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American families waste a third of the food they purchase
On average, American households dump the equivalent of $1,900 worth of food a year.
- A recent study finds that the average American household wastes a third of its food.
- All told, the U.S. food system squanders billions of pounds of consumable food every year, amounting to billions more in economic losses.
- Improved meal management can help Americans save the money thrown out with their food.
Every August, herds of tourists gather in the tiny town of Buñol, Spain. As lorry trucks haul in payloads of tomatoes, they arm themselves with the fruity munitions and the battle begins. Juicy explosions go off in every direction, participants are painted a sticky red, and the streets flood with a most unsanitary gazpacho.
This is la Tomatina, a festival billed as the world's largest food fight. All told, the 22,000 food warriors throw approximately 150,000 kilograms (330,693 lbs.) of tomatoes.
Anyone who has witnessed the spectacle has entertained two thoughts simultaneously: That looks like disgusting fun and, wow, what a waste of food!
La Tomatina may be a rollicking example of contemporary food waste, but it is hardly the most prodigious. According to a study published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, American households waste tons more food every year, and we can't even excuse it as merrymaking. We just toss it in the dump.
Throwing away food (and money)
Participants at la Tomatina splash through the pureed remains of thousands of tomatoes.
Since the study authors couldn't rummage through America's trash, they took the economist approach. Using the USDA's National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) data, they examined food acquisition for 4,000 American households.
Then they analyzed the biological data of the participants to establish basal metabolic rates. The difference between food acquisition and the metabolic rate needed to maintain body weight was treated as "production inefficiency" — that is, uneaten and wasted food.
Their results show that the average American household wastes 31.9 percent of acquired food. The estimated value of that food is $240 billion annually, or about $1,866 per household.
But not all households waste equally. As Edward Jaenicke, study author and a professor of agricultural economics at Penn State, pointed out in a release: "More than two-thirds of households in our study have food-waste estimates of between 20% and 50%. However, even the least wasteful household wastes 8.7% of the food it acquires."
Based on the study's results, households that squander the least food tend to be either large or lower income. Lower-income households foster better meal-management because of food insecurity, while larger households have more people to eat the food.
Conversely, most wasteful households have higher incomes and employ healthy diets. That's because high incomes didn't necessitate detailed meal-management, while healthier diets were associated with fresh foodstuffs, which perish much quicker than packaged and processed foods.
"It's possible that programs encouraging healthy diets may unintentionally lead to more waste," Jaenicke noted. "That may be something to think about from a policy perspective -- how can we fine-tune these programs to reduce potential waste."
Our inefficient food network
Billions of pounds of food end up in landfills where it produces vast amounts of greenhouse gases.
Americans certainly waste food, but individual households are hardly the only point of misuse in the country's staggeringly inefficient food network.
Food loss occurs at every stage, from farm to dinner table. According to the USDA, Americans wasted 133 billion pounds of food at the retail and consumer levels in 2010 (the USDA's baseline year). Similarly, the EPA averages the loss to be at 218.9 pounds per person.
For some perspective, you would have to hold a la Tomatina festival every day for 1,102 years to generate the amount of food waste produced in the U.S. in 2010 alone.
Worse, America's food system prevents much of this wasted food from reaching the consumer's hands, for either eating or throwing. Vast quantities go directly to a landfill or are plowed under despite being edible.
That's because farmers and retailers believe U.S. consumers won't likely purchase a peach that doesn't meet a cosmetic, near Platonic ideal, of what a peach should look like. Feeding America estimates 20 billion pounds of fruit and vegetables meet such a fate each year.
"Our findings are consistent with previous studies, which have shown that 30% to 40% of the total food supply in the United States goes uneaten — and that means that resources used to produce the uneaten food, including land, energy, water and labor, are wasted as well," Jaenicke said.
In addition to depleted resources, the study authors point out that wasted food exacerbates the current climate crisis. Rotting food produces the greenhouse gasses methane, carbon dioxide, and non-methane organic compounds — collectively called landfill gas. Because of this and other organic wastes, landfills have become the third-largest source of human-caused methane emissions in the U.S.
Waste not, save more
Of course, the best way to reduce food waste and save money isn't to forego healthy eating habits. It's to develop more effective food management. Here are some ideas to help you out:
Plan store trips. Plan your meals a week in advance, and keep a running list of groceries you'll need. Include quantities of food to prevent over-shopping.
Restaurant prudence. Schedule dinners out so food for meals isn't forgotten in the fridge. Only order what you can eat. In restaurants known for excessive portions, request to have the meal split. Beware the buffet blitz.
Buy from bulk bins, not in bulk. Bulk bins allow you to purchase enough food to meet your needs and no more. Buying large amounts of products in bulk, however, results in neglected food. It may cost less per ounce to buy a wheel of cheese versus a smaller quantity, but it only saves money if the entire wheel is eaten before it spoils.
Understand dating definitions. What's the difference between the "sell-by," "use-by," "freeze-by," and "best-before" dates? Hint: Only the use-by date is safety-related and then only for infant formula. The others are recommendations for flavor and quality. The true indicators of spoilage are the odors, flavors, colors, and textures produced by bacteria and other microorganisms. For more information, visit the USDA's webpage on food product dating.
Strategic food prep. Research best practices for storing different foods. For example, vegetables can be washed, dried, and chopped in preparation for their use in salads, but berries should be washed right before use. Also prepared meals that can be frozen for later eating, and develop a rotation system so the oldest foods are the first to be used.
Cook for fewer. Divide recipe ingredients by the number of diners. Keep leftovers and either schedule a leftover night or take them for lunch the next day. But don't you dare reheat that salmon in the office microwave. Keep it at home.
Be creative. Stale bread can become croutons. Overripened bananas whipped up into banana bread. Leftovers resurrected as a whole new meal. Creative thinking can prevent a lot of food from ending up in the dump.
Compost. No amount of creativity will make coffee grounds palatable, but if composted, inedible food can go to better use. You can create your own compost or seek out a community program. Composting offers a better solution for other organic waste, too, such as fall leaves and grass clippings.
With these tips, we can begin to scrape back our share of the food and money wasted every year in American. As for the U.S. food network, the USDA and EPA have teamed up to reduce America's food waste by 50 percent by 2030.
- This Cool Video Urges You to Pay Attention to the Food You Waste ... ›
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Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.
- U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
- Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
- While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
The U.S. Navy controls patents for some futuristic and outlandish technologies, some of which, dubbed "the UFO patents," came to light recently. Of particular note are inventions by the somewhat mysterious Dr. Salvatore Cezar Pais, whose tech claims to be able to "engineer reality." His slate of highly-ambitious, borderline sci-fi designs meant for use by the U.S. government range from gravitational wave generators and compact fusion reactors to next-gen hybrid aerospace-underwater crafts with revolutionary propulsion systems, and beyond.
Of course, the existence of patents does not mean these technologies have actually been created, but there is evidence that some demonstrations of operability have been successfully carried out. As investigated and reported by The War Zone, a possible reason why some of the patents may have been taken on by the Navy is that the Chinese military may also be developing similar advanced gadgets.
Among Dr. Pais's patents are designs, approved in 2018, for an aerospace-underwater craft of incredible speed and maneuverability. This cone-shaped vehicle can potentially fly just as well anywhere it may be, whether air, water or space, without leaving any heat signatures. It can achieve this by creating a quantum vacuum around itself with a very dense polarized energy field. This vacuum would allow it to repel any molecule the craft comes in contact with, no matter the medium. Manipulating "quantum field fluctuations in the local vacuum energy state," would help reduce the craft's inertia. The polarized vacuum would dramatically decrease any elemental resistance and lead to "extreme speeds," claims the paper.
Not only that, if the vacuum-creating technology can be engineered, we'd also be able to "engineer the fabric of our reality at the most fundamental level," states the patent. This would lead to major advancements in aerospace propulsion and generating power. Not to mention other reality-changing outcomes that come to mind.
Among Pais's other patents are inventions that stem from similar thinking, outlining pieces of technology necessary to make his creations come to fruition. His paper presented in 2019, titled "Room Temperature Superconducting System for Use on a Hybrid Aerospace Undersea Craft," proposes a system that can achieve superconductivity at room temperatures. This would become "a highly disruptive technology, capable of a total paradigm change in Science and Technology," conveys Pais.
High frequency gravitational wave generator.
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
Another invention devised by Pais is an electromagnetic field generator that could generate "an impenetrable defensive shield to sea and land as well as space-based military and civilian assets." This shield could protect from threats like anti-ship ballistic missiles, cruise missiles that evade radar, coronal mass ejections, military satellites, and even asteroids.
Dr. Pais's ideas center around the phenomenon he dubbed "The Pais Effect". He referred to it in his writings as the "controlled motion of electrically charged matter (from solid to plasma) via accelerated spin and/or accelerated vibration under rapid (yet smooth) acceleration-deceleration-acceleration transients." In less jargon-heavy terms, Pais claims to have figured out how to spin electromagnetic fields in order to contain a fusion reaction – an accomplishment that would lead to a tremendous change in power consumption and an abundance of energy.
According to his bio in a recently published paper on a new Plasma Compression Fusion Device, which could transform energy production, Dr. Pais is a mechanical and aerospace engineer working at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD), which is headquartered in Patuxent River, Maryland. Holding a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, Pais was a NASA Research Fellow and worked with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. His current Department of Defense work involves his "advanced knowledge of theory, analysis, and modern experimental and computational methods in aerodynamics, along with an understanding of air-vehicle and missile design, especially in the domain of hypersonic power plant and vehicle design." He also has expert knowledge of electrooptics, emerging quantum technologies (laser power generation in particular), high-energy electromagnetic field generation, and the "breakthrough field of room temperature superconductivity, as related to advanced field propulsion."
Suffice it to say, with such a list of research credentials that would make Nikola Tesla proud, Dr. Pais seems well-positioned to carry out groundbreaking work.
A craft using an inertial mass reduction device.
Credit: Salvatore Pais
The patents won't necessarily lead to these technologies ever seeing the light of day. The research has its share of detractors and nonbelievers among other scientists, who think the amount of energy required for the fields described by Pais and his ideas on electromagnetic propulsions are well beyond the scope of current tech and are nearly impossible. Yet investigators at The War Zone found comments from Navy officials that indicate the inventions are being looked at seriously enough, and some tests are taking place.
If you'd like to read through Pais's patents yourself, check them out here.
Laser Augmented Turbojet Propulsion System
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
It marks a breakthrough in using gene editing to treat diseases.
This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.
For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.
The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.
The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.
One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.
Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.
Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).
Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.
A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.
We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.
"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.
What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.
The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.
A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.
This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.
If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.
Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.
"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."
A new government report describes 144 sightings of unidentified aerial phenomena.
On June 25, 2021, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a much-anticipated report on UFOs to Congress.
The military has rebranded unidentified flying objects as unidentified aerial phenomena – UAPs – in part to avoid the stigma that has been attached to claims of aliens visiting the Earth since the Roswell incident in 1947. The report presents no convincing evidence that alien spacecraft have been spotted, but some of the data defy easy interpretation.
I'm a professor of astronomy who has written extensively on the search for life in the universe. I also teach a free online class on astrobiology. I do not believe that the new government report or any other sightings of UFOs in the past are proof of aliens visiting Earth. But the report is important because it opens the door for a serious look at UFOs. Specifically, it encourages the U.S. government to collect better data on UFOs, and I think the release of the report increases the chances that scientists will try to interpret that data. Historically, UFOs have felt off limits to mainstream science, but perhaps no more.
Three videos from the U.S. military sparked a recent surge in interest in UFOs.
What's in the UFO report?
The No. 1 thing the report focuses on is the lack of high-quality data. Here are the highlights from the slender nine-page report, covering a total of 144 UAP sightings from U.S. government sources between 2004 and 2021:
- “Limited data and inconsistent reporting are key challenges to evaluating UAP."
- Some observations “could be the result of sensor errors, spoofing, or observer misperception."
- “UAP clearly pose a safety of flight issue and may pose a challenge to U.S. national security."
- Of the 144 sightings, the task force was “able to identify one reported UAP with high confidence. In that case, we identified the object as a large, deflating balloon. The others remain unexplained."
- “Some UAP many be technologies deployed by China, Russia, another nation, or non-governmental entity."
UFOs are taboo among scientists
UFO means unidentified flying object. Nothing more, nothing less. You'd think scientists would enjoy the challenge of solving this puzzle. Instead, UFOs have been taboo for academic scientists to investigate, and so unexplained reports have not received the scrutiny they deserve.
One reason is that most scientists think there is less to most reports than meets the eye, and the few who have dug deeply have mostly debunked the phenomenon. Over half of sightings can be attributed to meteors, fireballs and the planet Venus.
Another reason for the scientific hesitance is that UFOs have been co-opted by popular culture. They are part of a landscape of conspiracy theories that includes accounts of abduction by aliens and crop circles. Scientists worry about their professional reputations, and the association of UFOs with these supernatural stories causes most researchers to avoid the topic.
But some scientists have looked. In 1968, Edward U. Condon at the University of Colorado published the first major academic study of UFO sightings. The Condon Report put a damper on further research when it found that “nothing has come from the study of UFOs in the past 21 years that has added to scientific knowledge."
However, a review in 1998 by a panel led by Peter Sturrock, a professor of applied physics at Stanford University, concluded that some sightings are accompanied by physical evidence that deserves scientific study. Sturrock also surveyed professional astronomers and found that nearly half thought UFOs were worthy of scientific study, with higher interest among younger and more well-informed astronomers.
If astronomers are intrigued by UFOs – and believe some cases deserve study with academic rigor – what's holding them back? A history of mistrust between ufologists and scientists hasn't helped. And while UFO research has employed some of the tools of the scientific method, it has not had the core of skeptical, evidence-based reasoning that demarcates science from pseudoscience.
A search of 90,000 recent and current grants awarded by the National Science Foundation finds none addressing UFOs or related phenomena. I've served on review panels for 35 years, and can imagine the reaction if such a proposal came up for peer review: raised eyebrows and a quick vote not to fund.
A decadeslong search for aliens
While the scientific community has almost entirely avoided engaging with UFOs, a much more mainstream search for intelligent aliens and their technology has been going on for decades.
The search is motivated by the fact that astronomers have, to date, discovered over 4,400 planets orbiting other stars. Called exoplanets, some are close to the Earth's mass and at just the right distance from their stars to potentially have water on their surfaces – meaning they might be habitable.
Astronomers estimate that there are 300 million habitable worlds in the Milky Way galaxy alone, and each one is a potential opportunity for life to develop and for intelligence and technology to emerge. Indeed, most astronomers think it very unlikely that humans are the only or the first advanced civilization.
This confidence has fueled an active search for extraterrestrial intelligence, known as SETI. It has been unsuccessful so far. As a result, researchers have recast the question “Are we alone?" to “Where are the aliens?" The absence of evidence for intelligent aliens is called the Fermi paradox. First articulated by the physicist Enrico Fermi, it's a paradox because advanced civilizations should be spread throughout the galaxy, yet we see no sign of their existence.
The SETI activity has not been immune from scientists' criticism. It was starved of federal funding for decades and recently has gotten most of its support from private sources. However, in 2020, NASA resumed funding for SETI, and the new NASA administrator wants researchers to pursue the topic of UFOs.
In this context, the intelligence report is welcome. The report draws few concrete conclusions about UFOs and avoids any reference to aliens or extraterrestrial spacecraft. However, it notes the importance of destigmatizing UFOs so that more pilots report what they see. It also sets a goal of moving from anecdotal observations to standardized and scientific data collection. Time will tell if this is enough to draw scientists into the effort, but the transparency to publish the report at all reverses a long history of secrecy surrounding U.S. government reports on UFOs.
I don't see any convincing evidence of alien spacecraft, but as a curious scientist, I hope the subset of UFO sightings that are truly unexplained gets closer study. Scientists are unlikely to weigh in if their skepticism generates attacks from “true believers" or they get ostracized by their colleagues. Meanwhile, the truth is still out there.
This article has been updated to clarify that the report was produced by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Gain-of-function mutation research may help predict the next pandemic — or, critics argue, cause one.