Most vegetables in the grocery store are the result of F1 hybrids, plants bred by agricultural companies for desirable traits. These grow quickly and are strong and uniform—qualities described as “hybrid vigor.” But if someone sows the seeds from these vegetables, the plants won’t exhibit the same characteristics as their parents, forcing farmers and gardeners alike to buy new seeds annually. Heirloom seeds, however, sprout and bear more or less the same odd-looking and delicious fruits and vegetables—with names like bumble bee bean and Hubbard squash (right)—every growing season. Generally, they’re more resistant to disease and adaptable to their environments. Plus they contribute to the diversity of the gene pool. Says Ott Whealy, “What a shame it would be if we lost any color or any trait from these older varieties that have been surviving all these years.”—Susan Cosier
Kick the Can
Thanks to Atlanta’s Zero Waste Zone, more than 3,000 tons of food and organic scraps so far have been transformed into energy and nutrient-rich soil rather than rotting in landfills next to nonbiodegradable or slow-to-decay trash. The movement—started to divert waste and attract conferences seeking green venues to the city—now has some serious momentum. And just in time. “Our soil is in dire straits,” says Holly Elmore, ZWZ Atlanta founder. “That waste is actually an asset that can be used to rejuvenate our soil and our water supply.”
To succeed, the initiative needed support—and scraps—from Atlanta’s food-industry bigwigs. Elmore tagged higher-ups at the Georgia World Congress Center, Philips Arena, the Westin Peachtree Plaza and Hyatt Regency hotels, the World of Coca-Cola, the Georgia Aquarium, and Ted’s Montana Grill (owned by Ted Turner). “If every one of these large facilities does it,” she says, “we make a huge difference.”
More than half of the participating facilities already recycled, but the ZWZ mission goes further, keeping food residuals and spent grease out of landfills, too, as well as conserving energy and creating toxin-free environments. Learning the finer points of composting took training, Elmore says. Take, for instance, twist ties. They seem like a harmless way to secure bags, but if they get into compost that’s spread on fields, they might harm cattle that ingest them.
No-waste zones are catching on around downtown Atlanta, and cities across the country are abuzz about the concept. Restaurants, food courts, caterers, and colleges are also adopting the practice. The message is clear—spread the word, not the waste.—Michele Wilson
Trim Your Waste
From farm to fork, Americans waste 40 percent of their food. In addition to the economic and ethical ramifications, our widespread squandering has far-reaching environmental impact. Since each person creates roughly a half-pound of food waste per day, we can play a significant role in reducing it. Here are five tips.
1. Shop Smartly: Plan a week’s worth of dinners and make a detailed shopping list to prevent overbuying. Leave a few nights free for leftovers or changing plans. Stick to your list and be honest with yourself—don’t buy produce that often goes unused.
2. In Sight, All Right: Keeping food visible works wonders. That means avoiding the cluttered fridge and cabinets where items get pushed to the back. Take a tip from supermarkets: Put the newer groceries behind the older ones.
3. Avoid Portion Distortion: Don’t dish out too much. It’s easy to take seconds, but we don’t often save what’s left on the plate. And beware—today’s massive plates make a reasonable amount look tiny. If you’re out to eat, know that you’ll likely get more food than you need or want. If leftovers leave you cold, halve recipes and order differently at restaurants.
4. Love Your Leftovers: Eat your leftovers. It’s easy to keep the remains of your dinner, but that’s no help if you don’t eat them. They’re ideal lunches, and they’ll save you time and money.
5. Expiration Exasperation: Trust your senses before you rely on the package date. Sell-by dates are aimed at retailers and leave about a week to enjoy an item at home. And best-by is less stringent than use-by.—Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland