility in some big issue. Really, it goes something more like this: I become aware of a problem. I do some research, and maybe even get slightly worked up about the issue. Then life happens and my efforts may start to fall to the wayside. But when I write about it, I have to do something about it. I don’t want to be a food waster, but I definitely don’t want to be a hypocrite. That might sound stupid or weak-willed, but life is exhausting and every little bit of motivation helps. So on the one hand, articles like this are a pledge to try and do a little better in my own life. But they also serve as an invitation to join together with me in trying to make a difference, even if it seems like a small one. We won’t always do things perfectly, but every little bit helps. Oh, and on the plus side, this time the responsible choice may actually be easier than the alternative.

How to Stay Fresh: Storage Tips to Maximize Produce Shelf Life

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With several holidays ahead plus the normal quantity of birthdays, anniversaries, and the like, lots of people are trying to hide lots of presents. Closets, attics, trunks (of cars), trunks (at the foot of the bed), cabinets, the office, away from the dog, under the cat, and a myriad of other places are being put to use for the purpose. But stashing presents isn’t the only storage we have to worry about. As you’ve probably guessed, I’m talking about fresh produce. Whether the produce is grown out in the cold or in the warmth of a green house, don’t let the weather throw you. With these handy storage tips, you can take worry out of at least part of the seasonal storage equation.

Apples: Each variety of apple will have a different storage life, some will stay crisp longer than others. Apples will keep longest when stored in the refrigerator. To prevent moisture loss while in the refrigerator, store apples in a plastic bag. Most varieties will keep 2-3 weeks if stored in the refrigerator. Apples can also be stored at room temperature, but may only keep up to 7 days before they start to turn soft or mealy.

Arugula (5-7 days): Arugula is actually an herb in the mustard family. It is generally used similarly to salad greens, either as a substitute or as a complement. Arugula should be kept in a plastic bag to prevent moisture loss, and refrigerated. It will keep for just a few days. Arugula tends to be gritty, so don’t forget to wash it just prior to using. If cooked, it should be added in just the last few minutes to prevent flavor loss and overwilting. Arugula makes a great pizza topping!

Broccoli: Broccoli should be stored in the refrigerator where it will keep for 4-5 days. Like most vegetables, broccoli will lose moisture as it ages, which you want to protect against, but you also want the broccoli to be able to breathe, so it is not a good idea to enclose it in plastic. A perforated plastic bag, or just an open plastic bag are usually the best options. During commercial transport, broccoli is packed on ice which keeps moisture level high, and temperature as close to freezing as possible, while still allowing the broccoli to breathe. However, this usually isn’t practical at home. Broccoli takes very well to freezing (if blanched first), so you may consider freezing broccoli if unable to use it within a few days.

Cabbage: If possible, do not remove outer leaves from cabbage. Outer leaves protect interior from damage and from moisture loss. However, if refrigerator space is an issue, you can remove the outer leaves, and will have a smaller head of cabbage, just know that it won’t keep quite as well. Cabbage can be used in portions, but once you cut into the interior of the cabbage, you will need to wrap the remaining portion tightly in saran wrap. Cabbage is a versatile vegetable that can be used raw as in coleslaw or cooked in a variety of ways. Cabbage is a food staple and is used in many types of cuisine.

Carrots: Carrots are hearty vegetable that will keep for an extended period of time. They will keep best if you can avoid moisture loss. Do this by storing carrots in a plastic bag, and by cutting off the greens about an inch or two above the carrots. Carrot greens will suck moisture out of the roots if they are left on. Carrots should also be stored away from fruits, which emit ethylene gas that may cause carrots to develop a bitter taste over time.

Greens – Collards, Kale, Chard (1-2 weeks): Greens should be placed in a plastic bag, and stored in the refrigerator. If greens start to look wilted, you can revive them by snipping the base of the stems, filling a tub with cold water, submerging the greens in the water, and placing the water tub in the refrigerator for 6-8 hours. The freshly snipped stems will soak up the cold water, and revitalize the greens. Grocery stores commonly use this trick before placing greens on their produce shelves.

Herbs, bunched: Commonly bunched herbs include basil, cilantro, and parsley. Remove band or tie, and pick out any stems or leaves that have been damaged from banding. Snip the base of the stems, wrap in damp paper towels, and store in plastic bag in the refrigerator. This will help herbs to retain moisture, and extend storage life.

Lettuce, heads: Lettuce loves moisture. Remove any wilted leaves, and dampen interior remaining leaves. Place in plastic bag, and store in refrigerator. If lettuce becomes wilted, you can revive it in a cold water bath similar to the method described for greens. However, 1 hour in the bath is usually plenty, more can result in oversaturation and wet-rot.

Strawberries: Check for any damaged or bruised strawberries, and remove them from the container. Damaged fruits release ethylene gas which signals other fruits to ripen at a faster rate. This means that one bad apple really does spoil the bunch. Berries can go bad quite quickly, so make sure they are covered, and store them in the coldest part of the refrigerator. However, strawberries will be at their juiciest at room temperature, so if possible bring them to room temperature prior to consuming.

Sweet Potatoes: Sweet potatoes should be stored at room temperature. They attain maximum sweetness 1-2 months after being pulled from the ground and stored above 45F. Sweet potatoes often keep for over 6 months, just don’t forget about them!

Good storage practices lead to a good shelf life for great produce. It won’t be like that episode of Eerie Indiana where the people stayed young forever by sleeping in giant Tupperware containers, but it will maximize the shelf life of your food. I recommend following the detailed instructions above to increase the longevity of your produce, but below is a quick reference refrigerator vs counter list with estimated times to help you stay fresh:

3-5 days:
• Salad Mix – Refrigerate

5-7 days:
• Arugula – Refrigerate
• Beans, Green – Refrigerate
• Broccoli – Refrigerate
• Greens, Collards – Refrigerate
• Greens, Kale – Refrigerate
• Greens, Mustard – Refrigerate
• Greens, Turnip – Refrigerate
• Greens, Chard – Refrigerate
• Lettuce – Refrigerate
• Spinach – Refrigerate

7-10 days:
• Beets, Red, w/ tops – Refrigerate
• Bok Choy – Refrigerate
• Cauliflower – Refrigerate
• Cucumbers, Slicing – Refrigerate
• Eggplant – Refrigerate
• Peppers – Refrigerate
• Squash, Yellow – Refrigerate
• Squash, Zucchini – Refrigerate
• Tomatoes, Grape, Cherry – Refrigerate
• Tomatoes, Roma – Counter
• Tomatoes, Slicing – Counter
• Bananas – Counter
• Grapes – Refrigerate

10-14 days:
• Cabbage, Green – Refrigerate
• Carrots w/ tops – Refrigerate
• Kohlrabi – Refrigerate
• Radishes, Daikon – Refrigerate
• Radishes, Red – Refrigerate
• Turnips, Purple Top – Refrigerate
• Apples – Refrigerate
• Pears – Refrigerate

14-21 days:
• Potatoes, Red – Counter
• Squash, Acorn – Counter
• Squash, Butternut – Counter
• Sweet Potatoes – Counter

State Vegetables? – NC and the Permeating Presence of the Sweet Potato

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If you’ve had a somewhat typical Thanksgiving, you’ve probably seen a lot of sweet potatoes in the past few days. Over the theoretically long weekend and four Thanksgivings, I know I’ve seen my fair share. Mostly in casseroles, but available in a variety of forms. With fries, pies, chips, marshmallows, and more upcoming holidays, chances are we’ll see plenty more. Though the US has seen a veritable boom in sweet potato usage and production in the past fifteen years, there’s actually a long-standing history with sweet potatoes and our state, country, and continent.

Sweet potatoes were already being cultivated on this continent when Columbus arrived in 1492 and were a common part of the diet and a cultivated crop of the settlers by the 1600’s. Some believe they were even eaten by dinosaurs. Since then, sweet potatoes have continued to grow in use and production, with production increases from 2000 to 2014 ranging from 100% in California to a whopping 185% in North Carolina. At first glance, this may seem like supply and demand would have the value of the sweet potato dropping; however, usage and consumption have grown almost as much, with the US consumption per capita increasing by 80% in the same period, 2014 has the highest consumption per capita on record. In fact, 2014 also had the second highest price per hundred pounds on record, only fifty cents behind the all-time high in 2013.

OK, so national sweet potato production is up. How does that affect our state? Well, last year, North Carolina produced 53% of the nation’s sweet potatoes, so there’s that. As it turns out, our ties to the sweet potato go even deeper. In 1993, a fourth grade class in Wilson NC decided to become more politically involved. They began writing letters to the state legislature to get sweet potatoes made the state vegetable of North Carolina. After two years and what grew into a community effort, it passed, and sweet potatoes became the state vegetable of North Carolina. I didn’t even know state vegetables were a thing, but with NC responsible for 53% percent of the nation’s production, I suppose it makes sense that the sweet potato would be ours. We may not have a monopoly, but we probably control two sides of the board. And at over half, I’m guessing one of those sides contains Boardwalk and Park Place.

As far as actual production is concerned, sweet potatoes are planted from seed potatoes in March. They’re ready to be cut and transplanted to fields in April, and grown from May to late October, prospering best in 70-90 degree days and 55-65 degree nights. They grow best in loamy soil, but only with proper drainage; excess water can damage the crop. After around 120 days, the sweet potatoes are ready for harvest. Some are sold immediately as the ‘green crop’, while others are cured and stored until needed. Curing sweet potatoes requires storage in a stable temperature of roughly 85 degrees for up to a week. The process of curing tightens the skins and converts the starches to sugars. This process makes the sweet potatoes sweeter, but also makes them harder to skin.

One may wonder why such a huge increase in production is taking place, or maybe just why there’s a boom to consumption. On the one hand, sweet potatoes are finding an ever-increasing list of uses. Not only are they becoming ingredients in more and more recipes and products, but they’re also used as an ingredient source for flour, starches, pectin, and pastas. While the uses continue to increase, health benefits play a big role in consumption as well . The large quantities of vitamin A are great for vision, and the abundance of both vitamins A and C serve as both an anti-inflammatory and as free radicals that can help fight the risk of cancer. The fiber content is great for digestion, and the complex carbs provide lots of energy. Sweet potatoes are even diabetic friendly, due to their low glycemic index and their ability to help stabilize blood sugar .

Considering all the health benefits of sweet potatoes and their myriad of uses from fries to recipe ingredients, it’s no real surprise that sweet potato production is growing, especially in a state where climate and soil conditions are ideal for sweet potato cultivation. And just in case you’re not convinced about sweet potatoes and their myriad of benefits and versatility of uses, check out this delicious recipe for African Peanut and Sweet Potato Stew, featured earlier this Fall in a Papa Spud’s recipe kit:

African Peanut & Chicken Stew

Inspired by West African cuisine, this hearty dish combines chicken thighs, sweet potatoes, and a spicy peanut flavor, for a filling stew that is perfect for a Fall day. Full flavored and easy to prepare!
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 60 mins
Serves 3-4

Ingredients:
• 1/2 cup & 1/2 cup roasted peanuts – included
• 2 tsp. olive oil
• 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
• 1 lb. chicken thighs, bone-in- included
• 1 cup yellow onion, chopped- included
• 1 Tbsp. ginger, peeled, minced- included
• 4 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled, cubed – included
• 1 pint chicken broth
• 1 ct. tomato, chopped- included
• 2 tsp. coriander, ground – included
• pinch of red cayenne pepper
• salt & pepper
• cilantro, chopped- included

1. Prepare your peanuts and peanut paste. Measure our 1/2 cup of whole peanuts and set aside. Combine the other 1/2 cup of peanuts with 2 tsp. olive oil in a food processor or blender. Puree until smooth.

2. Heat vegetable oil in a soup pot over medium high heat. Wash chicken thighs, and pat them dry with paper towels. Season well with salt and pepper, and brown them in the hot vegetable oil. Remove from heat once nicely browned, about 5 minutes per side.

3. Reduce heat to medium and add onions to the pot and sauté for 3-4 minutes until soft. Stir frequently and scrape off any browned bits from the chicken. Add garlic and ginger and sauté for another 1 minute. Add sweet potatoes, and stir to combine all ingredients.

4. Stir in chicken broth, then add chicken thighs back to the pot, as well as tomatoes, whole peanuts and peanut paste (from step 1), coriander, and red cayenne pepper. Stir well to combine.

5. Bring to a simmer and taste seasoning. Add more salt or cayenne pepper if desired. Simmer, covered, for about 50-60 minutes, until chicken is cooked and comes easily off the bone.

6. Remove chicken from the pot, and when cool enough to handle, cut meat from the bone. Chop meat into bite-size pieces, and return to the pot.

7. Add fresh ground black pepper, and additional salt to taste. Serve topped with chopped cilantro.