Can a Simple Piece of Paper Change the Way We Eat? Kavita Shukla at TEDxManhattan


Translator: Cristine Molina
Reviewer: Rhonda Jacobs So today I’d like to tell you
about a simple idea that could change the way we eat. It looks like this. It’s a piece of paper
with a distinctive maple-like scent. That scent indicates
that the paper is active. What does it mean
for a piece of paper to be active? It means that if you put this sheet into a refrigerator drawer,
a carton, or a bag, filled with different fruits
and vegetables, that produce will last
for two to four times longer. Anyone who’s ever opened a fridge
to find moldy strawberries or a bag of soggy spinach knows how frustrating and expensive
food spoilage can be. But this paper is not only for use
by consumers like you and me. Because it’s so low-tech and inexpensive, it can actually be used
by large-scale growers and producers, as well as in the developing world. Today, 1.6 billion people
live without access to refrigeration. And despite all the technology we have, 25% of the world’s food supply
is lost to spoilage. This small sheet of paper
could significantly reduce spoilage and the massive energy
and resource costs associated with it. It all started here
in my grandmother’s kitchen. About ten years
after this picture was taken, I was visiting my grandmother in India and I accidentally drank some tap water
while brushing my teeth. I started to panic, but my grandmother quickly whipped up
some spices and herbs into a solution and said, “Oh, just drink this,
and you’ll be fine.” I was very skeptical when I looked
at this murky brown mixture, but I drank it, and I didn’t get sick. I then began to wonder if and how
it might have actually worked. So when I got home to the US
I decided to do some simple experiments. And I actually ended up finding
that some of the spices in the mixture were able to stop the growth
of common bacteria and fungus that I found around my kitchen. Then, I went grocery shopping
with my mom one day and she asked me to pick out
a box of strawberries. But I kept getting frustrated,
because I couldn’t find a single box that didn’t seem to have even
a few strawberries that hadn’t gone bad. So I thought, “I wonder what would happen if I started dipping strawberries
in my mixture. Would they perhaps last longer?” I tried it, and the results
were unbelievable. I went out and got
many fruits and vegetables, and again, it really worked. And so, to make a long story short, after several years
I developed FreshPaper. FreshPaper is infused only
with edible, organic, botanical extracts. And because of its paper format
it can be used on the entire journey from when food is first harvested
until it arrives on your plate. And because it’s biodegradable
and compostable, it can make our entire food system
more sustainable. So, in 2010 we founded Fenugreen. And Fenugreen just started out
as a simple project, to learn more about our food system and to see how FreshPaper
might be able to help. The name is derived
from one of the active ingredients. Some of you may know it, it’s a spice used in Mediterranean
and Indian cooking: fenugreek. And so we just handmade
a batch of FreshPaper and started going to farmers markets and street fairs,
and just talking to people. We didn’t really know much
about the food system or really even what
we were doing at the time, but a local store, Harvest Co-op,
took a leap of faith and signed us on. And then several other Boston stores
followed as well. But at this point, we still didn’t know
if people would know how to use FreshPaper
or how they would react. So we just put it out there,
and then we waited. And then something amazing happened. People started reaching out to us,
calling us, emailing us, flagging us in grocery store parking lots,
all to start sharing their stories. We started to hear things like, “FreshPaper makes it possible
for me to eat local, to eat organic,
to eat my entire CSA share.” And also we started to hear, (Laughter) best of all, we started
to hear people saying, “FreshPaper makes it possible for me
to eat fresh fruits and vegetables on a regular basis.” And that was incredibly inspiring for us, because we realized
that in our own small way, with our small sheet of paper, we were having an impact
on the food system. And so we started to think bigger. And today, our mission is “Fresh for All.” And we’re striving towards a world in which access to fresh fruits
and vegetables is not limited by distribution systems
and cold chains, one in which everyone from farmers
to food banks can use FreshPaper to not only make our food system
more sustainable, but more accessible. Today, I often wonder
what would have happened if I hadn’t drunk
my grandmother’s solution. What if I had dismissed it
as being too simplistic? But I think I’ve come to realize
that FreshPaper is powerful. It can be used in so many different ways
in different parts of the world precisely because it is so simple. (Applause)

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