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Sasve the planet - eat microwavable entrees!

"The most valuable and nonrecoverable item in our lifestyle is time. A second lost is lost forever," declared N.C. Vasuki, C.E.O. of the Delaware Solid Waste Authority, at the recent NFPA Convention in Dallas.

"Consequently, our daily goal is to maximize use of precious time. We demand goods and services that conserve our time," added Vasuki. Examples of time-savers include: FAX machines, airplanes, telephones, and prepared foods.

"The changing lifestyle in the 1960s and the time demand on women who were increasingly joining the workforce resulted in an enormous demand for prepared food. Frozen food technology aided this change.

"More time savings accrued with the introduction of microwave cooking technology whose popularity has again revolutionized our food consumption habits," reported Vasuki.

The primary purpose of convenience and prepared foods is to save time. Because these-heat-n-eat foods require more sophisticated packaging (often much-maligned plastics), it has been assumed and popularized that these value-added microwavable products contribute more garbage to the waste stream.

Let's explode that myth using the example of a microwavable frozen entree containing a chicken breast, green beans, and mashed potatoes. If you were purchasing all of the products separately (i.e., raw chicken, fresh potatoes or instant potatoes, and canned, frozen, or fresh green beans), the amount of packaging for these three products would exceed the packaging of a single frozen entree.

Obviously, purchasing foods in bulk does reduce the amount of packaging. However, the difference in packaging volume between a meat case pack of three chicken breasts, can of green beans, and box of instant potatoes (food for roughly three meals) and three microwavable entrees is not significantly less.

Another advantage of the portion-controlled entrees is that most of the food is consumed. Often, leftovers from foods prepared from scratch are discarded and enter the waste stream.

In the case of raw chicken and fresh potatoes and green beans, the scraps associated with deskinning the chicken, peeling the potatoes, and cleaning the green beans become household wastes. At a food processing plant, these wastes are reused as animal feed or for rendering. Approximately 25% of food processing byproducts are used as cattle feed... or end up on salad bars at fast-food restaurants. (Just kidding about the latter.)

Granted, household organic wastes could be used for composting. But there's a problem with composting. Currently, we are producing more compost than there is a market for. Unused or unsaleable compost just becomes more waste to dispose of.

Home preparation of these fresh foods requires cleaning of the cooking wares and serving dishes. Water goes down the kitchen sink and flows to the municipal waste treatment system. In contrast, microwavable entrees are heated in their packaging containers, which also double as serving dishes.

Food processors generally perform some type of treatment (i.e., primary, secondary, or even tertiary) before releasing the effluent to the local treatment plant.

In this Presidential year, to heck with a chicken in every pot. How about a packaged chicken dinner in every microwave! Save time... and save the planet!

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Author:Swientek, Bob
Publication:Food Processing
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jun 1, 1992
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