Consider This Pineapple: Some Thoughts on Food Waste

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

What’s on this week’s table for your patriotic Taiwanese?

Freedom pineapples!

As the WSJ reports:

…These days, pineapple consumption is seen as an act of patriotism. Taiwan residents have been gobbling up the fruit since China—by far the island’s largest outside buyer—banned imports of their pineapples starting March 1, citing dangerous pests detected in recent shipments.

Does that mean we should all rush out and try and get our hands on a Taiwanese pineapple, in solidarity with the position of the island vis-à-vis the mainland? Must we also embrace offerings described by the WSJ:

Like many people in Taiwan, Allen Hsueh has a newfound fervor for pineapple.

The 38-year-old chef has come up with at least a dozen new recipes for his restaurant in Kaohsiung, called Pomme de Terre, including pork-wrapped pineapple with mozzarella cheese, red curry seafood with pineapple and spiced chicken breast and pineapple salad. The 20 spots for a special five-course, pineapple-inspired meal, scheduled later this month, filled up in a day.

Perhaps not – I think I draw the line at pineapple with mozzarella cheese.

But there are other sound reasons not to jump on the pineapple bandwagon, whether or not the fruit comes from Taiwan and depending on where one lives. A Gizmodo article also caught my eye, for its discussion of the problem of food waste, The World Wastes 1 Billion Tons of Food a Year, and It’s Frying the Planet;

If you’ve ever overstuffed your fridge and let some leftovers go bad in the back of it, you’re not alone. People toss more than 1 billion tons of food in the trash every year, according to a new United Nations report. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

A Thursday report by the UN Environment Program and the UK-based food charity WRAP found that in 2019, the world wasted 1.03 billion tons of food. That’s 17% of all the food the world produced that year, or enough to load up 23 million food trucks that would circle the Earth seven times if lined up bumper-to-bumper.

Nearly two-thirds of all food waste came from households. Another 26% came from food service waste, and 13% came from grocery stores and other retailers. The billion-ton total in the report doesn’t take into account food wasted earlier in the supply chain, like on farms and in factories. If you factor those in, the report estimates a third of all food gets tossed annually.

That sounds bad enough on it’s own, but when you also consider that 820 million people went hungry in 2019, it’s absolutely maddening. And to make matters worse, all this food waste is also feeding the climate crisis. It takes a lot of energy to grow and harvest crops and then transport, process, and package them, and when food rots in landfills it also produces methane, a greenhouse gas 80 times more planet-warming than carbon in the short term. The authors estimate that up to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food that is not consumed.

“If food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions,” Inger Andersen, the Environmental Programme’s executive director, said. “Food waste also burdens waste management systems, exacerbates food insecurity, making it a major contributor to the three planetary crises of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste.”

That’s a lot of food. One billion tonnes. But I think rotted food per se comprises only a proportion of the resource waste that the current food production system generates. Another source of waste is shipping foodstuffs vast distances, so that consumers with means can enjoy just about any food during any season of the year.

The Gizmodo does gesture at the notion that the current food production system is deeply flawed:

…Our capitalist food production system churns out food with an emphasis on increasing profit, not maintaining sustainability or wiping out hunger. To really get to the root of our food waste system, that’s what has to change.

But I’d be a bit more specific and say that  if we’re going to come to grips with the full impact our approach to food contributes to global warming, we have to consider the energy costs of moving the food hither and yon  as well. (Other than this transportation, I leave aside the contribution Big Ag makes to global warming.)

My husband and I do try to eat seasonally and locally, thus compressing the miles food travels from where it originates to our table – although achieving this goal has been more difficult since I returned to New York the week before Christmas, having mostly been out of the country since early December 2019.

Now whereas in New York City, where I have a home, I can shop at the city’s greenmarkets – both the official ones, and others that had popped up to cater to the appetite of city residents for locally-produced food. Or at least I could do so before the onset of the pandemic. Like so many other aspects of New York City life, I I imagine that the pandemic has damaged the city’s greenmarkets.

At the moment, however, I’m spending much of my time at  Point Lookout, on Long Island, and here, at this time of year, I’m limited to supermarkets – and not very good ones at that.  (I find them so depressing that I’m happy for my husband to do our  weekly shopping and in fact he just left to complete that chore.)

Certainly none feature any local produce. From late spring through autumn, there ‘s a decent Saturday farmer’s market in Long Beach, as well as others in surrounding towns.. And I recently discovered the amazing Two Cousins Fish Market, on the Freeport Nautical Mile. Since my first visit on the last Saturday in  February when I bought and then immediately froze much of what we’d purchased, I’ve both grilled fresh ardines and home-cured them; made scallop ceviche with some cherry tomatoes I’d fermented; sautéed prawns and served them over spaghetti; and made a Thai curry with mixed fish – calamari, scallops, prawns and monkfish. All fish were caught in the waters surrounding either New York or New Jersey, save for the prawns, which I think came from Florida. This fishmongeris a real treasure: they sell lots of whole fish, which they’ll clean for you, and rather than jacking up prices the way many specialty food purveyors do, the prices here are a fraction of specialty food shops or supermarkets. And did I mention the fish is super fresh?

Alas, I’m not so lucky with my sourcing of either fruits or vegetables, all of which have logged far too many miles during their journeys to our table. So, I’ve found myself eating citrus fruits from Florida and California. Lots of vegetables trucked across from California: fennel, carrots, celeriac, beets, onions, potatoes, tomatoes. Spinach, arugula, radicchio. various forms of sprouts. Some avocados.

We eat whatever we buy and when vegetables look like they’re turning, I make them into stock. I also save peels and trimmings in the fridge, and that ‘waste’ also gets made into stock.

I’ve also succumbed to the occasional pineapple.

Which is not a local food here in New York.

The taste of the pineapple has made me miss India, which I’ve typically visited as a tourist many times during the last decade and a half. Now, is a great time to be in India, just before the summer heat arrives. All the versions of tropical fruits – bananas, pineapple, papaya – taste so much better in India. What I can get here in New York just don’t taste the same: the fruits mere pallid imitations of the real thing. I think that’s because India, for all the problems it still has with wasting food as it travels from source to table, the distance food travels to get from farmers to consumers is far less than it does in the U.S. Indian agricultural production is still distributed throughout the country, Fewer miles mean food is fresher, and better tasting. I should mention that even residents of the vast city of Calcutta enjoy access to very fresh food and vegetables, at cheap prices, much of which is brought to the city from where it’s grown in the surrounding wetlands via small vehicles and bicycles – although I understand that this food distribution system was disturbed first by COVID lockdowns and then by cyclone Amphan that slammed West Bengal in May – the worst such storm since the 18th century (see Climate Change: Hurricanes Getting Stronger; Cyclone Amphan Pummels Bengal).

While I’m discussing the lusciousness of Indian fruits, I must mention mangoes – a culinary consolation that makes it easier to endure the braising of a Calcutta summer. Mangoes I’ve eaten in the U.S. fall far, far short of the Indian ideal. They’re rarely properly ripened, and they lack the complexity of a Himsagar or Langra – and don’t achieve the perfection of mangoes I’ve been gifted by friends whose families still grow traditional varieties,  because their taste is so magnificent even though they’re unsuited suited to commercial production.

(And, allow me to digress for a moment, and forestall the inevitable comment from one of our Indian readers, and make it clear I deliberately ignored the alfonso, often extolled as the king of mangoes – although I think it’s over-rated, too large, too sweet, entirely one-dimensional. And I’ll offer a hypothesis as to why it enjoys such a fine reputation: it’s a Bombay specialty. And residents of that city are not known for being shy and retiring. It’s no accident that Bombay is home to Bollywood (For more on types of mangoes, see From Alphonso to Dasheri to Langra: 10 types of mangoes and how to identify them).

I’ll now head away from my mango memories and back to my subject: my pineapple. I admit that my purchase of that fruit is in one sense wasteful: it traveled far to get to me.  Alas, so did much of the other fruit and veg we’ve eaten since December. I see no way around that during this time of pandemic. if I want to eat fish fruit and veg.

But if I’m going to be wasteful on the food miles front, I’m not going to be wasteful along the rotted food dimension. Nor will I waste any part of that pineapple.

Now, I think it was Fergus Henderson, the chef and author of Nose to Tail Eating – and here I paraphrase – who said if one’s going to eat animals, one owes it to the animal to eat all parts of it: nose to tail (see Jay Rayner’s recent piece in the Guardian, Fergus Henderson’s ‘whole animal’ recipes inspired chefs on both sides of the Atlantic).

So, applying a variant of that Henderonian principle to my pineapple – and employing my newly-cultivated skill at fermenting food – just as soon as I load this post, I’m going to make tepache – a Mexican specialty made from the skin of a whole pineapple. Alternatively, one can ferment bananas- one of the most wasted foods on the planet, and there’s of course only so much banana bread one can make; tepache can also be made from banana skins as well My recipe comes from the Fermentation: River Cottage Handbook No.18, and includes filtered water, brown sugar, ginger root, cloves, cardamom pods, and a cinnamon stick.

This only takes a day or two to ferment: I’ll report back sometime on the success of this project.

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32 comments

  1. Synoia

    Consider this Pineapple: Some Thoughts on Food Waste…

    What is waste? My view is that it depends on the nature and use of the wast.
    If it is landfill or incineration, that that shroud stop.

    If it is eaten by animals, I would not consider that waste.
    If it is composed is it waste? I think not.

    Here in the OC, CA, we put food waste into the “Green recyclable” and it is composted.

    My uncle who was a farmer, fed all possible waste to his pigs and chickens, and we ate the pigs and chickens.

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      You make an excellent point about green recyclables. Here in both NYC and Point Lookout, there is no system for doing that. One must do one’s own composting – although I think the city has a system to collect yard waste occasionally throughout the year.

      One of my Brooklyn neighbours did composting, until another neighbour observed large rats bounding through our block’s interconnected back gardens, racing to chow down at her compost bin. So, she gave up that endeavour.

    2. Anthony G Stegman

      All you really so gullible to believe that your food waste disposed of in the “Green recyclable” is composted? It most certainly isn’t. Nor is the vast majority of so-called recyclable waste put in the “Recyclable” bins actually recycled. You can be sure that only what you compost actually gets composted. Thinking a third party will do it for you is misguided.

      1. Wukchumni

        Since Covid, i’ve watched the trash bin and the green compost bin get picked up the same day into the same garbage truck 3 or 4x when I happened to be there. I’d imagine it’s a pretty normal practice now.

        1. Starry Gordon

          I don’t know about California, but here in NYC there was a great deal of political noise about recycling and composting several years ago, and most of it turned out to be just that, noise. There have been some efforts toward industrial composting, but apparently they haven’t worked well, so only household and community-garden level composting is actually done, and regardless of how well tended it is, it smells too funny for the fastidious and attracts rodents. You can keep the rodents back with a crew of outdoor or yard cats, but a lot of people are upset by them as well, so you may have trouble with the neighbors. As for recycling, I’ve been told that the city just burns it out of sight, but I haven’t checked personally. Food Not Bombs, free fridges, and other communitarian projects use some of the viable but elderly commercial food to feed the hungry, but their scope is limited. It’s not an easy set of problems to solve, especially given the status-driven preferences of the majority.

      2. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

        And as we’ve seen during the pandemic, many places that seemed to have good recycling programs jettisoned theirs.

      3. HotFlash

        Here in Toronto, our organics really do get composted. Here is the City’s PR, and our CBC had a look as well. I am pretty sure they are *really-really* making compost since our family always picks up as much of it as we can at our local Annual Community Environment Day The city drops off couple of dump truck loads, free for the taking. Our ward’s Environment Day happens in a nearby park, lots of our gardening neighbours show up with wagons, wheelbarrows, and yes, their green bins, to haul the Black Gold home. We can also bring in toxic waste such as old paint and dead batteries for proper disposal. Local initiatives such as Bike Pirates, Zero WasteHub, and Free Geek take unwanted bikes, textiles and craft supplies, and electronics.

        Like Jerri-Lynn, I keep a container in my freezer for veg scraps for broth, and I make apple vinegar, butter, and barbecue sauce with apple scraps (of which I have a lot, due to applesauce being a household favourite).

        I also have two household composters, one in our (tiny) front yard and one in the (almost as tiny) back yard for non-brothable scraps and stuff strained out of the broth. Took some out today to put on top of the tarragon which is just waking up in my front fence raised bed.

      4. Synoia

        We have three separate collections each week. I got curious and followed the Garbage trucks to the recycling center, and wandered around there asking questions of the workers.

        Great steaming piles of compost, bagged, and sold to Garden Centers.

        I do believe in profit centers,

        I suppose it could be an elaborate scam, if so it is a very expensive one.

    3. Larry Y

      Speaking of Taiwan – they systematically collect and process household scraps to feed pigs. An internet search gives me the statistic that 2/3rds of overall food waste is collected this way.

      Taiwan locally grows multiple varieties of fruits such as bananas, pineapples, mangos, lychees, etc. It really is a treat to eat those in season, especially varieties that don’t ship well.

      And if you want to buy Taiwan pineapple, get pineapple cake/pastry – when people used to travel, ChiaTe and Sunny Hill Farms are popular gifts, but a brand that can be bought in the US is https://htyusa.com/collections/hsin-tung-yang/products/pineapple-cake-16-piece-gift-box-1

      I’ve also seen Taiwan Pineapple beer in the US – maybe it was at a Ranch 99 chain grocery store.

  2. PlutoniumKun

    I’ve found the best way to avoid food waste is to make a smoothie every day. In my kitchen everything that would otherwise go off or is surplus just gets thrown in.

    I can stand corrected on this, but the analyses I’ve read indicate that the environmental impact of food transport is not as bad as often argued – relatively ‘naturally’ grown foods trucked a long distance are probably less damaging than ‘local’ foods that have been forced grown with lots of inputs or in greenhouses. Using frozen foods is probably a good idea for non seasonal eating of things like berries, but obviously some freeze better than others.

    I think there was ‘nose to tail’ eating well before Fergus Henderson, we called the result ‘sausages’

      1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

        I remember the outrage when I was a child – must have been 8 or 9 years old – at the disclosure that hot dogs contained pig snouts. I don’t find that a problem unless it’s supposed to be an all-beef frank.

        1. Hepativore

          Well, when you consider the carcass of a livestock animal that has been slaughtered for meat, virtually every bit of it is recyclable, as even the non-edible bits are used to for applications ranging from pharmaceutical products to household goods like adhesives and polishes.

          Also, when you look at what many cattle eat or graze on, they can convert the vegetation on what is poor quality or non-arable land into useful meat as humans cannot digest cellulose and most of the world’s land is unfit for agriculture. Pigs are also living recycling plants as they can convert a lot of human food waste into pork.

          To be fair, there is not a world food shortage from a production standpoint, just that a lot is actually over-produced and thrown away in the developed world, while in areas experiencing famine, the necessary logistics to support the population are not in place because of political instability or corrupt governments. Unfortunately, the logistics of trying to send the excess food to said places of the world are far from simple.

    1. Arizona Slim

      In the mornings, I make a smoothie for myself.

      One of the ingredients? Bananas. And, let me tell you, a quick bzzzzt! in the blender, and those peels are ready for the compost bin.

      1. HotFlash

        Re banana peels: I have not tried this myself, but vegan Sam at Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken says you can make a bacon-sorta thing with ’em. If’n you try, let me know!

        A thing I have tried and heartily recommend is fermenting bananas — not peels, but ones that are getting on, and any other fruit that otherwise might go to waste. Just put the fruit in a non-metallic container with enough juice (of any sort) to cover, together with a bit of yogurt or similar as a starter, and stick it in your fridge. I used some expired (free!!!) kefir probiotic for my first batch and then, as with sourdough, just forwarded a bit of it as a starter for going on two years now. The bananas were still white and firm even after two+ weeks. Well, not so much around the edges but amazing preservation for bananas and very tasty. Ongoing, I top the melange up with whatever fruit is going down so it’s always ready and always different. I like it on toasted oatmeal, granola-ish, but you could throw it into a smoothie or have it with yogurt or even on cake.

        Speaking of fermenting, how’s your mead doing?

    2. a different chris

      I read exactly that too… can’t find it now and expect it’s a bunch of pre-emptive BS by the usual suspects. Their point* was ships “are so efficient”. And granted the CO2 per tonnage/mile is probably really low, but the other crap they belch out with bunker fuel isn’t exactly precious. And – maybe here? – I read that they switch fuels before getting within X miles of the shoreline because it is really that bad.

      The article did briefly and quickly admit flying food** was kind of a disaster. Arrgh gotta find it somehow…

      *And I bet we can find the (neo) liberal versions that, with a straight face, tell us that if the little foreign people don’t ship us their food they would starve to death. Of course to keep the Irish from saying “wait, what?” they will couch it in a bunch of blather. Like the “hey pollution is on balance good if you’re poor” crap.

      **Well not the type in the cafeteria, that’s kind of fun when you’re 14 and testosterone is beginning to take hold…I would really like to see some comparison to the origin of the food I, in Western Pennsylvania, ate in the 70s vs what I eat today. Or maybe I wouldn’t, would be too depressing.

  3. Beanie

    The single biggest impacts you can have apart from not wasting food is to not eat meat and to not eat food that is flown in.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      That depends on the meat. If you reject grainfed feedlotted meat, you reduce carbon emissions just that much.

      If you eat multi-species pasture and range meat, you contribute to the carbon-capture and the carbon bio-pedo-sequestration which the livestock on pasture-and-range system drives forward.

      So don’t eat grainfed meat. Eat grassfed meat. Cows on grass capture carbon.

      ( That doesn’t include cows on crapgrass pasture on destroyed rain forest, of course. Cows and jungle crapgrass will sequester a tiny fraction of what rain forest sequesters. And until Brazil exterminates its own cows-on-crapgrass sector, it is best to avoid Brazilian meat, leather, soybeans and anything else which could be from destroyed rain forest. Because while some of it isn’t, that which is will be laundered by hiding it among that which isn’t).

      1. Beanie

        Sure eating sustainable meat will reduce your contribution to emissions but my point still remains true. Your footprint will still be smaller if you don’t eat any meat… https://ourworldindata.org/environmental-impacts-of-food#less-meat-is-nearly-always-better-for-your-carbon-footprint-than-sustainable-meat

        The problem with the “sustainable meat” argument is that it is not only an excuse for people to not change their lifestyles, but it also shifts responsiblity on to poorer people who don’t have that luxury.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          Your statement that eating sustainable meat will only ” reduce your contribution to emissions” is so wrong as to make it appear that you do not understand the carbon-capture nature of the livestock-on-pasture system.

          It does not “reduce” emissions. It increases NEGATIVE emissions. It net CAPTURES carbon and sequesters it into the soil under the pasture and range under the livestock.

          Rejecting petrochemical feedlot meat at $3.00/lb. and eating only carbon capture beef at $20.00 / lb. ( which is what Farmer Gabe Brown reports that his carbon capture beef sells for) is a lifestyle change. Gabe Brown’s $20.00/lb carbon capture beef customers are certainly not searching for an excuse to “not change their lifestyles” when they have obviously changed their own lifestyle away from pounds of low priced carbon emissions meat to ounces of high-priced carbon capture meat.

          Suppose grain-fed meat were boycotted into extermination? Suppose all the carbon-emitting land now growing corn and soybeans to feed lots of cheap meet livestock were changed over to carbon-capturing land growing multi-species grazable plants to feed a little expensive meant livestock? That would be hundreds of millions of acres of land going from emitting carbon to capturing carbon while producing food.

          It also doesn’t shift any responsibility to poorer people who don’t have that luxury. It shifts responsibility to middle-class-and-above people who DO have that luxury. Those people DO have the luxury of being able to decide between eating carbon-emissions meat 3 times a day or carbon-capture meat 3 times a week.

          And the site you offer is just establishment propaganda very carefully trying to conflate petrochemical feedlot meat with pasture under livestock carbon-capture meat.

          But the facts about carbon capture meat are beginning to ooze out from under the edges of the Cone Of Silence which the MSM propagandists are trying to maintain against these facts coming out and becoming known.

          1. Beanie

            You do yourself a disservice by using terms like “establishment propoganda”, “cone of silence” and “MSM propogandists”. It just looks like you’ve dug your hole and you’ve found the “evidence” that justifies it.

            Unfortunately you’re understanding of the “carbon-capture nature of the livestock-on-pasture system” hasn’t caught up with recent studies or deliberately ignores reality. Carbon capture in grass land used for grazing is only effective for a couple of decades because the carbon in the soil will eventually reach saturation. And there is still the methane emissions from the livestock. Studies undertaken by Oxford University have determined that pasture fed livestock reduce emissions by between 20% to 60%.

            It’s also a selfish position you put forward. It’s saying that poor people must do without because they can’t afford expensive meat but that it’s your right to continue to eat meat (albeit a little bit less) because you can afford it.

            Another argument that’s been put to me is that Brazilians should give up producing meat because they’re chopping down the Amazon forest for it (I guess they’re producing grass fed beef). However, because countries like the UK chopped down their forests hundreds of years ago for their farmland they can continue to graze livestock instead of investing in other land uses.

            All of these solutions require others to make the greater sacrifice because despite the west making the biggest contribution to emissions over the last 200 years, it’s the people that aspire to a western lifestyle that are expected to make the sacrifices moving forward

            1. drumlin woodchuckles

              Nice try.

              After telling Western “poor” people that they should give up their cheap affordable high emissions meat, which would be a change in their lifestyles, you affect to lecture me about ” telling others to change their lifestyles.”

              Offer a link to those Oxford studies and I will look at it.

              The “methane” “issue” from livestock is a bright shiny squirrel object diversion.
              The billions of wild animals who lived on earth before the age of Modern Man emitted just as much methane. And methane oxidizes in the air down to carbon dioxide, so the derisory amounts of methane from livestock compared to the methane from the oil and gas industry is a derisory diversion. And if you affect to tell the West to stop eating meat because “methane”, you would have to tell the East to stop eating rice because “methane”, if you wish to be non-hypocritical.

              You have a selfish self interest in strutting your moral-superiority stuff for all to see. I am not impressed. I suspect you to be a vegan.

              But again, show me those Oxford links and I will take a look at them.

    2. CloverBee

      Keep chickens, and you will never have food waste, they are omnivores who LOVE variety. Eggs and meat from food waste? They also provide excellent compost for the garden and trees.

  4. Cuibono

    the description of the tropical fruits in the countries of origin makes my mouth water. I fondly remember mangoes in Season in thailand and sitafel cice cream in Mumbai.. Nothing can compare

    1. lordkoos

      I remember eating wonderful mangoes in Jamaica, including many varieties I hadn’t heard of before. In Thailand the big surprise was Mangosteens — they are fantastic.

  5. drumlin woodchuckles

    If Taiwan were to eat every pineapple which Taiwan grew and not one pineapple more, and Taiwan were to grow every pineapple Taiwan eats and not one pineapple more, then Taiwan would reach Pineapple Autarchy. If Taiwan did that for every food that Taiwan eats, then Taiwan would have Food Autarchy. And hence Food Security and Food Sovereignty.

  6. converger

    You draw the line at pineapple and mozzarella? Dude. Pineapple and Canadian bacon pizza is the best.

  7. Mason

    I was horrified by how much I spent on delivery last year. I also tried one of those food package systems (EveryMeal) and ended up wasting quite a bit of food including meat. Also don’t really fear Covid anymore, but I mask up.

    I’m pretty sure half of it involves my ADD. For some reason trying to grocery shop the American way with 1+ week meal planning just doesn’t work for me at all. I get anxiety from having too much food in the fridge along with storing it. Then I end up wasting it eventually.

    Sssoooo… I live a little more than a mile from the grocery store so I just do what the Dutch do, just go grocery shopping every other day. I pick what I want and try to buy small packages. I keep everything manageable.

    I plan for no more than 3 days. I grab a quick salad pack and a small amount of fruit and a 1/2 pound of chicken. Wala! I’m eating better than I have for weeks. Of course I need to fight the temptation to grab un-healthy food.

    The big con is an increase in packaging waste, there’s way too much and not enough of it is recyclable. It’s also more expensive than buying in bulk. Hopefully by eliminating food waste though it will even things out a bit.

    It also helps my cooking skills did improve a bit with the meal kit system. I can cook for the most part, I just don’t want to do it everyday.

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