Eat Your Dinner | Food Waste
You have the honor of receiving our first ever newsletter.
That's right, we're making the bold decision to grow our media empire from one punishingly long video every 1-3 months, to one disgustingly lengthy video AND ALSO one email (still every 1-3 months, but we’re working on it).
But why a newsletter? Well, believe it or not, we are actually cutting material from our videos to keep them at their tight 27-minute-plus runtime. But instead of tossing that research in the trash (bad), we've decided to recycle it as text and let you have it (good). And those are the kinds of hard-hitting thematic metaphors you can look forward to if you choose to read further.
And if you're already pissed off at yet another newsletter, you can piss right back on, because this is a newsletter you can and should bail on if you don’t like it! Look! Here’s the unsubscribe button (on Substack, you have to find the UNSUBSCRIBE button on your account page):
For those of you sticking around: wazzup and let's get this thing rolling!
Stick to Videos, Hack
If you've somehow made it to this newsletter, but haven't watched our newest video on food waste yet, well— you were probably busy.
But now you're not. So click on that spooky YouTube triangle and settle in. Or just jump into the text like a maniac. You’re the boss of your own body.
And now here we goooooo!
Henry Heinz & the Love Apple: the Story of Modern Ketchup
Well folks, it turns out ketchup used to suck *ass*. And thanks to Stanford Professor Dan Jurafsky we know all about it.
The story goes that, a few hundred years ago, some British men floated east to take their rightful place in charge of China and, while they were there, tried fish sauce. And they fucking loved it. But by the time they got back home, they completely forgot what that tasted like, and just started guessing, filing all of it under the title of ketchup.
A few generations later, their descendants were slurping some combination of vinegar and whatever they could think of: mushrooms, lemon, ox liver, raspberry, oysters, elderberries, alcohol, sugar, preservatives, you get it. Basically like spiced up compost scraps and shut up about it.
Jane Austen supposedly loved walnut ketchup, which was so strong that one cookbook from the time argued that fresh walnut ketchup “is not fit for use in the first year.” My god would folks just wait and wait back then. Everyone’s excited for Spring, when the ketchup is finally fit for use. That is, until:
The Pride of Pittsburgh.
After years of waiting, a young Henry Heinz's mustache finally completed the long journey to his hairline, and he was ready to change the world. Heinz's struggling horseradish business was... struggling, so in 1876, Heinz turned to the tomato for salvation.
Tomato ketchup had been around for a few decades, but it had gotten a bad reputation: a nervous condiment made from moldy old tomatoes, with a little coal tar added for redness. Which gave Heinz his brilliant idea: don’t do that. Instead, he found a recipe of tomatoes, brown sugar, vinegar, salt, and spices that was shelf stable, really fucking delicious, and sold in a clear glass bottle you could see through. That was how low the bar was for food after the Civil War: If you could see it, it probably wasn’t poison.
And of course, Heinz ketchup sold like elbows at the arm store. Someone named Stephanie was even saying that 97% of US households currently have ketchup in their kitchen. That’s really not the most important stat to fact check, but it sounds right.
And the Ketchup King rolled on.
Heinz would go on to lobby in favor of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act, which led to the creation of the FDA. He also may have put an 800-pound, 14 foot long, 150-year-old live alligator in a tank on top of one of his factories, so his employees could see an alligator just like he did in Florida. What a guy!
Nowadays, ketchup is HEAVILY regulated by the FDA, requiring that it be based on tomatoes. They also dictate the viscosity by using a little sauce racing ramp called a Bostwick Consistometer. Too fast or slow: my friend, that’s not even ketchup.
Wow we really can go down a rabbit hole. And we'd love to explain why we put "love apple" in the section title, but this one's getting long, so you'll have to Google that yourself. Let’s take an easy ride to:
Chart Town: the Impact of Uneaten Food
Goddamn those are some massive numbers.
You can see them on this lovely graphic from the Belle of the food waste media Ball, ReFED, but let's just make it a list too. Uneaten food in the US accounts for:
4% of US greenhouse gas emissions
14% of all freshwater use (by the way, 70% of all global freshwater use is agriculture)
18% of all cropland use
24% of landfill inputs
Pretty bad! But maybe there's something we can do about it maybe? Let’s go to another part of:
Chart Town: What Should We Do About Food Waste?
The chart really says it all. Another nice one from the EPA. Eat your dinner.
That Nasty Stink: Methane vs. Compost
Landfills are one of the biggest sources of methane emissions in the US (around 14% of the total). And we may actually be undercounting emissions by a lot. And also landfills stink so bad their shower's trying to move out- YES!
Unfortunately, that stink is largely the product of anaerobic decomposition (no oxygen and yes that's Wikipedia), which is also the primary driver of methane emissions from landfills. You can read more about the phases of landfill gas creation by downloading this PDF of Chapter 2: Landfill Gas Basics from a 9/11-era textbook- but you really don't have to, because the main thing to know: you can avoid this anaerobic methane mess by composting.
Is that really you, Compost?
That's right our old friend Better Dirt (don't steal that name, we might use it later) is primarily made through aerobic decomposition. And while that does involve turning the compost pile to add air/oxygen to the mix, the results are beautiful, dense, and dreamy brown gold that nourishes plants, while producing little to no harmful greenhouse gases.
Life is good. Or at least it could be.
Walmart & the Forty Seven Date Labels
The year was 2013, and Harvard and the NRDC joined forces to release The Dating Game: a 64 page food date label takedown that is currently quite high on our list of Favorite PDFs. And yes, we’ll give you one quote:
“This convoluted system is not achieving what date labeling was historically designed to do—provide indicators of freshness. Rather, it creates confusion and leads many consumers to believe, mistakenly, that date labels are signals of a food’s microbial safety, which unduly downplays the importance of more pertinent food safety indicators.”
Wow that really sums up a lot of our video in two sentences. Painful! And none other than Walmart felt the pain too.
After reading the NRDC/Harvard report, Walmart took it upon themselves to investigate their own date labeling practices. And they found they were using FORTY SEVEN different terms on their own products. We sat down and tried to come up with 47 different food date labels and we gave up after clamped and stamped.
So if you’re wondering why consumers are confused by date labels: it’s because they really can be quite confusing.
Now, to Walmart’s credit, we know about their date label issues because they reported them, as part of a press release promoting their transition to more consistent labeling. They decided to go with the classic: best if used by. Walmart cares so much about food waste they even made this modestly budgeted cartoon.
Walmart Animation: Messages You Will Like, No Faces.
Lightning Round (There's More But Not That Much)
Ralph Capone. Now there’s a rumor that Ralph Capone was the reason why there are expiration dates on milk bottles, and we earnestly tried to get Ralph Capone into the episode. I mean, that bit writes itself. Maybe Ralph Capone was just Al Capone doing an episode of undercover boss (‘RALPH’ is just the name ‘AL’ wearing a disguise). Here’s what we found when we looked into it: Al Capone did have a brother named Ralph, and the Capones decided to develop a dairy side hustle in the 1930s, with Ralph at the helm.
They reportedly kidnapped the president of the Chicago milk union, held him ransom, then used that ransom money to buy a milk processing plant. But it wasn't all about that big milk money. The son of one of Ralph's friends apparently got sick from drinking spoiled milk. And Ralph would not stand for it.
So he traveled to Springfield, Illinois, where he successfully lobbied the milk industry to start putting the bottling date on milk bottles. And then he insisted people start calling him "Bottles," and it seems like a lot of people did. Wild stuff.
Wild stuff, but it's also hard to say if it's actually true or not. And with the episode already at its normal-but-really-very-long runtime, we left the legend of Ralph Capone’s milk bottle label to sleep with the fishes.
Glean. Sometimes a word simply doesn't look right. And glean is definitely one of those naughty little words. But hopefully seeing it multiple times here will help. Because gleaning is the act of harvesting food that would otherwise go to waste in the field. It ripened too early or too late, there wasn’t enough labor to pick it, etc. And what a good thing to capture that often perfectly good food which would otherwise rot. On the ground. Alone. Food.
If you want to learn about becoming an active gleaner, you should look up more info. Because it really depends on where you live. And know that we support you!
Rollie Town. In the middle of editing this video, Rollie had everyone stop working so he could show them a really funny old movie he was excited to use in the edit. We all sat down and watched the first 5 minutes of what turned out to be a 23-minute slog of an internal sales training video from the 1950s. Here's the link.
If you can find any part of it that you think is funny, send us the timecode (email below) or even a clip or EVEN EVEN a video you edit and we may declare you an Official Rollie (no prize).
Well that's the end of the newsletter. If you want to send in a question, all you have to do is respond to this email. Or contact us directly at email@example.com. We may never answer it, but you never know.
Also, if you think you found a mistake, let us know. We try our very best to research and review our way to full accuracy, but it's a big world out there.
Art by: Kelsey Bravender
Executive produced by: Rollie Williams, Ben Boult, Nicole Conlan, and Matt Nelsen