FOOD AND ECOLOGY

First spoons, now chopsticks: Edible cutlery is being developed for a zero-waste future

The challenge is to make the cutlery durable and yet tasty.

This month, diners at Casa Afeliz Ginza and Umato, two restaurants in Tokyo, bit into their chopsticks, once they were done with their meal, and proceeded to eat them. According to Rocket News, the edible chopsticks, developed by the Tokyo-based Marushige Confectionery, were made from igusa, a reed used in the manufacturing of tatami mats.

While the taste of these chopsticks might not have people excited, the fact that they are edible and bio-degradable does. The chopsticks are part of a slow revolution building to eliminate disposable cutlery made from non-biodegradable material, mostly plastic.

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An Indian company, Bakey’s, has been manufacturing spoons made from rice, millet and wheat since 2011. In March 2016, it posted on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter to find funding for the mass production of these spoons. The initiative by Naryanana Peesapaty, a former researcher with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, reached its goal (and more) within a month.

“Just throw the spoons in mud or in a potted plant to decompose after use if you do not wish to eat it,” says the Bakey’s website about its product, which comes in three flavours. The spoons are nutritious, use no preservatives and have a shelf life of almost three years.

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It was after being handed a greasy, already used plastic spoon, to eat his plate of idli sambhar at a restaurant that Peesapaty decided to develop a product which can become a substitute for disposable cutlery and one which can decompose when exposed to outside elements in a matter of days.

The first prototype, a small spoon, would break too easily and was too small for practical use. The design that followed looked more like a regular stainless steel spoon, but to the disappointment of Peesapaty and his wife and business partner, Pradnya Keskar, they would break at the slightest pressure into a bowl of food.

“What you see now was made in 2014 and we have been selling that shape ever since,” said Keskar. “This is the sturdiest spoon. We made prototypes and samples of different shapes, but not commercially yet as the investment is huge. None of the shapes of cutlery we make will break or dissolve in any hot or cold liquid, as it has no fat content. It will break only when pressed harder in the wrong angle or just for fun if someone drops it on the floor to deliberately break it.”

The need for edible cutlery and other plastic substitutes has become more pressing since the use of plastic products has been banned in almost 10 states in India, including the Capital.

The video uploaded on their Kickstarter page claims that every year, 120 billion pieces of disposable plastic cutlery are discarded in India. According to a study, published in Science journal in 2010, of the 192 countries that are responsible for almost 12.7 metric tonnes of plastic waste entering the ocean via their respective coastlines, India ranks 12th in the list. A survey conducted by India’s Central Pollution Control Board in 60 cities in 2015 revealed that they generate 15,342.5 tonnes of plastic waste per day.

Peesapaty said that if the world is given an alternative, these numbers could go down.

Military grade cutlery

Bakey’s strategy has been to highlight the health benefits of using cutlery made from natural substances rather than its ecological advances. It explains on its website that “plastic contains chemical complexes, several of which are neuro-toxic and carcinogenic. These leach into food. In fact, even the so called food grade cutlery is that, where this leaching is within permissible levels of 60 Parts Per Million. When you know that the substances that leach can cause cancer and impact your nervous system, why should you allow even one part per million”.

In various videos uploaded on YouTube, the founder of Bakey’s Food Pvt Ltd, can be seen biting off a piece of his spoon and exclaiming, “Delicious!”. According to a BuzzFeed experiment, though, using these spoons was not a smooth ride, with it sometimes breaking in the middle of a meal, altering the taste of coffee and it being downright strange to eat one’s cutlery.

India’s Defence Food Research Laboratory too has been working on developing and introducing a line of environmental-friendly cutlery for the armed forces. In February 2017, a Deccan Herald report said: “Since the patent application for these indigenously developed cutlery is being processed, Pandit Srihari S, technical officer of DFRL, said that he could not reveal the material used in their making. ‘When you eat an ice cream, you eat the cone, too. We produced this cutlery with the same thought-process,’ Srihari said.”

Scientists have been experimenting for almost a year, testing materials to see which one can maintain form and hold for a while before crumpling or getting soaked through. There is also the need to make these as light as possible, to reduce the burden on the soldiers.

Apart from what are mostly tasteless and cracker-like spoons and forks that have made news in the market, there are also biscotti spoons which come in different flavours – fudge, vanilla, chocolate – and can be dipped straight into a cup of coffee to stir in some sugar and then bitten into for a perfect snack.

Edible spoons seem like the cool new thing with innovations like, well, “The Edible Spoon Maker”, in the works. A kitchen appliance being developed in the US, the Edible Spoon Maker works like a waffle iron in concept, but instead of waffles, you get fresh spoons that can be made out of store-bought dough, phyllo pastry, pancake mix or anything that you feel could hold up as the real thing in under 5 minutes.

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Twitter seems to be excited about the prospect of never having to wash spoons ever again.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.