A celebration of food waste, the coronavirus and food, the molecule that gets us going and more food in the news

There have been some major events happening in the world of processed food in the last month. A major fast-food chain is telling us that food that rots and rots quickly is better for us than food that does not. Is that right or am I missing something? Reporting on the coronavirus and its implications for our health dominates our newsfeeds, but do we need to worry about transmitting it through our food? Then there are two new books out on the favorite go-to molecule of most adults where we can learn how it can be most effectively employed to get th*ngs done? By the way have you heard of the 100-year-old love story that started in a peanut patch at the Griffin Experiment Station? Also, I explore some of my thoughts on recent dietary guidelines advocated by RDs.

an enticing impossible burger from a poster outside Burger King
Burger King from impossible to rotten

Burger King celebrates food waste by showing a time-lapse video of how a Whopper deteriorates before our very eyes. In a world drowning in its food waste while bemoaning the unsustainability of our food supply, how does glorification of the rotting process advance the cause? Burger King is not alone or even the first to proclaim the ability to rot is a key quality indicator for any food. Rule #13 in Michael Pollan’s book, Food Rules states “Eat only foods that will eventually rot.” After its successful introduction of the Impossible Whopper as an alternative to the domination of meat in fast-food culture, why is it stepping back from this triumph? Or is it because of the pushback it has received from critics who label plant-based meats as ultra-processed foods? Interesting, as plant-based meats are getting some positive publicity from a defense of their ingredients by Beyond Meat, a vote of confidence from the pea and lentil growers and producers, and on the basis of its nutrition profile.

three shelves primarily of canned foods
Mostly processed foods in my pantry. Will it be enough?

Fear is spreading about the novel coronavirus and a potential spread of it through food. We do not need to worry say the food microbiologists. Food is not a vector of the virus. Finger foods may be a bit of a worry—not from the food but from unwashed fingers—and definitely no sharing of food from our plates! Restaurants are cutting out table service, but take-away still seems possible and safe. Worries about the safety of take-away items are unfounded. For anything related to food safety in this crisis check out the NC State Extension website on the topic.

Food sanitarians are using this teachable moment to get us to wash our hands frequently and to avoid touching our faces with our hands. As a result, I am washing my hands more frequently, more vigorously, and longer than usual. I am also becoming aware how much I touch my face with my hands. Who knew? It may be that we can use the recommended 14-day waiting period as a teaching vehicle as to why the last meal consumed was probably not responsible for succumbing to a food-associated illness.


Molecule of the month: Caffeine. Michael Pollan has a new book out on the molecule that many of us use to rev up our engines morning, noon and evening after his experimental journey into psychedelic drugs. I have not read or listened to either of Pollan’s two latest books, but I assume that they are as well-written and engaging as his previous books. The new book I have read and thoroughly enjoyed is by the Green-eyed Guide herself, Danielle Robertson Rath, a former guest-blogger on this site. Her provocative title is sure to get the attention of her target audience—24-44-years-of-age who work long, unusual, or unpredictable hours—but the material within is even more engaging. Her earlier book, Are You a Monster or a Rock Star?, revealed the science behind caffeine and other molecules found in energy drinks. This e-book is more a how-to manual. She suggests that most of us are imbibing our caffeine inefficiently and thus incorrectly. I have taken her advice and changed the way I engage with the molecule.

Speaking of caffeine, I have given up diet sodas for Lent as mentioned earlier this month. Thus, I am consuming more water and getting my caffeine from my two cups of coffee daily. I was concerned that I would not be sufficiently hydrated with the switch, but that does not seem to be a problem. I have noticed both some positive and negative effects of ditching diet sodas, but I mostly miss the artificial sweetness they deliver. I will probably revert to my old habits after Easter.

Food pioneers at the University of Georgia—meet the Woodroofs! What a beautiful story! What a wonderful romance! Guy Woodroof was intrigued when he saw a barefoot Dr. Naomi Chapman collecting her data in an experimental peanut plot at the UGA experiment station in Griffin. They married, and she encouraged him to complete his education, helping him write his journal articles. Naomi had a sharp scientific mind, forging the way for women scientists in the male-dominated field of plant pathology. Guy took his background in horticulture and focused on preserving its products. As a born promoter he became the father of food science in the state. They are both members of the Georgia Agriculture Hall of Fame.

UGA students may remember the Woodroof Lectures held on campus each year, but I had the pleasure of knowing both of them personally. The two of them continued to attend Dixie IFT together into their 90s. I remember one time that I treated Dr. Guy Woodroof to a steak at Western Sizzlin’ in Griffin. At that time he was beginning to show his age and mixing up things in his thoughts. I didn’t know what we would talk about over the meal, but I happened to mention the election for Governor that would take place that November. He started into an in-depth analysis of each of the Democrat and Republican candidates with a special emphasis on what they would do for agriculture! I was impressed.

Dietary advice from nutritionists and dietitians continues to appear on the internet, a fitting postscript to this month’s posts on vegan diets, striking a balance between nutritional and culinary perspectives and what constitutes a healthy diet. I found the answers to ten pressing nutritional questions by Cora Rosenbloom, RD, to be excellent. My only quibble was that she criticized ultra-processed foods for all the sugar they contain while indicating that plant-based milks were a good way to get our calcium. Apparently, she doesn’t realize that plant-based milks also qualify as ultra-processed.

Less helpful was a description of heavily processed foods by Andy Bellatti, MS RD, who essentially told us to avoid them. His examples of what to avoid are mostly what I describe as junk food. He either ignores or is unaware that convenience foods such as all supermarket breads and packaged breakfast cereals (including the non-sugared ones), functional foods such as plant-based meats, and distilled spirits are also considered ultra-processed. Again, ultra-processed is not about the processing, it is about the formulation in that these products contain additives.

The next plastic item to go down the tubes after plastic grocery bags and plastic straws is probably:

tray of small packages of ketchup and soy sauce
Single-use plastic packages for single servings of condiments.

Any ideas of what could replace them at a fast-food or other take-away restaurant?

Next Week: How Not to Die

2 thoughts on “A celebration of food waste, the coronavirus and food, the molecule that gets us going and more food in the news

  1. In the beginning, unit portion packages of food adjuncts such as sugar, catsup, peanut butter, etc., were hailed as the answer to food service safety and sanitation, shelf life, portion control, reduction in food waste, costs, labor a boon to food service. Do we now wish to return to the days of open sugar dispensers, catsup bottles, and manually filled cups and left over mayonnaise? Yuck!


    1. Apparently to those wishing to eliminate these packages, plastic pollution is the only thing that matters. I suspect that the hard-core advocates would also welcome the demise of fast food and takeout.


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