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A conversation in Shanghai about food waste and food safety

Reflections from traveling abroad in Japan and a Watch Your Waste meal and workshop in Shanghai.

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As someone who grew up cooking, I am passionate about everything pertaining to edible education, food security, sustainable food systems, and of course, cooking. During my brief two week yearly visit to Shanghai, I wanted to participate in this OpenIDEO challenge by bringing my experiences and insights to the table as well as observing the experiences of those from a different cultural background. 

On August 13, I hosted a Watch Your Waste Meal with one other family and one family friend, a total of 7 participants. My goal was to spark a conversation around everyone's experiences with food waste to collectively brainstorm solutions to this global issue.

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The workshop structure:

Introductions and Conversation Starters: Introducing the Food Waste Challenge. Draw your neighbor and their favorite fruit.

Design Exercises (30-45 minutes):  Draw the last meal you made and document its food waste. Brainstorm ways food waste impacts your life and your community.

Dinner + Conversation: Composting Efforts in Shanghai. Food Safety in China.

After Dinner Brainstorm: Summarizing our conversations and poking out insights.


Cooking a Watch Your Waste Meal

As a recent college student and someone who cooks pretty often, I am always looking for ways to reuse ingredients, save money, and cut down on food waste. Although I wasn’t able to have zero waste during this meal, here are some steps I took to reduce waste:

Check your fridge before making a shopping trip - When I checked, I found some yellow grape tomatoes, a carrot, a lemon, dried chilis, and a few bulbs of garlic - all ingredients that I needed for my dishes and didn’t need to purchase again!

Don’t be afraid to be creative -Need limes and only have lemons? Substitute lemons! Was the bundle of Thai basil you bought more than the recipe required? Throw some in the salad! Make Thai basil and lemon sparkling water!

Anticipate leftovers - With proper preparation and a little imagination you can rework leftovers into another meal. I can proudly say that the leftover green curry from the dinner has been extended into two more meals. #unwasted

More ideas from Jamie Oliver here

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Unfortunately some things that were wasteful included cucumber peels and a spoiled red onion.

(You might ask, Why peel a cucumber? Just eat its skin! Due to growing concerns around agricultural and food industry practices in China, it is safer to peel vegetables that are to be eaten raw after washing than to risk get food poisoning, a fate that I was unable to escape upon my last visit to China.)


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Food safety has a higher priority - Much of our dinner conversation would deviate from food waste to food safety. It was apparent that the issue of food safety ranked higher on people’s priority list. One of the participants explained that although he understands the global impact of food waste, he cared more about food safety issues in China have direct consequences on his health. 

There is a lack of education - We came to the consensus that proper education, such as education about food systems in schools, was necessary for people to understand the importance of cooking, composting, etc.

The city lacks the proper infrastructure- During the dinner, we discussed composting. To my surprise, none of the participants were aware of composting efforts in their apartment buildings or in Shanghai with the exception of a few public parks that had trash, recycling, and yard waste bins.

Cultural differences - As we know, leftovers often lead to food spoilage. While traveling in Japan, not once did I have leftovers to take back to my Airbnb. Every meal was finished where you ordered it. My aunt explained the cultural differences between Japan and China.

In Japan, you order as much as you can eat. It is better to order a few dishes first and then order more if you are still hungry after. In China, if you are eating with guests, you cannot let the food run out on the table. It is not polite. It is always better to order more and take leftovers home.

Who will be the middle man? 

There are 3 billion tons of food being wasted yearly yet people in poverty face hunger daily and don’t have access to fresh foods. How can we find a solution that solves both these problems? 

The best solution is self sustaining communities.

My fondest memory of Japan, was a plastic bin at the edge of the community garden. Here community members would leave freshly grown vegetables that was more than they needed. They would mark it with a price, often 100 yen or 1 USD for three one-foot long cucumbers, and leave a tiny container for coins to sell on an honesty policy.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

How might we incorporate knowledge around food systems and food waste into childrens' educations to create lifelong empathy for the global impact of food waste?

Tell us about your work experience:

Recent graduate from the University of Washington with a B.S. in Informatics specializing in Human-Computer Interaction. I have industry experience as a UX Design intern at Udemy.

This post emerged from:

  • A group brainstorm
  • An Individual


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