Communicating In Our Fast-paced World: How to Find Balance

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It’s amazing how quickly the world around us has changed as we progressively move forward in the age of information. Technology has brought many great advancements, but at the same time begs the most basic question: Are we moving further away from the ability to truly connect and communicate with those around us?

Look around you: every day you can bear witness to the impact that smartphones and social media are having on our society. Just this morning, dropping my son off at school, I saw several parents, teachers and children on their phones. How did we survive when we only had land lines? I believe it’s safe to say that a great many of us are having an intimate affair with our phones, utilizing them to “hide” from life and ourselves.

What’s the answer to keeping up with technology without losing yourself along the way?

I strongly believe that you have to keep yourself accountable, making sure that you are not falling prey to the pitfalls of advanced technology. This is extremely important as we already multi-task way too much. And things are only moving faster, so it’s important to find new and safe ways to strengthen our ability to communicate and connect with others.

It’s time to take your own “communication pulse.”

Do you spend more then an hour a day on any social media platform? Are you constantly in a reactive state, which prevents you from listening to others? Do you look at your phone when you are in a conversation with another? Do you answer calls at the dinner table or other valuable family moments? Do you find yourself choosing to text instead of having a conversation? Are you having conversations over text or email that should be done in person? If you have answered yes to any of these questions, then you may have an imbalance.

As much as I appreciate modern technology, it’s changed our ability to communicate on many levels. Communication is becoming a lost art and it’s failing miserably at the hands of our children. Remember when you couldn’t be contacted every moment of the day and there were moments of the day you just got lost in work or play? Remember when you didn’t have to meet an expectation by answering someone immediately? Many of the modern day smartphone users feel compelled to respond right away to a text or email and more often then not this disrupts the flow of your day. Additionally, with less time to process our thoughts, our responses become more of a reaction instead of a conversation.

How does social media contribute to this imbalance?

Social media has many advantages, but there are plenty of drawbacks as well. I believe that many people in our world use Facebook and Twitter as a hiding space. Sitting behind the screen of a computer or phone gives people the courage to say what they want without a filter or compassion. Our emotional intelligence is getting lost in translation and we are slowly losing the ability to be honest with each other and work through difficult conversations; to take a moment and sit with a situation, even when it feels uncomfortable, and move toward communication to solve the problem.

I can’t tell you how many Facebook debates I skip over daily, wondering whether that conversation would be happening if it was in person. The usual answer? No, it wouldn’t, because you would have the connectivity factor and the ability to read body language, which would help ease a conversation that may get heavy.

Where’s the real problem?

The real problem is two-fold. We are losing our ability to communicate with honesty and kindness. Second, if we don’t have the skill to communicate in truth, whether it be a debate or difficult conversation, then how do we expect our children to be able to communicate? This is a mounting concern, as our future generations can text faster then they can talk.

What’s the solution?

Start with awareness. How much time are you on social media, and how much are you on your phone? The amount may shock you, but conscious awareness is the first step to solving our communication problem. Next, come up for air; realize that you do not have to respond immediately to anyone by text or email. Pause, and respond when the time is right for you. Then dig a little deeper: how many times during the day are you derailed because you’re interrupted by a text or email? How much time does each interruption take from your day?

How do we move forward?

Set some family phone rules. Start with some simple limitations, such as only using Facebook on the weekend or certain times throughout the day. Respond to all texts or emails periodically through out the day (three times, say). Oh, and please stop inviting people to play Farmville. 😉

Ask that no phones be on the dinner table or when you are out to eat. Spend time talking and enjoying each other; it goes a long way. Save difficult conversations for person-to-person visits and utilize texts for quick responses, not conversations.

Enjoying the gifts that come with technology is important, but moving forward into a new age with balance is even more important.



We Can Easily Solve The Problem of Food Waste

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Imagine yourself at the grocery store, in the produce aisle, sorting through the fruits and vegetables you wrote down on your shopping list for the week. You sift through bunches of broccoli or piles of apples and pears, ignoring those with blemishes and scratches, searching for only the ripest and most appealing specimens. But this behavior is part of a massive problem that is contributing to global hunger, climate change and agricultural instability. The good news is we can solve this problem by teaching current and future generations simple methods on how to reduce food waste; the question is will we?

Why Food Waste is a Problem

Throughout the world, there are nearly a billion people who are considered starving or food insecure, meaning they do not always have access to a sufficient quantity of nutritious food. But there is more than enough food produced in the world to ameliorate this issue, so much that if we were to redistribute a quarter of the food that is wasted in the world, the problem would be solved.

This waste issue is pandemic and can’t really be pinpointed on one nation or another, though developed countries are undoubtedly the largest contributors. In Europe and North America, each year we average between 95-115 kg of wasted food per person. Developing countries like many in sub-Saharan Africa typically waste a tenth or less than that, but still contribute to avoidable food waste when it comes to production and distribution from poor infrastructure and equipment.

In Europe, 29 million tons of dairy products are wasted each year and in the UK alone food waste totals 7.3 million tons annually. In South America, Argentina wastes 1 kg of food per person, daily. Clearly this problem transcends borders, politics, and culture, but it is also one that will likely require some international cooperation to solve at an aggregate level.

So, how does the U.S. stack up? Despite our relative affluence, 14% of families in the U.S. are considered food insecure. Meanwhile, we spend between $1,500 – $2,275 per family, on easily avoidable food waste cost every year. This stems partly from the fact that we throw away nearly half of all produce that we buy, adding up to roughly $160 billion a year. This problem is not solely an American issue, but there are definitely some systemic factors that contribute to these food waste statistics.

 

Crowded garbage after the Altona fish market

 

Avoidable Food Waste

Much like our society’s unattainable standards for a person’s physical beauty, we tend to overvalue the physical beauty of fruit and vegetables. In reality, we’re missing out on what really counts; that which can only be found on the inside. In the U.S. and other first-world countries we have ridiculously high and often completely irrational standards for what our food looks like.

This fickle and picky attitude is a lead cause of food waste, yet it is one of the easiest issues to solve. Because of these demands, farmers’ harvests are subjected to untenable standards and levels of scrutiny for what their product must look like, despite the fact that slightly less appealing produce, often with only minor blemishes or discoloration, will have the same exact nutritional value. Farmers must carefully weigh the cost and potential revenue that can be made from harvesting a crop, based on whether or not the produce will fit these absurdly high standards. They must take into consideration the labor for harvesting, energy for storing and refrigeration, and the cost of transportation once their product has finally been purchased.

If a crop is not going to cover those costs and turn a profit, farmers reject them as “walk-by” crops. Depending on market demands and weather conditions that year, walk-by’s can occur between 1-30% of the time. These factors in the past have led the price of certain crops to fluctuate so drastically that farmers have to essentially gamble on what will be their cash crop each year. According to one farmer, prices of broccoli have ranged from $6 per case one year, to $32 per case another year.

 

Feeding the world one seedling at a time

 

But there are other, more systemic difficulties in each step of the farmer’s process that are not immediately obvious to those unfamiliar with the industry. While there are plenty of farmers, with plenty of produce, there are a small group of buyers who continue to perpetuate the high standards of what produce must look like. These large corporations, which buy the majority of produce in the US, dictate the standard which farmers must attain, leading them to plant more than they normally would, subsequently leading to more wasted food. But those who cannot keep up with the increasingly high demands end up being muscled out by bigger farms or using GMOs and excessive pesticides to maintain that perfect appearance.

 

Reducing Food Waste and Expired Food

Another issue we struggle with is our labelling of products with “best-by,” “sell-by,” and “use-by.” These labels all have different meanings, and despite the common misconception that they have to do with the safe consumption of a food product, they actually have to do with a producer’s suggestion of when they will taste best. Sell-by is aimed at when retailers should ideally get the product off their shelves, but beyond that date the product is still good for about a third of its shelf life. Use-by and best-by are both guesses at when the product will remain at peak quality, but don’t necessarily mean the product is bad after that date. In fact, there are only a few products like deli meats and unpasteurized dairy products that are highly perishable and dangerous to consume immediately after the use-by date.

As it turns out, the majority of consumers can’t tell the difference between these labels, let alone the fact that they are, to a varying degree, guesses at when the food is likely to taste the best. One study found that less than half of all consumers can properly identify what the term sell-by means, while less than a quarter could identify what use-by means. At this point, 90 percent of us will throw away food once it has reached this date, adding up to $1,500 or more in the trash each year.

 

Fresh bio-waste and compost

 

Not only does that food, which ends up in the trash, waste money, it also makes up 20 percent of our landfills. When this is compounded with the amount of energy and water spent on production, food waste accounts for nine percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In the U.S. it accounts for a quarter of all freshwater use, tens of millions of acres of cropland, and 300 million barrels of oil each year; a large contributor to climate change, with one of the easiest fixes.

While there are some efforts being made by certain groups like the Consumer Goods Forum, there should be a broader mandate to label food in a clear and concise way, making it clear to consumers when their food is perfectly safe to eat. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that it’s within corporate interests for consumers to waste food and this is probably the reason that labels are so ambiguous in the first place. When companies can convince you that the perfectly good food in your fridge is unfit for consumption, this leads the consumer back to the store to buy more.

This has also led for some to call out corporations for practices like multi-buy offers, that can be deceitful and convince consumers to buy more than they need. Multi-buy offers, like those that offer a discounted price when you buy 2 or more, often sound like a bargain, but lead to wasted food and are sometimes more expensive than buying the product at its unit price. A study found that companies would often use “zig-zag” pricing to make a product seem like it was being sold at discount, when it was previously sold at an inflated price for only a couple days.

 

Ways to Reduce Food Waste

In Denmark, one woman has been credited with drastically reducing food waste throughout the entire country. Selina Juul was originally born in the Soviet Union making her accustomed to food shortages. After moving to Denmark, she became appalled by the country’s rampant waste of food and decided to make it her goal to implement a solution. She convinced a local grocery to practice policies like eliminating multi-buy offers and selling individual bananas rather than bunches, to sell the hundreds of pieces of fruit that were otherwise being thrown out.

Ironically, Juul targeted a grocery store called REMA 1000, a Norwegian chain that is known for its “no-frills” aesthetic, displaying produce on wooden pallets and crates and limiting its stock to 1000 items. The chain is particularly popular for its low prices and hundreds of locations. Garnering over 17 percent of all revenue from supermarkets in Scandinavia, it was inspired by the successful business model of the German supermarket chain, ALDI.

Over five years, Juul’s methods worked and she cut food waste by 25 percent throughout Denmark. She first inspired REMA 1000, creating a trend in the private sector, which subsequently led to policy changes at the public level. With enough support and demand her model could become a worldwide trend.

Another idea that Juul put into action was a food waste supermarket. In its first week, the store was donated 40 tons of food that would have otherwise been thrown away, selling it for half the price it could be found at a normal grocery store. The food waste market became so popular they had to open another, soon inspiring similar models in the UK and other countries.

But could something like this happen in the US? Unless there is a large movement to enact changes in legislation, it would be difficult to follow this model. Unlike in France, where laws have been passed that prohibit restaurants and markets from throwing out unsold food, the U.S. has stricter laws and picky consumers. But if we collectively demand a different model and use our purchasing power to change these business dynamics we could implement some similar practices and lower food waste. Doing so would save us all money, reduce the damage being done to the planet, and prevent people from going hungry. So, what are we waiting for?

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