I often hear people saying that there are not enough resources for everyone on the planet, arguing that poverty and inequality are a natural result of scarcity (the idea there’s not enough resources to go around).
But these people fail to consider one extremely important yet rarely-discussed issue:
Food wastage is a HUGE problem in the developed world.
The World Food Organization (WFO) is the international food assistance branch of the United Nations. It is the world’s largest humanitarian organization and works to address hunger around the world.
According to the WFO, around one third of all the food produced worldwide is “lost or wasted” while it’s still fit for human consumption.
A group of 63 French Members of Parliament saw this problem as an opportunity. In late July, they proposed a new law forcing large supermarkets (those with 1,000 square metres/10,800 sq ft or moreof floor space) to donate their, “unsold but still consumable food products” to charity.
The proposal follows a number of moves in Europe to cut back on food waste. Earlier this year, the European Union proposed a scrapping of the “best if used by” labels on foods that have long shelf-lives, such as coffee, rice, dry pasta, hard cheeses, jams and pickles.
Then in May, Belgium passed a law similar to the one that France is now proposing.
Many French supermarkets are already donating their unsold food to charities, but the Parliament members felt that more could be done to combat food waste.
The average French supermarket wastes 200 tons of food every year. The EU estimates that across Europe, around 100 million tons of food are wasted yearly.
According to a new study released by the USDA in February, the U.S. wasted an estimated 133 billion pounds (66.5 million tons) of consumable food in 2010.
That food is worth around $161 billion (using retail prices), so food waste is definitely an economic problem. But when you look at the actual loss of calories, you really begin to get a picture of just how much we’re wasting.
According to the USDA’s report, those 133 billion pounds of food contained around 141 trillion calories. That’s equal to 1,249 wasted calories per person every day.
An earlier study from the USDA found 14.5% of Americans live in households that struggle to put food on the table. More than one in five American children are at risk of living in hunger.
Think of how quickly we could end hunger in America if we could use some of those 1,249 calories we waste every day to help feed these people.
In France, most people are welcoming the proposal, with the only issue being how to pay for the extra refrigerated storage containers that the charities will need to store all the extra food.
To me however, this seems like a very small hang-up. The overall value to society will be hundreds of times greater than the costs of a few giant freezers.
Globally, it is estimated that a staggering 1.3 billion tons of consumable food are wasted every year. So please stop saying that there isn’t enough to go around.
The world we live in today is very much absorbed in the here-and-now.
Modern technology has given us access to a virtually infinite amount of information, and social media allows us to keep up with all the latest news in realtime.
To compensate for this overwhelming amount of information, we’ve drastically reduced our attention spans. Driven by the fear of missing out on some amazing video or juicy piece of gossip, we skip over people who post long statuses and skim over headlines instead of reading full reports.
Twitter based their entire business model off of this phenomenon, creating a service that forces people to express themselves in 140 characters or less. Our unwillingness to to be patient on the internet is causing an increasing number of very real problems.
The biggest value of the internet is that it gives us access to unprecedented amounts of information. But ironically, our predictability and quick emotions have created a growing industry of misinformation.
The trend is also affecting the so called “reputable” news agencies, which have rapidly degenerated to a point not too far above sleaziest of tabloids. The key word here is sensationalize. It’s so important I’ll give you the full definition (courtesy of my MacBook dictionary):
sensationalize |senˈsā sh ənlˌīz| ; verb: (esp. of a newspaper) present information about (something) in a way that provokes public interest and excitement, at the expense of accuracy
So what are the two best ways to “provoke public interest and excitement” in our society today?
The first is pop culture. There’s an army of paparazzi all across the country just waiting for an athlete, musician, actor or other public figure to do something crazy, or dumb, or funny, or ya know… whatever honestly.
Reality TV has made us obsessed with these people, to the point where many people have to know what’s going on with their favorite celebs all the time. Hell, Samsung even made an entire app just for people to follow around Lebron James, who has a promotion agreement with the company.
The second way to “provoke public interest and excitement” is, unfortunately, anger. This anger is typically fueled by politically-poisoned social issues.
See, politicians have also realized that we’re not willing to put in the time to do any real research into what they’ve actually voted for and against in the past (to be fair, it’s tough for the average working person to keep up with), so their best tactic to get your vote is to get you mad.
Once the primary is won the real fun starts, because the candidates get to make you mad about stuff the things you’re most sensitive about: social issues. Guns, abortion, religion and education, gay people getting married. Most people have very strong views about these things, and these views are almost always closely entwined with our emotions.
Most people don’t vote for someone because they particularly like that candidate, they do it because they dislike or distrust the other guy even more. Get people mad about something that the other guy did some time in the past, and you win yourself votes.
Rather than basing our vote off of candidate’s long-term record, we base it off some random 30-second sound bite. And we wonder why Congress is so ineffective…
The media is complicit in this farce, because they know that discussing the issues that make us emotional will get them more viewers, so the news industry has become political polarized, with the major stations becoming more and more biased one way or the other.
Meanwhile, both parties are quietly screwing us all. Do you remember when we bailed out Wall Street after the housing bubble burst causing the recession in 2008? Well after that happened, legislation was passed letting investment banks know that the government would no longer bail them out for any risky investments they made (like the derivatives which bankrupted so many of them).
Well, late last year, the House of Representatives quietly repealed this provision, allowing banks to move their riskiest assets back into government-insured accounts. A few people reported it, but it went widely unnoticed for the most part.
Why didn’t it spark the outrage it should have? Because legislation, provisions and the general proceedings of Congress are on almost everyone’s filter of things not to read as we fly down our news feeds.
Need another example? How about the USA FREEDOM Act, which was passed by Congress after the Snowden revelations to end the NSA’s practice of mass collection of American’s phone records.
Well at least that’s what we were told it would do. But by the time it actually passed, the legislation was so watered down that it is virtually powerless to stop the mass collection of phone data.
Or how about our entire economic system, which is based off of the constant accumulation of debt?
When central banks set their interest rates super low, everyone borrows and spends a lot of money.
But when everyone realizes that most of the money being spent is money people don’t actually have, the bottom falls out.
That’s what happened in 2008. A piece of legislation designed to give more people access to housing ended up just making it very easy to give out home loans, even to people who banks knew couldn’t afford the payments.
But they gave out the loans anyways. Why? Because the government promised to pay them back for any losses. Banks went crazy giving out these toxic loans, and everyone started buying houses with money they didn’t have, slowly inflating the housing bubble.
Then one day, somebody realized the emperor had no clothes, and the housing bubble burst, dragging the economy down into a recession which screwed the average American pretty hard.
The banks, on the other hand, got bailed out to the tune of $1 trillion. The rich got richer, the poor got poorer. And this was definitely not the first time something like that happened. In fact, just 8 years before the housing bubble burst, we went through a similar downturn when the dotcom bubble burst.
This constant accumulation of debt causes cycles of inflation and deflation, but they happen over a number of years, so most people are unaware of the cycles, preferring to discuss only how the market has performed in the past few months .
The European Union has gotten so desperate to get people to spend money that their central bank recently set the standard interest rate for banks to -0.1% (yes that’s a negative sign), meaning that banks will actually lose money if they try to hold onto their cash instead of loaning it out.
The bottom line is that history repeats itself because we allow ourselves to be so consumed in the present that we forget about the past.
We’re so obsessed with staying “current” that we have blinded ourselves to the long-term trends which are really hurting us the most.
It’s basically a massive societal drug addiction: we opiate ourselves with material things to help us avoid confronting the serious problems that we all face together these days.
Rather than trying to do something about these problems, we get drunk off retail and high off social media, feeding the cancers of our world, rather than treating them.
We need a collective awakening to these issues. Otherwise, one day very soon, we’re going to reach a point when these cancers are no longer treatable, no matter how much we pray for recovery.
Petro Poroshenko is Ukraine’s new president, elected after a popular uprising that overthrew the former president Viktor Yanukovych and his regime.
The uprising was a reaction to Yanukovych’s decision to turn down offers to join the EU in favor of closer economic ties with Russia. The United States, close allies with the EU, enthusiastically supported the overthrow of Yanukovych and the election of Poroshenko, a pro-EU candidate.
But the more time goes on, the more it seems that the U.S. government may have played a bigger role in the Ukrainian uprising and aftermath than they would have us think.
Classified cables posted to the website wikileaks.org reveal that Poroshenko was on the payroll of the U.S. State Department as early as April of 2006. Poroshenko was one of the leaders of Our Ukraine or OU, a major political party in the country- the wikileaks cables refer to him as the U.S.’s “Our Ukraine insider”.
Another cable, from May 2006, reveals that the U.S. government knew Poroshenko to be corrupt:
“Poroshenko was tainted by credible corruption allegations, but wielded significant influence within OU; Poroshenko’s price had to be paid.”
“the opening of a U.S. diplomatic presence in Crimea… He emphasized the importance of Crimea, and said that having U.S. representation there would be useful for Ukraine.”
Crimea, as you know, is the disputed peninsula in the Black Sea which Russia occupied early on during the Ukrainian revolution.
These revelations, though not damning, are certainly suspicious at the very least. It’s very hard to imagine that Poroshenko won the Ukrainian presidency without any help from the U.S. after seeing that he has been providing the U.S. with insider information on Ukraine since 2006.
Some argue that Poroshenko’s work for the U.S. was an act of treason, since it’s extremely likely that some of the information provided by him was used to help oust Yanukovych back in February.
Combine these revelations with that the fact that Hunter Biden, Vice President Joe Biden’s son, was selected to the board of Burisma Holdings (Ukraine’s largest private gas producer) in May, just a month before Poroshenko was inaugurated into office, and things start to get really fishy.
It all comes down to the debate over whether or not it’s a good idea to wash eggs before putting them on the shelves. In the United States, USDA standards require that all eggs must be washed before being sold to consumers.
The standards specify that American eggs must be washed with an odorless detergent and water that is at least 90°F and a minimum of 20°F warmer than the internal temperature of the egg. The eggs must then be thoroughly dried.
This last step is where a lot of the controversy arises. A completely dry egg is almost completely impervious to bacteria, but even a thin layer of moisture facilitates the flow of bacteria into the egg.
Health officials in Europe are worried that washing eggs may do more harm than good, fearing that the drying process won’t be meticulously carried out every single time.
They also fear the possibility that some eggs could end up soaking in cold sanitizing water that hasn’t been changed out in a while. Cold water causes eggs to contract inwards- this contraction pulls liquid from the shell’s surroundings into its interior. If this liquid happens to be old, cold water, there is a high chance it contains bacteria.
Then there’s a little something known as the cuticle. As a hen is laying an egg, she applies a thin, mucous-like coating to the outside of the shell. It is wet for the first few minutes, but it quickly dries and creates a protective layer that keeps out carbon dioxide and moisture which can spoil and contaminate the egg.
The EU’s egg regulators say that the egg’s natural cuticle provides,
“an effective barrier to bacterial ingress with an array of antimicrobial properties.”
This is one of the main reasons why they oppose the washing of eggs, which often removes part or all of the cuticle layer.
Finally, there’s the issue of refrigeration. In Europe eggs are on non-refrigerated shelves and stay close to room temperature from the time they are collected to the time they are bought and consumed.
This is because when you take a cold, refrigerated egg out into warmer air, moisture in the air condenses on it. According to the EU regulations, this facilitates the growth bacteria both outside and inside the shell.
So why would we refrigerate eggs in the United States? The answer in related to another major difference between American and British eggs: salmonella vaccination.
Salmonella is the main bacterial culprit of contaminated eggs. It can come from feces getting on the egg, but it can also come from feces getting into the hen’s reproductive tract before the shell even forms. When this happens, the salmonella is inside the egg from jump- no amount of washing can de-contaminate it.
During an outbreak in the late 90s, thousands of people in the UK got salmonella poisoning in a very short period time. Ever since then, British farmers have been vaccinating their hens against salmonella to avoid the costs of being the source of a health crisis. While hen vaccination is not required by law, farmers must do it if they want their eggs certified by Britain’s official Lion Quality Mark.
Today, 90% of all eggs in the UK are from vaccinated hens, and most of the remaining 10% come from small farmers who don’t sell their eggs to retail chains. Reported cases of salmonella poisoning in the UK dropped from 14,771 in 1997 to just 581 in 2009.
Here in the United States, there’s no vaccination requirements. Consequently, we have about 142,000 cases of illness from consuming salmonella-contaminated eggs every year.
So back to refrigeration. A study in the early 90s showed that non-refrigerated eggs didn’t experience any significant salmonella growth in the first 21 days. After that, however, the eggs quickly became contaminated. More research has shown that storing eggs in colder temperatures inhibits the growth of bacteria over a much longer period of time.
So, to keep eggs from our unvaccinated American hens on the shelves longer, we refrigerate them. What do you think?
On Monday, Italy put the island of Poveglia (along with other public assets) up for auction in an attempt to cut debt and comply with European Union budget guidelines.
The beautiful island lies just 10 miles from Saint Marco Square in the heart of the tourist mecca of Venice, Italy. It seems like it would be an extremely popular destination. So why is everyone so afraid of it?
Well, it’s deserted, for one. And justifiably so- the island has a grisly past. In the 14th century, it was used as a dumping ground for bodies from the Black Death.
Many of the locals believe their ghosts still haunt the island and there’s a rumor that 50% of the soil there is made from human ash. There’s also a local saying that goes:
“When an evil man dies, he wakes up in Poveglia.”
It gets worse. In 1922, a hospital “for the elderly” (which many believe was a cover for a mental institution) was built on the island. Rumors of botched lobotomies are widespread amongst the locals. There’s also a widely believed rumor that one of the doctors jumped to his death from a tower window of the hospital.
Would you bid on the island? Take a tour through the pictures below (click an image to enlarge):
Here’s a quick timeline of the most recent events in the Russian-Ukrainian crisis.
On Sunday (March 16), residents of Crimea voted on a referendum of whether to leave Ukraine and join Russia- the measure passed by upwards of 90%. It is important to note, however, that all signs point to a pretty illegitimate vote.
For one, the ballot didn’t even include an option to stay with Ukraine- the two options were to leave Ukraine and join Russia, or leave Ukraine and become independent.
Secondly, it’s obvious that there was plenty of intimidation involved- Russian soldiers and armed “unmarked militia” (that pretty much everyone agrees are pro-Russian forces) patrol the streets of Crimea. This blog from Jon Lee Anderson at The New Yorker describes some of the intimidation tactics he saw employed by the “thugs” in the streets of Crimea.
Lastly, some of the actual results are simply ridiculous. For example, 123% of the major Crimean city of Sevastapool cast votes on the referendum. Mykhaylo Malyshev, chair of the committee overseeing the vote, announced on the evening of the 16th that 1,250,426 people had voted, but said that figure did include Sevastopol’s electorate. Including that city, he said, 1,724,563 total people voted.
The difference between these numbers (474,137) should be the number of votes cast in Sevastapool, right? Well, last year’s census put the voting-age population of Sevastapool at 385,462…very suspicious to say the least.
The next day (March 17), Defense Minister Ihor Tenyukh responded to the results of the referendum by saying,
“Crimea was, is, and will be our territory.”
When asked if Ukrainian troops would fight to defend Crimea, he replied carefully, saying,
“The armed forces will execute their tasks… Ukrainian forces will stay [in Crimea] until all their tasks have been completed.”
While Tenyukh said that Ukraine would “do everything possible to prevent war”, he noted,
“the threat of war is real…We are strengthening our defense capacity. Ukraine is ready to defend its territory.”
Then earlier today (March 18), Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a treaty which effectively annexed Crimea, making it a part of Russia.
Putin said the moves corrected a “historical injustice”, as well as saying that Crimea has “always been a part of Russia”.
Naturally, the Ukrainian foreign ministry responded, saying,
“We do not recognise and never will recognise the so-called independence or the so-called agreement on Crimea joining the Russian Federation.”
A few hours later, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced in an interview with Europe-1 radio that the other members of the G8 (a forum for the 8 leading industrialized countries) had decided to suspend Russia’s membership.
Fabius did, however, say,
“We are continuing dialogue with the Russians, despite the fact that we do not agree with them.”
BONUS: After the US announced (relatively inconsequential) sanctions against some Russian officials including the freezing of their American visas, Putin’s top aide said:
“The only things that interest me in the US are Tupac Shakur, Allen Ginsberg, and Jackson Pollock. I don’t need a visa to access their work. I lose nothing.”
Earlier today (3/6/2014), the parliament of Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula in the Black Sea at the center of the current situation with Russia, voted to secede from Ukraine to become part of Russia.
The issue will be put to a referendum in 10 days, when the citizens of Crimea will decide whether or not to approve their parliament’s decision.
Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, immediately denounced the move as having no legal basis in Ukrainian law, saying,
“Crimea was, is and will be an integral part of Ukraine.”
While European Union leaders echoed this sentiment, calling the move unconstitutional, there doesn’t seem to be anything they can do about it without provoking violence, as Crimea is currently occupied by the Russian military.
On Wednesday, Russian sailors pulled an old anti-submarine vessel out of a junkyard and sank it in the strait that connects the Black Sea to the Donuzlav Lake, preventing Ukrainian ships docked nearby from being able to go to sea.
While the European Union has presented plenty of tough rhetoric, they are hesitant to actually do anything.
Why? Well, because Russia is one of their biggest trading partners, and also provides a substantial portion of the EU’s gas and oil- putting economic sanctions on them would hurt the EU indirectly.
So despite that President Barack Obama called Russia’s intervention a “violation of international law,” and said that,
“the resolve of the United States and our allies and the international community will remain firm,”
it seems that he might actually be on his own with this one.