Have you heard of Blue Zones? I hadn’t until my knows-everything-and- everyone little sister told me. It’s fascinating.
Blue Zones are communities across the world with the highest population of centenarians – people over 100 years of age. A term conceived by author, educator and speaker Dan Buettner, Blue Zones apparently hold the secrets not just to living long, but living well.
You may be wondering where I’m going with this. Bear with me. I’ll get there.
In studying the Blue Zones of Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Icaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, CA, Buettner and his team discovered striking commonalities among these seemingly diverse communities.
The punch line is that it’s the environment, not genetics, which most impacts life expectancy. And within the environment, several key lifestyle factors are likely to increase your longevity and overall wellness. Top on the list are:
- natural physical activity (like walking, bike riding, gardening)
- sense of purpose
- connectivity (such as meaningful relationships, community and a sense of belonging)
- eating wisely(defined as a Mediterranean, plant-based diet)
If I’ve peaked your interest, download Buettner’s 20-minute Ted Talk, “How To Live To Be 100,” or pick up one of his three book titles for a more in-depth look at the topic.
Living to be 100 years old is not something I really think about. Frankly, living until 90 sounds just about fine with me. But living well? Now that’s something I grapple with. And I’m smart enough to know that if I want to live well later in life, I’d better be living well, or at least working on it, now.
Which brings me to food scraps.
You know, the food in your kitchen that you never actually eat? Carrot tops, banana peels, apple cores and chicken bones? Your kids’ half-eaten dinner? Last week’s leftovers?
And where do most of us throw those food scraps? Most likely, right where I’ve thrown mine for the last umpteen years: in the garbage.
Except this spring I’ve adopted a new motto. Well really, it’s more of a realization: food is not trash.
And sadly, the inefficient disposal of food scraps is just one of many failures of a wasteful food system that needs serious remedy. One-third of all food gets trashed somewhere along the food chain by grocery stores, restaurants and consumers. That’s 33 percent folks. Try reconciling that figure with the 40 million Americans across our country are food insecure according to a 2015 USDA report.
And treating food like garbage is also tragically harmful to the environment, putting our own personal health at risk and jeopardizing Mother Earth herself.
When food scraps are thrown out, they end up in landfills, where they break down and produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes significantly to global warming. In fact, when you think about the ramifications of your personal carbon footprint, consider that that methane is shown to have a warming potential of 21 times that of CO2, according to the EPA. Although food waste in landfills has decreased over the last 10 years, it still accounts for 14 percent of municipally collected trash.
These are sobering facts, whether you want to become a centenarian or not.
Thankfully, advocates across multiple arenas, from law makers to social organizations; businesses to municipalities, have mobilized in recent decades to address these issues, stimulating awareness and action.
Like right here in my hometown of Scarsdale, where since January residents can now recycle our food scraps, turning them into compost, a valuable resource that can be returned to the earth, helping to make cleaner soil, water and air.
Around 10 percent of Scarsdale households are already on board, and the village has collected over 26,000 pounds, or 13 tons, of food waste to-date. Although residents need to bring their food scraps to the Scarsdale Recycling Center to be composted, ultimately curbside pick-up will be scalable when enrollment increases.
Part of a larger zero-waste mission envisioned and largely driven by community advocates Michelle Sterling and Ron Schulhof, recycling food scraps is a natural outcome of larger mandate for sustainability, which is, plainly stated, the ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the well-being of the future.
That’s a pretty tall order, but here in Scarsdale, I’m proud to say that we’re doing it. Drive by the elementary schools these days and you’ll see students and teachers outside together planting in the garden. Check out the Scarsdale Middle School cafeteria or one in any of the lower schools, where kids separate their waste into recyclable bins and have, in a short period of time, already cut their volume of trash in half. Take your cues from the 550 residents who are recycling their food scraps into nourishing compost.
This is work. But the work is purposeful and forges relationships within the community. It raises awareness about healthy eating and fosters respect for Mother Earth.
It’s a mindset that I imagine would resonate with folks in the Blue Zone communities. It’s the daily work of living longer and living well, and it starts now.
For more information on The Village of Scarsdale Food Scrap Recycling, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A version of this article ran in The Scarsdale Inquirer on May 12th, 2018.