During my time at the newspaper in college, I had some wonderful mentors who taught me important lessons about writing, life, and food. One of those mentors is Anna Walsh, who has gone on from humble Tartan beginnings to work at Balitmore City Paper and The Washington Post.
Anna recently started a weekly newsletter called Annacado Toast that I have obsessively enjoyed, saving every article until I can read it carefully in total silence and concentration and far away from high school students. I’ve also probably already forwarded it to you because I am so into it. But, just in case I haven’t, I’m so thrilled to bring you the latest edition, “Waste Not.” And to ask you to please subscribe to her goodness here. Without further ado from me, Anna Walsh!
Last week I had the deeply unpleasant experience of, thanks to a refrigerator crisis, having to throw out everything in our freezer and everything perishable in our fridge. It was frustrating to have to throw away bags of once-frozen strawberries, boxes of mushy dosas, a moldy container of vegan sour cream. Humans waste a staggering amount of food as it is — according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 1.3 billion tons of food is lost or wasted every year around the world, a.k.a. a third of all food produced for human consumption. And a 2009 study suggested that Americans specifically waste 40 percent of food calories.
There's of course economic loss inherent in that — all those bags of frozen fruit I reluctantly chucked in the trash can add up. According to savethefood.com, a family of four loses $1,500 a year on wasted food. There's also the question of what to do with all of that waste. Usually, it's chucked in the trash. In his 2010 book "American Wasteland," journalist Jonathan Bloom writes that "while food is 13 percent of all materials discarded, it's 18 percent of [what is] dumped into landfills (after factoring in recycling)."
But once the food is in a landfill, it rots — and creates methane, which traps heat far more effectively than carbon dioxide and has an estimated "'global warming potential' (GWP) 21 to 25 times more than that of CO2 over a 100-year period," Bloom writes. And all of that rotting food adds up: According to a Vox article aptly titled “Food waste is the world’s dumbest environmental problem,” “Just under 7 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from food waste worldwide. To put that in perspective, if all the world’s food waste came together and formed a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind China and the US.” Not great!
In the United States and other industrialized countries, a huge amount of our food waste happens at the consumer level, meaning after individuals or households have bought the food (rather than, say, unpurchased produce thrown out by grocery stores). One wild statistic: "Food waste at consumer level in industrialized countries (222 million ton) is almost as high as the total net food production in subSaharan Africa (230 million ton)," according to a report from the FAO. The positive way to look at that, though, is that we, the consumers, actually can make a big difference in food waste! Consider yourself empowered!
Kevin's and my household is definitely not perfect about avoiding food waste. We eat probably more produce than the average household (that whole vegan thing), and it seems like there's always some sad-looking pepper or gross old cucumber that I end up culling from the fridge and putting in the trash. And I've been thinking for months that I should find a way to compost our food waste instead of trashing it — Bloom writes that if handled properly, compost doesn't release methane like food rotting in landfills does. But getting at least better about minimizing food waste would make a difference. If you want to learn more, savethefood.com has some useful tips, as does this Mashable article.
Wanted: More food reporting
[Crabby old-timer voice] Back in my day when City Paper was still around, there was a bit of competition among outlets for food reporting in Baltimore. Ryan Detter, a CP freelancer, in particular embraced the challenge of trying to scoop other outlets on food news. Sadly, with the closing of City Paper and its too-short-lived successor, Baltimore Beat, the quality of food journalism seems to have declined in the city.
Take, for instance, a spate of vegan businesses that have opened or are about to open in the city. One, a vegan build-your-own burger joint called Bmore Righteous, opened on 25th Street between North Calvert Street and Maryland Avenue at the beginning of the month with seemingly zero media attention. To be honest, I went there shortly after it opened and was underwhelmed (think fries that were nastily undercooked and uninspiring mass-produced vegan burgers — no wonder vegan food gets such a bad rap), but its opening still should have warranted at least some mention. That sort of small neighborhood spot is what City Paper would've reported on.
Then there's L'eau de Vie Brasserie, a cute restaurant whose planned opening was first reported by the Business Journal back in December. It opened last week and so far, I'm a fan. (The "cheesy" dip that goes with its pretzel bites is extremely good!) The restaurant grew out of a catering/prepared-meals business, Nourrie Cuisine, and is located near the never-ending construction junction between Harbor East and Fells Point — meaning the owner is experienced and the location is one that already gets news attention. Yet its opening went unmentioned in last week and this week's installments of Baltimore Magazine's Open & Shut series on restaurant news. (Credit to Kit Pollard and the Baltimore Fishbowl, though, for including its opening in their similarly styled food-news roundup this week.) The Sun finally wrote about it this Thursday — that is, a week after its opening — and had to append a correction for an incorrect translation of the restaurant's name.
By contrast, another vegan business, the Greener Kitchen, is opening next week in Pigtown and has gotten a healthy amount of local coverage. But Greener Kitchen is also an offshoot of PEP Foods, which has been a food distributor in Baltimore for a few years now and thus, if I can wildly speculate, is probably better at reaching out to news outlets.
I realize that vegan food is seen as ~niche~ and that this is a pretty limited sample size of the restaurant openings and closings in the city. But I still think it's indicative of a larger change to the food reporting in Baltimore. The Sun hired reporter Sarah Meehan away from the Baltimore Business Journal, where she regularly got scoops on food news, in 2015; this past May, the Sun took her off the food beat and moved her onto breaking news. There is now no reporter dedicated to the food beat at the Sun. And the newspaper got rid of its freelance restaurant critic and instead assigned its fine-arts critic to write all its restaurant reviews. I'm certainly biased in that I have an outsize interest in food and restaurant reporting, but it feels like a disservice to Baltimoreans to not be able to get solid news on restaurants from a source other than, say, foodie Instagram "influencers." The point being, I guess: RIP City Paper/Baltimore Beat.
Speaking of minimizing food waste, The Washington Post's Voraciously section recently published this handy guide to how to best store 10 common fruits and vegetables.
In my quest to find my ideal vegan mayo recipe, I bought kala namak, a.k.a. "black salt" that's actually often a pinkish or purple-ish color and has a sulfuric taste that reminds me of hard-boiled eggs. According to "Salted: A Manifesto on the World's Most Essential Mineral," by Mark Bitterman, kala namak is made from pink rock salt "using a centuries-old process. Heated in the presence of spices until it melts, the resulting compound is cooled, stored, and aged. When finished, the salt is rich in iron, sulfur, and many other elements and compounds." I'm into it!
"How does a food become a trend? Ask cauliflower." I've been thinking lately about how buffalo cauliflower suddenly seems to be everywhere. Also, this is a great quote: "'If it had just stayed white cauliflower, it would not have lasted this long,' Badaracco says. 'It needed to reinvent itself like Madonna.'”
If you haven't yet read this admittedly long but moving, beautifully written article by Elizabeth Bruenig, I highly recommend you do: "Twelve years ago, Amber Wyatt reported her rape. Few believed her. Her hometown turned against her. The authorities failed her. What do we owe her now?" And then read the epilogue: "Amber Wyatt told her story of rape. This is how the world responded."
A version of this week's newsletter also appears on Page & Plate, a blog by my college friend Laura Scherb about books and recipes. You should check it out — seriously, I've been thinking about this cake since she posted a photo of it on Instagram months ago.