What’s not to love about avocado? Soft and velvety, with a thick rich texture and a flavor that’s a delightful cross of butter, nuts, and fresh earth, avocados are simply awesome. If you don’t believe me, ask the good people of the USA, they currently consume 4.25 billion avocados a year, quadruple the amount they were consuming in 2000. Avocado might be the only common denominator in an America torn about by political insanity. Everyone is eating it, from the blue collar worker getting lunch at Burger King or Subway, to the mustachioed hipster who gets his avocado toast from Avocaderia, the Brooklyn avocado bar that only sells products made with avocado.
Avocados are so hot in the US right now that the Chinese have started clamoring for them as well. The Chinese often take inspiration from American trends; Buicks are from the most coveted cars in China, Coach bags are all the rage for young Chinese urbanites, and bourbon stocks from the US have been depleted by the rising Chinese middle class. So when the US turned up its love for avocado, so did China.
There’s just a small problem, avocados don’t live forever. From the time an avocado is picked until the time that it’s rotten is about thirty days. Thirty days happens to be the same amount of time that elapses when a Peruvian farmer harvests his avocado crop, transports it to the port, where its loaded on a ship that puffs across the Pacific Ocean to the Port of Shanghai. By the time the avocado pulls into the port, it’s already spoiled! Sure, you can ship them by airplane but that makes the avocado far too expensive for the Chinese middle class. So how are the good people of China supposed to get their avocado toast, mango-habanero guacamole, or avocado berry smoothie?
There’s a company working on the solution to that, but their motives are far deeper than providing avocados to the Chinese. They are looking at the big picture. Globally, up to 40% of food that is grown goes to waste. That adds up to $2.6 trillion in food that never gets eaten according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture organization. In the US, we waste about 40% of our produce, but in African countries, where people are dying of hunger, the numbers can run up to 90% of some crops, because they don’t have access to proper refrigeration like we do here. Not only are we wasting food, but we are wasting another of our most precious resources, water. In the US, 80% of our freshwater is used in agriculture, and if 40% of our produce is wasted, that means we are wasting trillions of gallons of freshwater each year through food waste.
Apeel Sciences is the company troubled by all this data. James Rogers, its founder and CEO, used to work in labs in both UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley. Driving from one to the other he would pass acre after acre of lush farmland ready for harvest, and he would wonder how could there still be people going hungry. After learning about the vast amount of food thrown away due to spoilage, he decided to see what he could do to stop it. As he saw it, the goal wasn’t simply to grow more food, but to use the food we already grow more efficiently.
When he began studying how produce goes bad so rapidly, he discovered that there were two main components, oxygen getting into the produce, and water evaporating out. Using his Carnegie Mellon education in material sciences, Rogers and his colleagues created an edible substance that acts as a barrier, keeping the oxygen out and the water in. The substance is made from the molecules stripped from waste products of other crops, such as banana leaves and peels or broccoli stems, and has already been declared “safe to use,” by the FDA. It is non-GMO, organic, and has no taste, so that you would never even know if the fruit you were eating had a superthin coating from Apeel Sciences.
Apeel makes two products, Invisipeel which can be sprayed on the produce while it’s still being grown, dramatically reduces the need for pesticides, and Edipeel, the post-harvest product, can be sprayed onto the produce as it goes down a conveyor belt, or the produce can be dipped in an Edipeel solution.
Early testing has been extremely positive. Strawberries that normally would be a ball of green mold in five days if not kept in a refrigerator, maintain their freshness with Edipeel even without refrigeration. Bananas that are brown and shriveled in 10 days, stay bright and yellow for the same 10 days when sprayed with Edipeel. Apeel can vary the strength and biological makeup of the coating to achieve better results for different fruits or vegetables, and vary the strength of the barrier depending on the desired time for ripening. They’ve even been able to make a bunch of seven bananas act in such a way that every day of the week a different banana achieves peak maturity.
Using a $100,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, Apeel Sciences ran a test of the Edipeel film on cassava, a root vegetable that is the potato of Africa. It is very rich in starch and calories, and easy to grow, but unlike the potato, it starts degrading within forty-eight hours after harvest. This causes enormous amounta of waste, and usually prevents the cassava from getting to a plant where they could turn the starch into a shelf-life stable product. When Apeel applied their barrier to the cassava plant they were able to double its shelf life, giving it enough time to get to a processing plant. Apeel estimates that Edipeel will add $1 billion dollars annually in cassava value in Nigeria alone!
Another product Edipeel was tested on was the finger lime. Finger limes, also known as caviar limes, are the most prized variety of lime, a product most people have never seen. I’ve been fortunate to have one, because I bought it at the farmer’s market in Santa Barbara, probably from the same Goleta, CA farm that tested the Edipeel. Finger limes, true to name, are long and thin, the size of a thick pinky. Instead of the sections you would find in most citrus fruit, the finger lime is filled with tiny little balls of juice, resembling caviar.
The little clumps of citrus balls look beautiful, are sweeter than most limes, and are highly coveted by bartenders and restaurateurs around the country both for their flavor and presentation. The challenge is that they have a very short shelf life and don’t usually make it to consumers without a significant price bump. Edipeel doubled the shelf life of the finger limes from the Good Land Organics farm, and you may soon find them at your local gourmet fruit store, due to the hard work of Apeel Sciences! (In the meantime, you can buy them on Amazon, $22 for three ounces, $15 for shipping…).
You might find tastier tomatoes as well, if Apeel Sciences has their way. Currently, tomatoes are usually picked way before they are ripe, because if you picked them ripe, by the time they hit the shelves they would be spoiled. Instead tomatoes are picked when they are still green, shipped to the big cities, and then sprayed with ethylene gas which causes them to ripen unnaturally, resulting in the mealy flavorless tomatoes so commonly found on our grocery shelves. With Edipeel, you could pick the tomatoes at peak ripeness and flavor, spray them with Edipeel and they’d have time to get to market without spoiling. Your salad might get a huge flavor burst in the coming years!
Of course we can’t forget about the avocado. Using Edipeel, the shelf life of avocado increases from thirty days to fifty days. If it takes thirty days to get from Peru to Shanghai, they would still have twenty days of freshness before spoiling. And if you can’t get your avocado game on in twenty days, you may not deserve avocado at all…
Big players in Silicon Valley have taken note of Apeel Sciences, recognizing what a game changer they can be on a global scale. The company has raised $40 million so far, from big name players like Andreesen Horowitz, DBL Partners, Upfront Ventures, and the Rockefeller Foundation. It seems like helping the world’s produce stay fresh is not only green on an environmental scale, but on a financial one as well!
The beauty of Apeel Sciences is that they can create a barrier between fruits and the damaging environment, and when doing so, those fruits last so much longer. This idea applies not only to produce, but to humans as well. Us humans are a fragile fruit; we can be bright, delicious, and filled with good for the world, but we can also be jaded, mealy, and easily spoiled.
The way we interact with the world is through our greatest gift, the ability to communicate our ideas coherently. Through our this skill, humans have built on the ideas communicated to us from previous generations, and over thousands of years have been able to develop our species to the point that we currently build towers that scrape the heavens, create medicines that make our bodies turn against cancer, and manufacture planes that fly themselves through the skies. The zebras have still not figured out how to make a sandwich.
But that point of communication is also where we create the most pain for ourselves. It is the medium which people use to foment hatred to entire groups of people, it is the channel through which teens are bullied to a point of suicide or depression, it is vehicle of infinite neighborhood gossip and spousal pain. People are most hurt not by disease or illness, but by the barbs of other people’s words hitting them deep in their cores, and by the negativity they express about others, turning themselves into mini-monsters. The amount of human emotion, ingenuity, love, tolerance, and kindness that goes to waste each year because of negative speech is immeasurable, it’s worse than wasting billions of dollars of produce and trillions of gallons of freshwater.
The Edipeel of the human world is the laws of Lashon Hara, the Jewish laws governing proper speech about others. They are the barrier meant to keep the other’s negativity from affecting us, and our negativity from affecting others. We Jews don’t believe in free speech, we believe in responsible speech. We are not allowed to spew negative information about others, and others are not allowed to speak negatively about us. In a world where everyone learned these laws, and followed them, the human shelf life would be significantly longer, people would remain fresh and vibrant far longer. There would be far more flavor and diversity in the human discourse, far more creativity being exercised without fear of judgment or backlash.
We are currently in the middle of the Three Weeks a period of mourning over the destruction of the Second Temple, which was caused by baseless hatred the Jews had toward each other and was amplified by the way they spoke to and of each other. We know that we can only reverse this long and tortuous exile by rectifying the problem that got us here. This is a perfect time to learn or review the laws of Lashon Hara, as while we are involved in the study of the laws of Responsible Speech we are bound to be more cognizant of them, and much less likely to speak negatively of others.
One simple way to do this is to subscribe to get a daily email with laws and lessons of Responsible Speech. You can do this by emailing email@example.com and writing subscribe in the subject line. You can also do it by starting to read from Chofetz Chaim: A Daily Companion or Chofetz Chaim: A Lesson a Day every day, either at the dinner table or some other set time of your choosing. (I just signed up for the email!) And the more people that start practicing Responsible Speech, the more we are all covered, not just from what we put out, but from what others might say about us.
If Edipeel can change the world of food production, Lashon Hara awareness can change the world of human relationships. And the good news is that we don’t need a Carnegie Mellon education, we don’t need $40 million in venture capital, and we don’t need a lab in CA with a yoga room, we just need to put five minutes a day into learning the laws of Responsible Speech!
Parsha Dvar Torah
Toward the end of Parshat Mattos, two tribes, Gad and Reuven, approached Moshe with a very unusual request. The Torah relates: “The children of Gad and the children of Reuben came and spoke unto Moses, and to Eleazar the priest, and unto the princes of the congregation, saying: Ataroth, and Dibon, and Jazer,… and Nebo, and Beon, the land which the Lord smote before the congregation of Israel, is a land for cattle, and thy servants have cattle.’ And they said: ‘If we have found favor in thy sight, let this land be given unto thy servants for a possession; bring us not over the Jordan.’” (Numbers 32:2-5)
If I didn’t read this directly from the Torah I wouldn’t believe it! Two tribes are asking to be left outside of the Holy Land, on the eastern side of the Jordan, just to have better grazing grounds for their cattle? But, that is exactly what happens. Moshe at first objects, thinking that these tribes weren’t going join in the conquest of Israel, which would be unfair to all the other tribes who would have to battle 31 nations to get their homeland. After the tribes of Reuven and Gad guarantee that they would not only join the conquest, but even position their troops at the front lines, Moshe acquiesces to their request.
Now we fast forward to verse 32: “And Moses gave unto them, to the children of Gad, and to the children of Reuben, and unto the half-tribe of Manasseh the son of Joseph, the kingdom of Sichon king of the Amorites, and the kingdom of Og king of Bashan, the land according to the cities thereof with their borders, even the cities of the land round about.” Right about now, you should have a question of the type that drives you crazy. O.K. you don’t have any questions? Read over carefully everything said above and see if you can recognize the blistering question, because when I say it below, you will definitely be kicking yourself for not seeing the obvious problem.
The question is how did the tribe of Menasseh get stuck in here? If we look back to the original verses, it was only Gan and Reuven that came to Moshe with the request. But when Moshe gives them the land they requested, we see that he also gave it to half of the tribe of Menasseh? Furthermore, if Menasseh was among the tribes that asked to be left to the east of the Holy Land, why did only half stay there, while the other half got portions in Israel?
The answer that I heard from my Rebbi, R’ Yisroel Steinwurtzel, is as follows. Moshe was clearly unhappy with the request of the two tribes. How could they ask to give up on living in the Holy Land with all its spiritual power, in order to live a more materially comfortable life? (This is a question that still reverberates loudly today within many people, including myself.) However, as the consummate leader, Moshe understood that you can’t force changes on someone. They have to want to change themselves. In order to help Gad and Reuben, the most that Moshe could do was to leave a group of people with them which would be a good influence upon them.
What aspect of Menasseh’s personality made Moshe pick him to be the neighbor to Gad and Reuven in the hope that he would influence them to see things for their real values? The first big event that we have recorded in the Torah regarding Menasseh, takes place when his grandfather, Jacob, blesses him and his younger brother Ephraim before he dies. If you recall, Jacob put his right hand (the more important one) on the head of Ephraim, the younger brother, while Menasseh had the left had placed upon him. (P.S. Even if you don’t recall, it still happened, see Genesis 48:14). Yosef, Jacob’s son and Ephraim and Menasseh’s father, tried to reverse Jacob’s hands, but Jacob told him that he knew what he was doing, and he chose to give Ephraim the more important hand because of the great descendants he would have. Take note: Yosef tried to change the order of the hands, but Menasseh, the one who was seemingly being slighted, said nothing, nada, not a word. This was because Menasseh had the positive trait of recognizing that G-d would give him exactly what was best for him, nothing less or more. For this reason he said nothing even though it may have appeared that he was losing a great honor..
Moshe, father to all of the Jewish people, wanted this exact trait to become embedded in Gad and Reuven, who seemed to be concerned that G-d wouldn’t be able to take care of their cattle’s need in the Holy Land. He therefore left half of the tribe of Menasseh together with them on the eastern side of the Jordan. The trait of Menasseh, the emuna (faith) that G-d knows what is best for us, and will give us exactly that, was what the Tribes of Gad and Reuven needed to learn. It was for this reason that Moshe left part of Menasseh with them to exert positive peer pressure, and bring out the best of them.
This week we read two Parshios, Mattos and Masei. Mattos starts off with the laws of nedarim, strong spiritual vows. While many people may feel that vows are simply words, and therefore shouldn’t be taken too seriously, in Judaism we believe the opposite to be true. We see the human being’s greatest asset to be that which is shared with no other species, his faculty of speech. The verse in Genesis describing Adam’s creation says “and He blew into his nostrils a soul of life” (Genesis 2:7) Onkelos translates it as “and He blew into his nostrils a talking spirit,” thus indicating that speech is the very essence of the human. Everything a person utters with this gift of speech should be taken seriously, especially when it is said as a vow. However, there are situation in which one can nullify a vow. These include a person who goes to one expert or a court of 3 people, who can nullify the vow under certain circumstances, a wife who makes a vow which will affect her husband in which case he can waive it, or a young girl who makes a vow and her father annuls it.
The parsha continues with the Jews going to war with Midian to avenge the people who died as a result of the abhorrent trap the Midianites had set for them involving base immorality and idol worship. G-d tells Moshe that after this war he will die, yet Moshe immediately works on gathering the troops. The Jews on the other hand, have to be coerced to raise the troops, as they don’t want to see Moshe depart from the living. The Jews are victorious in battle and the Torah goes into detail on the splitting of the spoils. In summary, of the living spoils (sheep, donkeys etc.) half went to the soldiers with1/500 being given to the Kohanim. The other half went to the whole nation, and 1/50 was given to the Levites. You might be wondering, why did the rest of the nation got spoils if they hadn’t gone to war? Well, it is important to note that in Judaism we view ourselves as one unified nation. Not only are the people in the front lines fighting, but those back at home praying and learning in their merit are also considered to be fighting the battle. Therefore, it was only fair that they should get a share of the spoils. This is an extremely important lesson right now, as our soldiers in Israel are fighting bravely on two fronts. We don’t need to feel helpless as we watch the news; we can also pitch in and fight from our homes here in the USA! If we take an additional ten minutes a day to say psalms for our soldiers or learn in their merit, we are taking an active and crucial role in the war and in saving our brethren.
The last part of the parsha is the story of Reuven and Gad’s request to remain east of the Holy Land where the land was good for grazing. See the above Dvar Torah for the details.
Parshat Massei, being the last parsha in Numbers, is the wrap up of the Jews’ time in the desert, as the story part of Deuteronomy focuses almost exclusively on the last day of Moshe’s life. Therefore, Massei starts with recounting every station the Jews camped at throughout their 40 years in the desert, and some of the events that happened at these spots. Then, the Parsha focuses on the future – on the conquest of Israel. G-d commands the Jews to destroy all forms of idols when they conquer the land, and to distance themselves from the inhabitants them so they don’t get enticed to sin (as we saw in the Dvar Torah, the three most important things about where we live are neighbors, neighbors, and neighbors!)
The Torah then delineates the borders of Israel, and names the leaders who would lead each tribe when they entered the land. After that, the Torah commands the people to set aside cities in which the Levites would dwell. The Levites weren’t given any specific portion of Israel because their job was to spiritually motivate and to teach the people. Therefore, they were scattered amongst the people so that everyone could have some good neighbors. The Torah also commands the people to set aside cities of refuge to which people can flee if they commit unintentional murder. Although they can’t be held fully responsible, they are somewhat at fault because they could’ve avoided it by being more careful (in American law this is called negligent homicide). Therefore, they must run to a city of refuge and remain there until the death of the Kohen Gadol.
This is clearly not a good thing for the Kohen Gadol, as it meant that many people were eagerly anticipating his death so that they could return to their families. The Talmud teaches us that the Kohen Gadol is given this weighty burden because he should have prayed harder that there be no accidental killers on “his watch,” and he didn’t. This shows us how much the Torah expects Jews to feel responsibility for one another.
The Parsha (and the book of Numbers) concludes with the people of the tribe of Tzelophchad coming to Moshe with a concern. In last week’s parsha, Tzelophchad’s daughters came to Moshe to ask for a portion of the land, since their father had died and left no sons to inherit him, and Moshe agreed that they would get it. Now, the people of that tribe were concerned that if the daughters would marry men of a different tribe, the land would end up being lost from their tribe, since it would go to the husband’s tribe. Moshe then told the women that they should choose mates from their own tribe to alleviate this problem. This law only affected women receiving inheritances who were among the first generation which was apportioned the land of Israel, so that there should at least be one moment where each tribe had exactly the portion they received. Later, people could choose a spouse from any tribe, as long as they loved each other and cared about one another through sickness and health, poverty and wealth etc. etc. That’s all Folks!
Quote of the Week: Life is 10% what you make it, and 90% how you take it. ~ Irving Berlin
Random Fact of the Week: Maricopa County, Arizona is the golfing capital of America, with 168 golf courses.
Funny Line of the Week: I totally take back all those times I didn’t want to nap when I was younger.
Have a Remarkable Shabbos,
R” Leiby Burnham