Using Technology to Reduce Food Waste

Hello folks! It’s been a while. During the first year of this blog, I committed to posting one new article each week, and I kept my commitment for precisely that year. Then, I went on a quest I will share in today’s post.

Since the beginning of 2020, I have built a strategic plan for myself; I wanted to work on a project that meant something to the world and hopefully make a living at the same time. So, I enrolled in a business program and took cooking classes and culinary training to become a chef. I also embarked on a journey to improve my mental and physical health. This journey exposed me to two significant issues I would like to help solve: food waste and unhealthy eating habits.

What’s the problem?

The statistics show that in the US alone, we waste 30% to 40% of the food supply. So if you think about it in terms of population, a country of 330 million people wasting conservatively 30% of the food, that’s 140 million people that could be fed without any extra overload to the supply chain, enough to feed the entire Vietnam and Argentina.

If this is not convincing enough, consider the implications of making that food available: CO2 emissions from transportation, packaging, and later disposal and landfill use. This makes it not only a socio-economic problem but also an environmental issue.

Finally, at the individual level, overeating is a form of food waste that impacts people’s happiness, ability to use their bodies, wallets, and the environment. Let me explain. When people eat more than what their bodies need, they gain weight, then thanks to society’s fat-shaming culture (fueled by the dieting industry), they could feel insecure and could have less ability or willingness to move (walk, bike) to places, thus maybe driving more. This is a general statement, but I hope to illustrate the intuition behind it.

When Does Food Waste Happen?

Contrary to what most think, you don’t waste food when you put it in the trash bin. It already happened when you bought more than what you needed. This is, It’s not available to anyone else. Then, using that food that you bought in a smart way is just a solution to the original issue. Note that cooking more food than you need and eating it to not throw it away is not a solution to the problem; I’d even argue that overeating is worse than putting food in the bin because no one else will still eat it, but you will feel guilty for overeating. So then, a good practice is to learn how many calories you and your family need for the week and buy just enough. This sounds like a very simple way in which everyone could make the world a better place and save money, at least in theory. Also, note that the same principle applies to restaurant food. Of course, in practice, this is much harder.

How am I trying to Help Solve the Problem?

Reducing food waste is a significant problem that has many nuances. As much as I would love everyone to cook, I also realize that, at this time, being able to cook is a privilege. Not everyone has the time to do so, the skill, or even can afford to rent a place with a kitchen. My solution, then, targets those who have the time and willingness to cook under the following principles:

  1. With the right tools, everyone can whip up a meal that is cheaper, tastier, and healthier than those found in restaurants.
  2. With the right tools, everyone can plan their groceries to take advantage of seasonal products that are cheaper, tastier, and more sustainable.
  3. With the right tools, everyone can prepare recipes making appropriate replacements for ingredients that aren’t available or accommodate for restrictions like plant-only or food allergies.

Thinking of this, and with the help of a very good friend, we created Whipped Up, a platform that helps you learn how to better use your ingredients when cooking and planning your grocery shopping.

What does Whipped Up do?

It gives flavor combinations based on a list of ingredients, so you know what spices, herbs, or other things to use for a recipe.

It gives recipe ideas based on a list of ingredients, so you know what to make when you’re grocery shopping or don’t know what to prepare.

It can generate a recipe through machine learning to show you how to use those ingredients and show you cooking techniques. Check out an example!

If you’d like to try WhippedUp, you can download it from the Apple App Store (for iPhone users). Android users can access the web version, but soon we’ll have a version for that platform too!

We are very excited about this project and hope to make it even more helpful for everyone that wants to eat healthier and help with this huge environmental issue.

Finally, I want to thank everyone that has contributed as a beta-tester for the app and provided feedback! If you’re a user and would like to provide feedback, please get in touch with us!

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