More people in the world are trying to make the whole food cycle more efficient. (Photo: Lien Hoang)

More people in the world are trying to make the whole food cycle more efficient. (Photo: Lien Hoang)

Take this astounding statistic: Out of all the food in the world, up to half of it gets tossed out…  

So how can we be less wasteful? It’s an increasingly relevant question as we start to consider future food security…

In Ho Chi Minh City, Lien Hoang talks to some experts from across the region to find out more. 

Here’s an idea: If you want to look healthy and pretty, what you need is chicken. Not to eat. But to rub on your skin. Sort of. 

A team of Malaysian scholars has been trying to find a use for chicken skin. 

Apparently, it contains a lot of elastin, which is similar to collagen and can be turned into beauty products -- like anti-aging lotion, or drinks, or cosmetics.

Salma Mohamad Yusop is part of the team. She’s a senior lecturer at the National University of Malaysia’s School of Chemical Sciences and Food Technology. 

And she has a nice little catchphrase for her scientific experiments.

“It’s creating wealth from waste,” she laughs.

Wealth from waste – That could be the slogan for a whole group of people, who are now trying to make the whole food cycle more efficient.

Do you ever look at your trashcan and feel kind of guilty for throwing out food? … I do. So I always find it cool, when I hear about new ways people are trying to prevent that, to minimize waste.

Like chicken. It’s got to be one of the most popular foods in the world. But a lot of the bird gets tossed out before ever reaching a dinner plate.

“Consumers are already now becoming more health-concerned. So they associate the poultry skin with cardiovascular disease. So it contributes to the poultry skin being discarded on a daily basis,” she says.

Malaysians, she says, don’t eat the skin as much. 

“Yeah, not just at the consumer levels, but at the food service and industrial levels, too,” she says, “So we can see at the market a lot of skinless sections, skinless chicken sections.”

Salma’s project had funding from the Malaysian government. And other countries are getting involved, too. 

Just this year, France became the first nation to ban supermarkets from trashing food that hasn’t gone bad yet. In Denmark, a new store called WeFood recently started selling products past their expiration dates.

Then there’s the Philippines. I met Leif Marvin Gonzales, a research coordinator at Capiz State University’s College of Agriculture and Fisheries.

He and his team noticed that so much cabbage was being lost from the time a farmer harvested it, to the time it was sold to Filipino shoppers.

So they tested out different techniques to minimize this waste.

“Based on the result of the study, it is shown that in terms of post-harvest loss from farmers, it is reduced almost 5-10 percent,” he says, “Based on the study, I was able to reduce the loss from farm up to retail level.”

How did they do it? The researchers had four methods: they kept the outer leaves on the cabbage to protect it. 

They transported the vegetables in plastic crates, instead of sacks. They mixed aluminum with water and spread it on the cabbage to control bacteria. And finally, they used plastic film to reduce the crops’ exposure to oxygen.

Gonzales and Salma both talked to me at the recent International Conference on Environment and Renewable Energy, in Ho Chi Minh City. 

It was hosted by the Asia-Pacific Chemical, Biological & Environmental Engineering Society.

While I was there, I also chatted with Hiroko Seki, a postdoctoral fellow at Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology. 

She conducted tests to compare the use of styrofoam versus cardboard, when transporting tuna. And she found that cardboard is cheaper during the manufacturing and transit phases. Plus, it decomposes, so it’s better for the environment.

I caught up with Suki during the conference lunch break and she told me researchers are working on a prototype of corrugated cardboard that will survive in the water.

Suki says the development could significantly reduce waste in seafood logistics in the future.

Biodegradable materials like cardboard are better for the environment, and so is minimizing waste. 

Gonzales, the Filipino researcher who focused on cabbage, says there are other benefits to reducing waste.

“We must adapt this technology, particularly farmers, the retailers, wholesalers, as well as consumers, so that we’re able to increase our profits,” he says, “And also the production, since we’re aiming for self-sufficiency, as well as food security.” 

As for the rest of us, advocates say everyone can waste less food, which would reduce a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

A few things we can do: not overspend at the grocery store, or obsess too much about perfectly shaped apples or carrots...

 

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