|Art at Tetra Pak USA Headquarters|
in Denton, Texas.
As I mentioned in Part 1, Dr. Ruben Rausing developed a unique way of packaging milk that didn't require normal pasteurization or refrigeration. Once the idea was perfected in the middle of the 20th century, he realized that there was great potential to get food to places with severe food insecurity issues where famine was all too commonplace. With a shelf life of 6 months to 1 year, food could be shipped to even the remotest outpost without refrigeration or preservatives. Plus, local food that is stored using these packaging and processing procedures allows storage of seasonal food for use when out of season.
Human's have adapted a variety of ways to store food for use later in the season. Many of us use ancient techniques when we dry, salt, or pickle our garden's harvest. Plus with the advent of canning in the early part of the 1800's, Pasteurization in 1864, and widespread home refrigeration and freezing in the early 20th century, a range of options were available to food producers to store and transport food great distances. However, shelf life was always an issue. Rausing's approach was new and eliminated the need for concern over problems like botulism. Growing up in small town Wisconsin, we regularly canned or froze our garden produce, game we hunted, or meat we butchered as a family. As I mentioned in a post here, freezers require electricity and I caused a terrible loss of food when I neglected to store food appropriately. Plus, we always had concerns as to whether we were canning things appropriately. We didn't want to get sick from microbes that somehow made it past the boiling canning pot.
|My father (left) and other family members butchering|
hogs in 1960. The meat was frozen for use later in the year.
The time when the Tetra Pak technology developed was also a time of great concern over food, famine, and global political crises. The Cold War (1945-1990) and the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962) caused many to worry abut the long-term viability of our society, including our agricultural systems. Famines in Asia and Africa killed millions of people including at least 15 million in the Great Chinese Famine (1959-1961), 1 million in the Biafra Famine (1967-1971) and 1 million in the Sahel Drought (1968-1972). Many like Rausing tried to find new ways to store food for long periods of time to address the emerging global hunger crisis and to find ways to be food secure should there be a disruption of agricultural activities due to global conflict.
|The interior of a Tetra Pak carton prevents leakage and entry|
At the time, the only way to preserve food for distribution to areas hard hit by famine was to use traditional methods such as drying or pickling, or to use canning or Pasteurization. Each of these works well for certain products and for certain situations. For example, drying is great for beans and Pasteurization for milk works well where there are good refrigeration and distribution networks. However, for many areas with food vulnerabilities, it is difficult to store and transport products like milk over long distances without refrigeration. However, the advent of the technology developed by Rausing and Tetra Pak in the mid century was a game changer.
As I mentioned in the first post, the first time I remember using a Tetra Pak package was in Yemen in the early 1980's. I was able to buy milk and other unrefrigerated products in Tetra Pak packaging in remote souks or markets. Tetra Pak recognized that food security in places like Yemen was tenuous and they intentionally sought to make places like Yemen more food secure.
|My home canned bread and butter pickles.|
I like to can local produce I buy at my local farmer's market. The photo here shows some bread and butter pickles I canned last summer. Canning, just like the Tetra Pak packaging process, allows me to store local produce for eating months later. What is different about Tetra Pak, however, is that the process is far more simpler and safer than traditional home canning. Tetra Pak is preserving local harvests for distribution to the global food markets--many of which are food insecure.
As I delve deeper into this sustainability case study, I will highlight some of the work that Tetra Pak has done to understand the emerging green consumer, their recycling initiatives, and some of their international initiatives:
Part 3: Sustainability and the Changing Food Consumer
Part 4: Tetra Pak's Recycling Initiatives
Part 5: International Sustainability Initiatives
Look for Part 3 in the coming weeks!