Grad students at the University of Lund hope that sustainable, freeze-dried food might be the future of humanitarian relief.
Despite global hunger and widespread poverty, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, humans still waste more than a third of our food. As with most international problems, Sweden already has an ingenious solution. Recently a group of graduate students at the utilitarian sounding “Food Innovation and Product Design” program at Lund University has created a unique way to turn otherwise unusable produce into a valuable source of nutrition. FoPo Food Powder, a system of dried and powdered fruits and vegetables similar to astronaut space food, can be easily dropped into disaster zones to provide non-refrigerated goods. Freeze-dried food is popular for many relief efforts (as well as interstellar travel) because of its ability to retain much of the nutritional benefits of “raw” food. Even food that has expired, or is no longer able to be sold at the market, is still rich in vitamins, minerals, and protein.
“When we found out that one-third of the food produced was going to waste while people in the world were starving we couldn’t back out,” student Kent Ngo tells Smithsonian.com.
The students saw a unique opportunity to create both a sustainable, green-friendly business and provide a valuable service to humanity. To create FoPo, the team linked up with farmers and retailers to source their raw materials (fruit). After some tinkering, they perfected a method of freeze-drying then grinding the produce, and the students investigated distribution channels, from commercial to government support agencies. “Today a relief bag for humanitarian disasters contains various foods such as strawberry jam, peanut butter and peas in tomato sauce. We think that an easily transported pack of cheap dried food powder with high nutritional value would fit in perfectly,” Ngo says.
The minds behind FoPo are currently engaged in a pilot program in Manila, and are actively drying calamansi—a citrus fruit indigenous to the Philippines. As there is a surplus of the fruit, it’s fairly easy for their Asia branch to manufacture the powder. Currently the group has received support from senators in the Philippines, and is planning to work with the UN’s Initiative on Food Loss and Waste to reach more people and countries in addition to the almost 40 international supermarkets that have already signed up. So next time you throw out those slightly stale carrots in your fridge, remember: Scandinavia would have turned those into food for an entire village.