Combating Food Waste

I participated in Food Forward this weekend, along with Jen, who coordinated the whole thing.  It was really interesting to see how some organization and volunteering can switch up our established food economy and cut back on some of our food waste and hunger problems. Then I came upon this article on Grist:  It gives an interesting look at other groups that are redistributing the food economy, like Food Forward. Worth reading!

Tomato Mania: Tomatoland looks at the effects and the future of our nation’s obsession with tomatoes

 Tomato Mania: Tomatoland looks at the effects and the future of our nation’s obsession with tomatoes 


Tomatoland, Barry Estabrook.
Andrews McMeel Publishing;
Original edition (April 24, 2012).
ISBN: 1449423450

A friend recently told me that she would no longer be eating fish and chips
because, unsurprisingly, the trawling process to catch cod ends up destroying
other coral reef and sea life along the way.  Indeed, I can’t quite stomach KFC
after seeing Food Inc. and other foodie documentaries. I think twice about corn syrup and corn-based snacks. I’ve eaten a hamburger in the company of vegetarians, only to hear just how much water it takes to produce my fried quarter pound of beef (almost 2,000 liters).  I’ve seen PETA brochures that make me
never want a BLT, ever, ever, again.  Yet, when eating my hamburger, or my
turkey sandwich, or even a salad, I’ve not once been told about the evils of the alluring red tomato hiding within. That is, not until I picked up a copy of Barry Estabrook’s Tomatoland.

Unearthing an plethora of disturbing details behind one variety of industrially grown tomatoes, the imperfectly perfect “Florida Rounds,” Estabrook details the history behind the rampant pesticide use, distasteful breeding methods, and slave labor of Florida’s tomato industry. In a reporting style that mixes personality, shock, balanced interviews, and advocacy, Estabrook describes “a world we’ve made, and one we can fix. Welcome to Tomatoland.”

Indeed, Estabrook welcomes readers to a world they already know if they’ve ever eaten a mealy, pale tomato.  What readers likely do not know, however, comprises the most compelling sections of the book’s tomato exposé – the horrific conditions of Florida’s tomato laborers, which are even more sickening than the paltry red fruits they produce. For readers who only picture dying birds and feminized fish at the mention of pesticides, Estabrook gives very personal reminders that people are exposed, too.

And for what?  The industry is hardly lucrative, and it’s certainly not for gastronomic delight. Florida Rounds are grown for durability and perfectly spherical shape because, as phrased by Florida Tomato Committee’s compliance officer Steve Jones, “taste is subjective.” Really, these Floridian fruits only exist because “people want something red to put in their salad.”

Estabrook gets dirty to unearth the secrets behind the modern tomato industry, taking readers into the quarters of modern slaves, fields filled with pesticides, courtrooms, sheriff stations, and soup kitchens.  He riles environmental ideals with stories of pesticides and acres of rotting tomatoes because harvesting would cost more than a grower could make in profit.  From a variety of perspectives – both the “good guys” and the “bad guys” – Estabrook compiles a highly personalized and shocking condemnation of industrial tomato production.

But Estabrook, who used to write about both food and politics for Gourmet Magazine, also knows how to make tomato flavor sing on paper.  My mouth waters at descriptions of accidental farmer Tim Stark’s home-grown heirloom varieties sold in a New York City farmer’s market. In the latter half of the novel, Estabrook couples organic successes with recent improvements in the industry. Though obviously advocating for change in the industrial food system, Estabrook describes organic farmers and political change in Florida’s tomato system to show that change is, indeed, possible.

This second half, by nature, reads a little slower. It does not compel me to jump out of my chair and tell my next-door neighbor to never buy a Florida Round tomato ever, ever again. It shows improvements, which are less shocking than the injustice. But, it adds the needed sweetness to a book that started bitter. Offering an organic solution, Estabrook elevates Tomatoland to a book of criticism and hope, condemnation and advocacy, a book that I can savor over and over again.

Almost Spring

The garden really seemed to be stepping into spring this afternoon, but it’s not quite there yet.

A few things I observed:

1. The blueberries are blossoming, with lots of white, unripe fruit. Once they start getting blue, we’ll have a lot of harvesting to do!

2. Strawberries are also beginning to show some fruit!


Tiny, green strawberries are beginning to pop up!

3. The dirt is starting to sink down because we are watering it. For example, these radishes were extended out of the dirt (not good!), so I pushed them back in. We should begin to layer more dirt/compost on top of the beds to prevent this type of problem. Whole Foods just delivered 10 tons (!!!) of compost made from tossed produce and prepared foods, and we can use some of that top refill the garden.

big radish

These radishes are growing, but they aren’t sinking with the soil! I pushed them back further into the dirt, but we will have to add more soil on top.

4. LOTS of things going to seed! We will have to pay attention to what things are going to seed. This is one of the most important parts about the garden — seed saving. It is unlikely that people will be around in the summer months to keep the garden watered and growing, we should make sure to save as much seed as we can to start again in early fall.

seeding lettuce

This lettuce has most definitely bolted, and already has lots of seeds, as you can see at the top.

5. As we are going into spring, it’s getting much hotter! I noticed that the beds were really quite dry and they need to be watered a bit more, I think. Even as I was finishing watering, some of the beds and pots that I started with were already looking dry. This is hurting the herbs the most, I think.  A few parsley plants had yellowing leaves, and the basil had seen better days as a result.


Limp basil. “Water me!”


We will be meeting in the garden tomorrow, Tuesday the 25th, and will most likely add more dirt, do more watering, and sort through seeds. See you there!

Garden Progress!

I went to the garden early yesterday morning to do some quick watering. There were a number of “wood-like” lettuce plants that were bolting. I wasn’t sure what to do with them, so I decided to wait until today’s garden lab to consult Anne McKnight.  Some of the dying lettuce plants went into the compost, while some of the bolting lettuces stayed in the ground. Throughout the morning, we talked to Daily Bruin writers, so look out for an upcoming article on our class! 

Today we worked on a number of important garden developments: 

1. Moved herbs from throughout the garden to one centrally located herb plot (with the new bench)

2. Labeled and mapped the garden

3. Stirred and watered the compost

4. Weeded things out and checked the periphery 



Delicious, garden-grown salad for lunch today: Various types of lettuce, green onion, and cilantro from the UCLA garden, with avocado from my co-worker’s backyard, and some salt and pepper. Looking forward to more varieties to come as the food keeps growing!

Anne warned that this was becoming a “museum” garden, which we definitely don’t want, so start picking food and enjoying it! We picked some more green onions for students to take home. I grabbed some other foods eat in a salad later. Some of the lettuce was slightly bitter, but overall it was delicious! I’d recommend everyone else to try it out.  We just have to make sure to only take about 1/3 of the plant when harvesting. 

Monday Garden Update

Today, Monday January 28, I stopped in the garden to check up on the plants, see the new raised beds (they look awesome, good job to the builders!), and water then plants.


Lettuces on a ladder


Lone tomato plant

Watering — All of the beds and many of the potted plants on the edges of the garden were already damp and well-watered by the time I arrived at about 2:30 this afternoon. However, I did notice that some plants were getting ignored: the lone tomato plant in the corner , the lettuces/cabbages in pots on the ladder , and some other herbs/leafy veggie plants on the northern part of the garden. When watering, we’ll have to make sure to check all around the garden and not skip over any hidden plants.


Pea Seedlings

Seedlings — In one of the planters, rows of bok choy, radishes, and buckwheat were sprouting up nicely.

In the seedling containers, there was something sprouting that looked like a garbanzo bean. Update: During class on Tuesday, I asked James what was sprouting, and he said it was sugar peas.

Harvesting — Anne McKnight said we should be getting ready to harvest some lettuce soon, but I let it be for now so the harvest might be more substantial in the next few days. Per Anne’s instructions for harvesting lettuce: “Start from the outside. Grab the bottom of the leaf down near where it enters the ground, maybe an inch away from the soil. Hold it tight (thumb and forefingers?) with one hand. With the other hand, grab just above that and snap. the spine will just snap, and you will have the big leafy part in your non-holding hand. Move your picking from outer to inner leaves.”


Blueberries are coming!

The blueberry bushes are also starting to look really good! We should look out for these to start giving off lots of fruit. I used to have a blueberry bush at home, and once they start producing ripe berries, the harvest is plentiful and frequent. There is a blueberry bush in the back, sort of hidden, so we should perhaps move it to a more accessible location once the fruit starts coming.

I also notices some lettuce that was nearly busting out of its pot, so I moved it to the planter with the lone cabbage. It looks like it’s doing really well, and should be harvested in the next few days, I think.

I did not happen to notice any quinoa sprouting, but we should continue to check on that situation.

I found a green pomelo on the ground. Unfortunately, it looked much too green to be eaten. I was about to toss it in the compost bin, but after doing some research, I found that pomelos can be stored and ripened for up to 3 months. We should keep on eye on the pomelo and see if it can be salvaged! A ripe pomelo should be light green to pale yellow.