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Friday, March 29, 2013

Activism Spotlight & Suggested Reading: Food Waste

 Activism Spotlight

Recently, a headline caught my attention, and I thought the story that accompanied it would be perfect for this week’s focus on food waste. If you’ll recall from this week’s harsh facts, while many American’s waste horrendous amounts of food, others rely on food stamps for survival:

“The average American wastes 209-254 pounds of edible food each year, while 17.2 million American households in 2010 were deemed “food insecure,” meaning it was difficult to provide food for everyone in the family. About 46 million Americans, or one in every seven people, relied on food stamps that same year.”


The headline was: SNAP Food Challenge: 1 family, $16 per day.

A family of four living in Massachusetts, including Peter and Nova Biro and their 9-year-old twin daughters, Sophie and Lily, decided to take on the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) Food Challenge for one week earlier in March. They tackled this challenge to raise awareness about hunger and poverty and supplement Nova Biro’s work with LeadBoston.

Picture courtesy of

    For Americans who live below the poverty line and rely on food stamps (remember, one in every seven people in 2010), the budget they have for food for one week amounts to just $28, or $4 a day. The challenge is, for one week, to have each member of a household eat only 4$ worth of food each day. When you’re on a budget like that, you simply can’t afford to be wasting between 209 and 254 pounds of food each year. In 2012, the national average for the weekly expenditure on food for a family of four (two adults, two children) with a Liberal (unrestricted) cost plan was $287.50. In the same situation, the average monthly expenditure was $1,245.60. I would consider my family of four to be under this “Liberal” category, because we barely pay attention to the amount we spend on food when we go grocery shopping, although I am frequently shocked by the number that pops up on the register. I specifically remember one large grocery shopping trip amounting to over $400.

    The Biro’s decision to try the SNAP challenge was a major eye-opening experience for them. Peter Biro admitted: “I don't think I ever really stepped back and thought, ‘How much does the food on my plate actually cost?’” The family had to make some major changes to their regular routines in order to uphold their $4 per person per day limit. It was nearly impossible to fit fruits and vegetables into their diet, which the Biros say was probably the most difficult change for them. Fruits and vegetables, along with other costly favorites like seafood and special desserts, and almost all brand name products, became out of reach. Peter Biro had stay up-to-date with daily sales at supermarkets, buy in bulk from Costco, and cook from scratch to stay cost-effective. The twins’ school lunches had to be cut, and instead they packed their lunches. Peter sacrificed is daily $4.25 cappuccino, and together he and his daughter Sophie forewent their traditional Tuesday afternoon slices of cake, which were $4 a piece. Usually, he and Sophie go out and eat their cake together, and then bring back slices for Nova and Lily. But, all together, that is $16, which is an entire day’s budget on the SNAP challenge.

    Throughout the ordeal, Peter and Nova Biro were impressed with how their daughters handled the SNAP challenge with curiosity and acceptance. In regards to her Tuesday slice of cake, which was replaced by splitting a $1 mini-cupcake with her dad, Sophie said “That’s okay Dad, I don’t need the big piece anyway.” However, despite the eye-opening experience of their SNAP challenge, Peter admitted that the whole thing wasn’t a major upset for his family, knowing that next week everything would be back to normal again: “For Sophie and me to go without our usual dessert was not that big of a deal… in truth, we knew we could resume it next week. It was temporary. But poverty is rarely temporary. And on the best day, you can either have a cup of coffee yourself, or give your child a treat, but never both.”

    Peter’s sad realization is unfortunately a reality for millions of Americans. The family also admitted that while drastically reducing their budget was a struggle, their plight was still much easier to carry out than America’s poor. They have a car and plenty of money for gas, a well-equipped kitchen, and easy access to grocery stores like Costco.

    My favorite part about this story, besides Lily and Sophie’s adorable interest and determination in the SNAP challenge, is that the Biros, having successfully finished the week, decided that at some point, they would do the challenge again. Except this time, they will donate the difference between their SNAP budget and their usual expenditures to a local charity. On the assumption that the Biros are the average, four person American family on a Liberal budget ($287.50), that’s $259.50 toward charity. According to Project 7, the money made from just one of their “Feed” products (such as gum or bottled water) supports seven meals in American communities. Imagine how far 260 bucks can go. To learn more about Project 7, check out Monday’s “Ecofriendly Economics” post.

    Congratulations, Biro family, for working to make a positive impact on the world.

    What about you? Are you aware of how much you spend on food each week? Each month? Each year? The answer might surprise you, just as I sometimes feel my stomach lurch when I see the total that my family’s grocery trip has come to on the cash register read-out. Do you think you could successfully complete a week-long SNAP challenge? When I go off to college, which will be soon, and I find myself almost entirely responsible for my personal expenses, I will take a special interest in how much I spend on food, and maybe even try the SNAP challenge myself. If you decide that you want to try the challenge, please email me at and tell me about your experience.

    To read the complete, original article about the Biros by Lylah M. Alphonse on Yahoo!Shine, go here:

    To learn more about the SNAP Food Challenge, go here: 


Suggested Reading

Let’s continue with the food waste theme, shall we? Rather than suggest to you a book or article, this week will actually be a “Suggested Watching” with a TED Talk video on the topic of food waste presented by Tristram Stuart.

    For those of you who don’t know what TED Talks are, it’s time for you to become acquainted. TED Talks, with the motto “Ideas Worth Spreading,” presents “riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world.” The talks often address and explore solutions to global issues, like the structure of the education system, the environmental problem, war, discrimination, and so much more. One unique TED Talk that I watched was presented by an architect who constructs homes out of mostly recycled materials.

    Tristram Stuart has dedicated his career to investigating and solving the global food waste epidemic. In 2011, Stuart received the international environmental award, The Sophie Prize, in recognition of his work. Stuart founded the awareness campaign, Feeding the 5000, in which 5000 members of the public are given a free lunch. The catch? The lunches are made by only using edible ingredients that otherwise would have been thrown out. Feeding the 5000 events were held in Trafalgar Square in 2009 and 2011, and across the globe.

    Although Stuart only briefly mentions Freeganism in his talk, I wanted to bring it up here in my post. What-ism, you say? Freeganism. A movement that began in the 1990’s, Freeganism is the practice of salvaging and eating food that has been discarded. This may sound repulsive, but practicing Freeganism requires a lot of dumpster diving. However, don’t develop this image in your head that people are fishing through trash and consuming the half-rotted food they find. No, we’re talking food in quality condition, such as bags of day-old, edible bread, which restaurants across the globe are notorious for tossing into the dumpsters behind their establishments. Retail food suppliers such as supermarkets, grocery stores, and restaurants routinely throw away food in perfectly good condition. This is often because the food is approaching its sell-by date or has damaged packaging. Many successful Freegans live entirely off of recovered, free food.

Do you know what your local food retailers do with the food they take off the shelves? I recently contacted my small local grocery store with that question, and in response they told me that they try to send as much of the unmarketable, but still edible food as possible to local food pantries. Do some investigating yourself, whether it be contacting your food retailers or doing some Tristram Stuart style back-alley snooping. If you find that your local retailers are taking part in the global food waste dilemma, educate yourself on how you can change that. You can contact me at, and we can brainstorm some ideas together. 

But, I digress. Let’s get you to Stuart’s eloquent, inspiring TED Talk. Follow this link to watch the video: Stuart’s presentation is about fifteen minutes long, but I promise you will be sucked in, and the end of the video will come too quickly. You’ll find yourself wanting to know more. Fortunately, Stuart has written a book about anti-food waste passion, and you can educate yourself further by obtaining a copy of Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal.

Enjoy! If you have any comments, thoughts, or ideas you’d like to share about Stuart’s video, leave a comment below or email me at There’s also a comments section on the TED Talk website. 


Animal of the Month Update

Picture/video courtesy of:

Today’s post about our Animal of the Month will be the last post about Golden Capped Fruit Bats. April’s animal of the month will be announced this Monday. It has been a struggle finding and presenting new information about the same animal for just two weeks! I will enjoy the challenge of writing about an animal for a full month. I think I know what April’s animal will be… but I’ll keep it a surprise.

    Because today is the last day for our friend from the Philippines, I want to focus on the ways that you can contribute to conservation efforts of the Golden Capped Fruit Bat, and bats in general. If you haven’t already, check out last week’s “Activism Spotlight” post, which features Bat Conservation International (BCI), an organization based out of Texas that focuses on protecting bats around the world. To support BCI and their mission, go here: 

    On this page, you can find outlets for various ways to support BCI, such as: become a member, make a donation, “Adopt a Bat”, apply for a credit card with a BCI design, shop to support BCI, and more. You can also learn about the benefits of becoming a BCI member. Go here to browse the merchandise that you can purchase through shop to support: Merchandise includes t-shirts, coffee, and jewelry, to name a few.

    The Lubee Bat Conservancy (LBC) organization focuses specifically on preserving fruit bat species, like the Golden Capped Fruit Bat, with the understanding that by supporting fruit bats, they are indirectly protecting rainforests and over 145 plant species that rely on them for pollination and seed dispersal. The LBC describes itself as “an international non-profit organization dedicated to protecting biological diversity through the conservation of fruit bats.” You can help Lubee’s mission by offering support in these ways: direct donations, adopting a bat (your adoption money goes toward supporting one of LBC’s captive bats, which you will receive information about), becoming a member, purchasing LBC merchandise, and volunteering: look in the sidebar for these support options. LBC merchandise includes t-shirts, hats, and a bumper sticker:  

    Some other organizations that are worth looking into are Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Go to for WWF and for WCF. 

    I hope that by featuring the Golden Capped Fruit Bat as March’s Animal of the Month, I brought awareness to some readers about the importance of conserving one of the world’s most misunderstood and endangered animals. They may be portrayed in pop culture as a Halloween horror, but bats are so much more than that, most notably for the important role they hold in the world’s ecosystems. I’m not asking you to adopt bats as your favorite animal like I have, but just to understand that like all of the world’s creatures, they are not useless, and they deserve their place on Earth. I hope you have chosen to support the conservation of bats in some way. If you have any responses or thoughts about the information I have provided about Golden Capped Fruit Bats, or you want to share the ways you have or will support bat conservation, contact me at or leave a comment below.

Stay tuned for tomorrow for Viridorari's third Green Challenge. If any of you have taken on my first or second Green Challenge, and you would like to share your experience, email me at or leave a comment on one of the Green Challenge posts. 

Mentioned in this post:
  • LeadBoston
  • Project 7
  • The Sophie Prize
  • Feeding the 5000
  • Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal


  1. There's plenty of food in a lot of cases where people are starving. The situation is similar to how people think they need medical professionals when there is better medicine all around them. It's the quality of our education that sucks. You can give a man a fish, or you can teach them to fish. We've been taught to be volunteer slaves who depend on a master.

    I've volunteered in soup kitchens / food pantries. They're as corrupt as any other charity.

    I like the idea of community gardens, but have no personal experience in one.

  2. Thank you for leaving a comment on Viridorari!

    What makes you think that soup kitchens/ food pantries are corrupt?