When you’re shopping, don’t pass up a crooked carrot.
Or a potato shaped like an elbow.
Embracing imperfect produce is one way to reduce waste as the world’s demand for food grows, Jessica Vieira, director of sustainability at Goleta-based Apeel Sciences, told the News-Press last week at Satellite SB, a restaurant at Impact Hub on State Street.
“We waste about a third to a half of all the food that is produced for consumption,” Dr. Vieira, 30, said.
“We’re trying to make people more aware that really small changes can make a big difference.”
Dr. Vieira will discuss food waste and more when she moderates “What’s the Future of Food?,” a TEDxSantaBarbaraSalon, at 7 p.m. July 30 at the Impact Hub Chapala Center, 1221 Chapala St.
The program is part of a series of salons and adventures exploring topics at the annual TEDxSantaBarbara conference on Nov. 16 at the New Vic, 33 W. Victoria St. TEDxSanta Barbara is the local offshoot of the international nonprofit known for its TED Talks.
The July 30 forum will consist of topics such as Apeel Sciences’ efforts to extend the shelf life of produce, today’s food system, meat and alternative types of protein, imperfect produce and consumer behavior, and a Massachusetts Institute of Technology team’s efforts to improve food production.
Dr. Vieira, who earned a doctorate in environmental science and management in 2018 at UCSB, will comment on the topics, show related five-minute TED Talk videos and lead discussions by the 40-member audience.
The future of food is an important subject for Mark Sylvester, a former chef who’s the executive producer and organizer of TEDxSantaBarbara.
“We live in Santa Barbara, where we’re blessed with farmers markets and have easy access to good, quality food,” Mr. Sylvester told the News-Press. “Yet when we look at the challenges facing agriculture and our region, I don’t know how sustainable it’s going to be over the long haul.”
Mr. Sylvester said he thought about the future as he recently drove past the strawberry fields in Oxnard: “When is all of this going to be covered up with housing?”
Dr. Vieira said solutions involve planning, using technology and changing behavior.
“Sometimes, it’s about deciding to order a type of food that’s less intensive to produce than another, or planning better so you’re not going to end up throwing away so much,” Dr. Vieira said.
“By 2050, we’re going to need 56 percent more food to meet the demand of the growing population, and we really don’t have the resources and land area to produce that much food,” she said.
“Eating a plant-based diet is going to have a lower environmental impact,” Dr. Vieira said.
“After that, it’s really case-dependent,” she said, citing factors such as the amounts of energy, water, fertilizer and fuel used in production.
“Most of the studies I’ve seen say red meat tends to be the highest impact,” Dr. Vieira said.
She noted beef requires land for both the cattle’s pastures and to grow what they eat.
The TEDxSantaBarbara forum will address plant-based alternatives that look and taste like meat, Dr. Vieira said, citing examples such as Impossible Foods’ Impossible Burger.
“There’s a few groups in Santa Barbara that focus on developing sustainable fisheries and aquaculture. Several faculty and student researchers at (UCSB) Bren School are studying that specifically,” Dr. Vieira said. “We may touch on that a little bit depending on where the discussion goes in the salon.”
She noted her company, Apeel Sciences, has helped to reduce food waste with an invisible, tasteless and edible plant-based coating that can double or triple the shelf life of fruits and vegetables. She explained that is accomplished by reducing the rate that produce loses water and gains oxygen.
The company is applying its coating to avocados that are being sold at Costco and Kroger stores such as Ralphs.
Dr. Vieira added that stores and consumers alike need to change how they perceive produce, much of which is discarded before it reaches shelves.
“Grocery stores know no one wants a carrot that looks like a peace sign,” Dr. Vieira said. “They want the perfect long, thin carrot.
“But some grocery stores are actually starting to have sections of imperfect produce, so more is getting into the market,” she said.
Dr. Vieira also emphasized the role of technology and praised an MIT team for its research into using a computer to determine climate scenarios for growing produce.
“It’s really thinking about what it means for food to be local and how we can produce food in the future,” she said.
Environmentalists have talked about reducing the carbon footprint by buying locally raised produce, which Dr. Vieira said makes sense for areas like Santa Barbara with ideal climates and environments. “But if you live in a place where you need to grow everything in a greenhouse, you need much more intensive (energy) input.”
As solutions are explored, Dr. Vieira expressed optimism that the world is making progress.
“We’re seeing more and more people making purchasing decisions based on how sustainable their choices might be.”
IF YOU GO
Jessica Vieira, director of sustainability at Goleta-based Apeel Sciences, will moderate “What’s the Future of Food?,” a TEDxSantaBarbaraSalon, at 7 p.m. July 30 at the Impact Hub Chapala Center, 1221 Chapala St.
The forum, which includes Ms. Vieira’s presentation, videos and audience discussion, costs $20. To purchase, go to tedxsantabarbara.com.
The program is part of a series of salons and adventures that will discuss topics at the annual TEDxSantaBarbara conference on Nov. 16 at the New Vic, 33 W. Victoria St. For more information, go to tedxsantabarbara.com.