POP INTERVIEW: Mary Rolph Lamontagne Explains Food Waste and Why Celebs Care

Every flip of the channel, some celebrity promises to “give back to the community.” Little is explained about more than the sound byte. How does one prevent food waste? What does food waste mean? What does Angelina Jolie do for charity? You know you wondered about it.

Since 2005, Chef Mary Rolph Lamontagne has worked with food waste prevention in South Africa. Catch her here on PopGoestheWeek.com before her upcoming USA media blitz promoting her book, EATS, as we quiz her on what social activism means for celebrities…and if it is real.

Why do so many celebrities act like they care about the environment? I feel it’s a weird trend. Many are genuine but some make you want to rip out your hair with their artificial view. Why is this in style?
I think that there are lots of celebrities that have joined the environmental train because they truly believe in the cause that they support. Perhaps having a new family, a tragedy or finally enough star power to make a difference propels them to get involved. If celebrities buy into any cause by creating foundations, putting their personal money into the charity and donating their time and energy then they are truly genuine and I believe that at a certain point the public can tell the difference between a genuine person and a fake….even in Hollywood it never pays to lie! The fake ones slowly go by the wayside or eventually self-combust.

One of the basic rules of marketing is that for something, or someone to stay relevant, they need to follow the trends. Perhaps environmentalism has become a hip trend to promote but I don’t think any value is added by questioning people’s motives. At the end of the day I am an optimist and like to look at the good that comes out of something like protecting the environment becoming a ‘cool’ trend to follow.

Mary in a nest

Who in Hollywood seems to be most genuine about the environment and food waste awareness?
Food waste is not as glamorous as some of the other environmental causes out there so it unfortunately has not gotten as much attention as the others but there are still some great advocates out there. Cheryl Crow and Drake for instance are great examples of celebrities working towards reducing waste. They have both been known to use biodiesel, recycle, buy local and use compostable tableware for themselves and their crews.

Another great advocate of waste reduction is Mayor Bloomberg. Although not actually in Hollywood his name does carry a certain weight. He has created a big buzz with his Food Waste Challenge, which is why I stopped by NYC over the summer to see how things are going at the grass roots level. I camped out with Inside Edition in front of some compost heaps and met with some real people coming to dump what they thought was trash. Mayor Bloomberg’s initiative has had a slow start in terms of touching the general public but I am hopeful that as time passes and the project gains traction more celebrities will recognize the importance of reducing waste and help raise awareness.

The Feed bag does well with Saks clientele and the fashion set of celebrities. Everyone is snapped out on errands wearing the purse! Is this a good way to help food waste prevention and food availability overseas, or is it a gimmick?
I think there is a big difference between food availability and food waste prevention. North Americans have not yet joined the dots about food security and food waste. The Feed bag is a great concept that has helped to feed many people and children around the world, including here in the US. Celebrity endorsement of products is hardly a new concept so I am hesitant to call this a gimmick. The bags are trendy and people get to sleep better knowing that by doing something so small as buying and using one bag, they are working towards making the world a better place. Perhaps it is time we find a way to make reducing food waste trendy and endorsable!

Why is Angelina Jolie a powerful role model in social awareness in Africa? Whenever I ask anyone about socially concerned people, they skip world leaders and go right to her. Why would an actress’ words resonate more than a president’s support?
The public yearns for authenticity and although politics are an integral part of our every day lives, politics and hidden agendas often go hand in hand in people’s minds. Angelina Jolie however has proven otherwise with her track record. She actually lived in Namibia, created a foundation and has worked tirelessly with the UN over the years. Angelina Jolie has learnt how to translate her celebrity status into a commodity and has applied it to the causes she is passionate about. For example, having People magazine donate $500,000.00 to charity to get the rights to photograph her pregnant was a brilliant move. A win win for everyone.

mary

Does most of the money at any of these famous causes really go to helping people? How can people weed out good charities from scams?
Transparency is key here so it is up to the donor to do the proper due diligence on a charity and weed out the scams from the honest charities. Sometimes when we see a natural disaster either at home or abroad, we want to help by making an immediate donation to have immediate gratification but sometimes, as we saw in Haiti, those funds were not properly spent because there was not the proper infrastructure in place to deal with the influx of money. I truly believe that finding the best group with a proven track record is the best solution. Do a little research and often that will be more effective than quickly donating for instant gratification.

For me, it is about “I am giving time rather than just money.” I learned about a charity in Rwanda called Gardens for Health (http://gardensforhealth.org) when I was visiting Rwanda a few years ago. It is a charity that was created by 3 then university students, back in 2007, to reduce the level of malnutrition in the country through the prescription of gardens rather than pills. Last year, I had the chance to visit the charity in both Rwanda and Boston and I was impressed with what I saw. This year, in mid-November, I will be going to Rwanda to visit the NGO and actually cook with the mamas to teach them how to preserve rather than possibly loose the produce they have learned to grow to feed their families.

People often forget that time can be just as valuable as money for many of these charitable organizations. It is nice to find celebrities who understand how valuable their time is and put it to good use. You know that they are truly committed if they are using their checkbooks as well as their personal time to make a difference.

Why is Western culture obsessed with food: either eating too little and dieting or Paula Deen type splurging? What are we misunderstanding about food waste and our entire relationship with food?
There are so many angles we can take when looking at our food problems that it is hard to decide where to start. Sadly, I think that we have moved so far away from food feeding our body and soul that it is not surprising that there is a problem of obesity, dieting and so much more. We all want a quick fix because we are all so busy that fast food, packaged prepared food, unhealthy growing conditions, big business, globalization, lack of education and so much more are all responsible for our present situation.

Since most people have no idea where their food comes from, it is not surprising that there is no interest in where it goes after it has been thrown out. There is a new trend to educate children about food, teaching them how to grow and cook their treasures. The renegade Lunch Lady, chef Ann Cooper (http://www.chefann.com) and Chef Alice Waters, who started the Edible Schoolyard Project (http://edibleschoolyard.org) should be credited for getting governments to realize that all levels of society should have a right to healthy food. States such as Maine and Delaware are just two of many that are now offering food stamps that are redeemable in farmers’ markets. School cafeterias are offering healthier choices and there is a growing trend with consumers wanting to know where their food is coming from. 1 out of 6 Americans have no idea where their next meal will come from. Soup kitchens are filled to capacity and yet supermarkets are rejecting ugly produce and fields are rotting away with fruits and vegetables that could not find a way to market. The system is clearly broken and a quick fix won’t solve it. Once we all start to view our food differently we can start to appreciate it. Only then will real solutions begin.

How can we prevent food waste here and abroad?
Food waste is a problem that is rampant at all levels from farming to distribution to markets to restaurants to our own homes. I think we need to concentrate on what we can control. For the average person, this means starting in our own kitchens. There is no need for this process to be overwhelming so long as people start out small, working their way up to some bigger steps in time.

Reducing waste starts with realizing that we are creating too much waste. You need to ask yourself, how much do you really throw out a week? Does it go in the bin or do you try to recycle and compost. Would you go that extra mile and set up a compost bin in your backyard or on your balcony. Would you walk those extra few blocks to leave a bag of compost in a bin? If the answer is no, then why not start with” what can I not throw out this week?”. Perhaps repurpose the braised carrots into a soup or take that extra ½ cup of wine and freeze it up in an ice cube tray to use in future sauces. Making one change, once a week is like collecting drops of water in a glass. In the beginning it does not look like much but as with everything, this too will grow to make a difference.

Once one gets into the swing of things, that little difference rolls into another until your habits take a change for the better. Doing, then sharing with other,s is the first step to being part of a greater good. I believe that this is the way to influence change and that is why I wrote my books EATS: enjoy all the seconds.

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