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Your Environmentally Friendly Lunch Bowl Is Actually Full of Non-Biodegradable Chemicals

Plus, a pig kidnapping highlights the use of antibiotics in livestock, and more news to start your day

Molded fiber bowl filled with burrito bowl ingredients: lettuce, tomatoes, corn, rice, etc.
Molded fiber bowls won’t save us.
Photo: B Young / Shutterstock

The environmentally friendly promise of bowl food is a lie

You know those beige, plant-based, molded fiber bowls that, in a few short years, have become ubiquitous among the fast-casual set (like Sweetgreen and Chipotle) for being supposedly compostable? Turns out they are not the magical antidote to the restaurant industry’s notorious waste problem, the New Food Economy found in an extensive investigation.

In testing molded fiber bowl samples from multiple restaurants — including fast-casual favorites that tout their environmental consciousness — across New York City, the New Food Economy discovered that all samples tested contained high levels of fluorine, which indicates treatment with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) compounds. PFAS are a class of fluorinated compounds that don’t biodegrade naturally. Sometimes called “forever chemicals,” PFAS contain potentially hazardous ingredients that have no known half-life. These chemicals can leach into our soil and water, where they stay indefinitely.

Molded fiber bowls were hailed as the solution to the huge amounts of waste that takeout generates, but the New Food Economy points out that “in the rush, few noticed that they came with a hearty side of unintended consequences” — including environmental impacts and potential health effects that have yet to be studied comprehensively. Members of Congress have introduced a bill to ban PFAS chemicals in food packaging, and San Francisco is the first U.S. city to prohibit single-use food service ware manufactured with PFAS, effective on January 1, 2020, but according to the New Food Economy’s report, there are still no known commercially viable alternatives.

And in other news…

  • Food-borne, drug-resistant infections are growing, but industry interests are blocking investigators from finding out why. [NYT]
  • The Times also followed a swine kidnapping meant to highlight the use of antibiotics in livestock, and to expose the conditions that create the sick pigs in need of antibiotics. [NYT]
  • More food companies are serving up plant-based ice cream made with avocado, beets, zucchini, and other alternatives, and children are apparently not happy about it. [WSJ]
  • Ruth Reichl on her 40-year career; the state of food writing, media, and criticism in the digital era; and what she might have done differently with Gourmet. [CJR]
  • Love to crack open my fortune cookie and find an ad inside. [Vice]
  • Canned pickle juice, for anyone who wouldn’t be caught dead swilling brine from a plebeian jar. [Distractify]
  • Cute alert: a cat bed in the shape of a Japanese crepe omelet. [SoraNews24]
  • David Chang slings a hot take about BLTs. [Twitter]

All AM Intel Coverage [E]