Can Spreading Happiness Save the World?

Anyone can spread happiness and kindness, it’s up to you.

I know this may sound crazy or silly but I believe spreading happiness and kindness could indeed help us save our planet and this is why.

Earth is struggling to survive and so are people. There is no planet B and even if astronomers discover one tomorrow, evacuating over 7.5 billion people and billions of other living creatures is way beyond our current technology, resources, and money. Working together to live sustainably on Planet A our Earth seems like a practical idea.

Whom do you think will succeed? People who love, respect, and care for each other or people who hate, demean, and harm each other? My money is on the first group.

Let us say you agree but you feel increasingly disturbed by the constant cascade of depressing, sad, and hateful news. The urge to turn away, to escape, or give up can be very strong. When problems seem vast and insurmountable, you can feel overwhelmed, powerless, and hopeless.

You are only one person. What could you possibly do that would make a positive impact?

Okay, so here is the crazy silly part.

You can choose to shine a light in your little corner of the world by spreading some happiness and kindness. I know this is not an earth-shattering concept but sometimes if you are stuck in neutral or frozen like a deer in the headlights you just need a nudge to get going again.

My nudge came in a yellow envelope.

The Happiness Sprinkling Project

Happiness Sprinkling Project Newsletter, Sticker, and You Rock CardIn early August, I received a bright yellow envelope in the mail with a circle on the front embracing the words “enjoy today.”

The envelope contained a newsletter, a “Sustaining Happiness Ambassador” sticker, and a business card with the words “You Rock!”

That card immediately brought a smile to my face and unbeknownst to me planted a seed in my mind, which turned into an idea about six weeks later.

The idea will make more sense to you if I digress and tell you about the source of the envelope, which was from Laura Lavigne who runs the Anacortes Center for Happiness and its Happiness Sprinkling Project.

My introduction to the Happiness Sprinkling Project occurred while I was serving on the Board of Directors of an environmental and social justice nonprofit based in San Luis Obispo, CA called Ecologistics.

I challenge you to say the word sprinkling without smiling. Here is what the project is about very briefly.

Picture yourself getting ready to cross the street on your way to a job interview feeling nervous and scared or sitting in your car at a streetlight feeling depressed and sad because you just found out a friend passed away or riding your bike down the street after an especially stressful day.

Suddenly you look up and spot a group of people standing on the corner wearing yellow shirts and holding up big signs that say things like “You Rock!” “It’s Going to Be Okay” and “You Are Delightful.” Chances are you would smile and feel your spirits lift even if just for a moment. You might even be inspired to pull over, park, and join the group or stop on the sidewalk for a hug.

People Wearing Yellow and Holding Encouraging Signs - Happiness Sprinkling Project
People Wearing Yellow and Holding Encouraging Signs – Photo Credit Happiness Sprinkling Project

These yellow-garbed happiness ambassadors are sprinkling happiness and kindness and so can you and me. Here is what I am doing.

Happiness Sprinkling for Shy Introverts

The chances of me organizing a Happiness Sprinkling event where I live are infinitesimal unless I wake up some morning transformed into a totally different person, meaning an outgoing extrovert who thrives on trying to get people to volunteer to do something.

Since a personality transformation has not been forthcoming, I have been musing about what I could do to sprinkle some happiness in my neighborhood.

After weeks of staring at the “You Rock!” card I had pinned on the bulletin board next to my computer, I had an idea. I could do a happiness sprinkling project right in my own yard.

We live in a small town and the street our house is on leads from the main thoroughfare (aptly named Main Street) up a steep hill to other roads and quite a few houses. We get a fair amount of traffic going past our house as people drive to and from work or just go about their daily routines. A few hardy souls walk past on their way to or from Main Street.

My idea was to revamp one of the signs we had made for the March for Science and stick it in my yard to cheer up passersby. My spouse was enthusiastic and being a person who likes engineering and building stuff suggested a weatherproof sign holder that could withstand the fog and wind that frequents our house.

Now that I had roped my spouse into the project, my vision expanded into being able to change the sign periodically so we could display different messages. Project managers will instantly recognize this as scope creep.

My spouse constructed a sturdy sign holder completely out of materials we had on hand from other projects; and created the first sign printing it on three pieces of letter-size copy paper (this part was tricky).

We scouted a suitable location in our yard. I weeded the area while my spouse pounded in a couple pieces of rebar. We slid the sign over the rebar and took a photo.

Green Groundswell You Rock Yard Sign

I may never know if anyone actually notices the sign or if it brightens anyone’s day but odds are that at least a few people will crack a smile, laugh, or tell someone else that there is a nut job living down the street with a sign that says “You Rock!” in their yard.

As much as I like the sign holder my spouse made, I would have been happy with my original idea, too. The important thing for me is that I took action and did something to sprinkle a tiny bit of happiness in my neighborhood and so can you.

You Can Sprinkle Happiness, Too

Sprinkling some happiness is within everyone’s power. It can involve wearing yellow or signs, but it does not have to. There are countless opportunities every day to be kind to another person and spread some happiness. Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices started.

Let the person behind you in the grocery market checkout line go in front of you even if they have a lot of items. Smile at the people you pass on the street or in the hall and say “Good Morning.” Volunteer to take out the trash even though it is not your job. Engage in a conversation with someone who does not share your view on a particular topic. Listen to an excited coworker talk about their kid’s school play even though you have a deadline to meet.

You get the idea.

Let’s go sprinkle some happiness.

Reader Note: Neither the Happiness Sprinkling Project or Ecologistics solicited this post. They will find out about my project when I email them the link to this post.

Featured Image at Top: Yellow Happy Face Ball Surrounded by Blue Sad Face Balls – Photo Credit Dreamstime/Pablo Scapinachis

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Can Eating Ugly Fruits and Vegetables End Hunger and Food Waste?

Beauty is only skin deep is true for food, too.

Stopping food waste at the farm is a positive step towards ending hunger in the United States. Eating ugly fruits and vegetables is one way you can help.

Thinking about issues as far-reaching and multifaceted as hunger and food waste can be overwhelming. You may feel like you cannot do much about them. The thing is that even if a problem is huge and complex you can learn about a small aspect of it and then take action.

For this post, I chose eating ugly fruits and vegetables because I believe that our perception of what constitutes edible food influences our decisions all along the food chain.

This post provides a 30,000-foot look at hunger, food waste, and the environment so you can get a grip on the big picture. It also includes a section on food aesthetics and ideas about how you can participate in the ugly food movement.

For readers wanting more information, you can find links to reports, articles, and videos at the end of the post.

A 30,000-Foot Look at Hunger, Food Waste, and the Environment

I have a love hate relationship with data and statistics. Information is necessary for identifying problems, figuring out what is causing them, and measuring solutions to find out whether they are working or not. What worries me is that the people counted in statistics can too easily become just numbers in a database instead of living breathing people with lives and loved ones. Please keep this in mind as you review the information below.

Hunger

Over 42 million people in the United States live in a food-insecure household, which is government-speak for these people do not have enough food to eat on a regular basis. It is hard to get your arms around 42 million people (13% of our population), but chances are you know one or more of these 42 million people, even though you might not know they go hungry sometimes (one of these people could even be you).1

There are many reasons that people go hungry in the United States mostly having to do with not having enough money to buy healthy food or not having access to it or both. One part of the problem is that affordable fresh fruits and vegetables are not available and affordable for everyone.

Food Waste

The United States spends over $218 billion (yes, billion) growing, processing, transporting and disposing of food that is never eaten.Reducing food waste even 15% would be enough food to feed 25 million Americans.4

Farmers do not even harvest over 10 million tons of food a year.2 These fruits, vegetables, and other crops are left to rot in fields and orchards, fed to livestock animals, or sent to landfills. One in five fruits and vegetables do not get eaten, at least not by a human.3

Environment

Putting food on American tables eats up 10% of our total energy budget, uses 50% of our land, and gulps 80% of our freshwater, yet 40% of the food in the United States goes uneaten.4

Farmers apply tons of synthetic chemicals and toxins to food crops during all stages of growth including fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and a host of other substances intended to either promote growth or kill something. Land, air, and water pollution cause life and death problems like cancer in people, ocean dead zones, and bee colony collapse. 5, 6, 7

As you can see, these are serious and huge issues.

Next, let’s bite off a manageable chunk (pun intended) of the food waste problem that we can do something about.

Food Aesthetics – Picky, Picky

Your food selection criteria are highly influenced by the federal government and food distributors and retailers.

The U. S. Department of Agriculture issues voluntary food grade standards and most food distributors and retailers adhere to these standards even though they are not required to (in most cases).

These standards cover a wide variety of foods including fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy products, and grains, both fresh and processed. The standards determine what are acceptable sizes, shapes, colors, and other attributes depending on what kind of food it is. The general idea is that standardizing food quality and appearance makes it easier to market food and provide customers with what they want.

Standards probably do make buying and selling food easier for everyone in the food system, except perhaps for farmers. Unfortunately, it also creates picky food shoppers and leads to mountains of edible food decomposing in fields and landfills across the country.

In all likelihood, you grew up eating these calibrated fruits and vegetables. I did. Today as you and I push our shopping carts around the produce section in our local grocery stores our learned preferences and biases influence our selections.

Faced with a scarred nectarine or a three-legged carrot we may frown and not actually view it as an edible piece of food. It is not our fault; after all, we received training from a powerful industry with a massive advertising budget.

Beauty is Only Skin Deep is True for People and Food

It is not easy to overcome automatically avoiding foods that do not match your preconceived notion of acceptable food appearance. Like changing any habit, it requires making a different choice repeatedly until it becomes routine.

Take a potato for instance. Once you peel, cook, and mash a potato it looks like mashed potatoes regardless of what the whole potato looked like at the store. If you consistently buy potatoes with odd-looking bumps, at some point they may just register as potatoes in your mind instead of imperfect potatoes.

Below are photos of some ugly carrots I bought. I sliced two for a snack and cut up a few to use in a stir-fry vegetable dish. Can you tell which of the ugly carrots I used?

Wider acceptance of so-called ugly fruits and vegetables could lead to several positive outcomes.

  • Farmers – harvesting ugly crops and selling them at discounted prices increases revenue and reduces food waste in the field.
  • Cooks and Chefs – buying and incorporating ugly food into recipes and menus reduces costs, builds market demand, and helps spread the word.
  • Food Shoppers – requesting and buying ugly produce builds market demand at the retail level making fresh fruits and vegetables more widely available and affordable.
  • Food Retailers – expanding offerings to include ugly food brings in additional revenue, creates goodwill, and reduces food waste.
  • Food Non-Profits – keeping more food in the system at a lower cost enables organizations to provide healthy and nutritious food for a larger number of hungry people.

Okay, sounds good, now what?

What Can You Do?

You have an opportunity to join the fledging ugly food movement in the United States and take part in reducing food waste and building market demand for ugly and affordable fruits and vegetables. Here are a few ideas to help you get you started.

  • Buy ugly produce when you can find it at the store or farmers market. Do not worry if you cannot bring yourself to buy a really weird looking fruit or vegetable, start with something easy like a curvy cucumber.
  • Ask the produce manager or store manager at your local grocery market if they have imperfect looking produce for sale and if not ask them to try stocking it.
  • Sign up for an ugly food box service that delivers to your home or workplace or that you can swing by and pick up. Keep it local.
  • Make a tasty dish using ugly produce and share your recipe and before and after pictures with your friends and family and on social media.
  • Volunteer to pick ugly crops donated by a farmer, pack boxes with ugly fruits and vegetables at a food bank, or help make meals with ugly produce at a shelter.

Your willingness to buy and eat ugly fruits and vegetables may not end hunger and food waste in the United States, but you can be part of the ripple that can turn into a wave of change.

You never know, you might begin to look at a bruised apple or a container of leftovers in a whole new light.

Featured Image at Top: Pile of Raw Ugly Carrots – Photo Credit Shutterstock/farbled

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References

  1. Food Security Status of U.S. Households in 2015, USDA Economic Research Service, 2016
  2. A Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste by 20 Percent, ReFed, 2016
  3. How Californians Are Fighting Food Waste on the Farm, at the Store and at Home, by Danny Jensen, KCET, 04/05/17
  4. Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill, by Dana Gunders, NRDC, 08/2012
  5. As Trump’s EPA Takes Shape, Here’s Your Pesticide Cheat Sheet, by Elizabeth Grossman, Civil Eats, 02/02/17
  6. “Dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico is biggest ever, by Ian Hendy, The Conversation, 08/11/17
  7. Is America’s most common pesticide responsible for killing our bees?, Alison Moodie, The Guardian, 02/05/17

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