23 Organizations Eliminating Food Waste During COVID-19
By Aaron Mok
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has upended nearly every aspect of modern society, but especially the food system. Farmers are being forced to discard unprecedented amounts of food surplus because of the closure of schools, restaurants, and hotels. And, because of the complex logistics of the food supply chain, diverting food supply away from wholesalers directly into the hands of consumers can be costly. Experts like Dana Gunders from ReFED are concerned that more food waste will be produced in 2020 than in previous years.
Despite these challenges, organizations around the world are working to reduce food waste. In honor of Stop Food Waste Day on the 29th of April, Food Tank is highlighting 23 organizations and companies trying to eliminate pandemic-fueled food waste.
1. AgriMax (Europe)
Funded by the European Union, AgriMax is a food waste recovery project that converts crop and food processing waste into organic compounds through biorefinery. These compounds can be used in food packaging, food ingredients, and agricultural chemicals. Additionally, AgriMax recently launched an online platform that connects crop producers to biorefineries in Spain and Italy to generate profits from waste. AgriMax also promotes educational webinars on the bioeconomy, and offers tips to help people recycle household food waste.
2. Binghamton Food Rescue (BFR) (United States)
Binghamton Food Rescue (BFR) collects perishable food waste and redistributes it as packaged meals and groceries to food-insecure communities in the city of Binghamton, New York. Over 21,319 kilograms (47,000 pounds) of food have been rescued since the organization's inception. The organization is encouraging community members to report local food waste so they can pick up and re-purpose it. BFR also collects food donations and delivers them to around 100 households per week.
3. Brothers Produce (United States)
Brothers Produce is the largest Texas-based food and beverage distributor, supplying goods to retailers in Texas and Louisiana. In response to the pandemic, Brothers Produce has developed a new business model where boxes of fresh produce are sold directly to customers instead of companies. This ensures that food surplus that would otherwise be thrown away is redistributed and helps to keep the business afloat.
4. City Harvest (United States)
As the world's first food rescue program, New York-based City Harvest is responding to COVID-19 by rescuing perishable produce. The organization aims to feed New York City's food insecure communities by redistributing food waste and providing educational programming. Despite the closure of over 85 of its food programs, City Harvest is still committed to feeding those in need. The organization has opened seven emergency relief sites for New York's food insecure communities, and 22 more relief sites are on their way.
5. Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) and Farmers Guild (United States)
Based in California, The Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) and Farmers Guild is a nonprofit striving to build a more sustainable food system. To do so, they engage in political advocacy and develop grassroots programs to empower farmers and local communities. To eliminate the food surplus in California's food system, CAFF works with farmers to redirect their food supply away from their usual commercial customers and into the hands of consumers. Additionally, CAFF created a spreadsheet designed to connect the state's food surplus to consumers.
6. Compass Group (United Kingdom)
Operating in over 50 countries, Compass Group is the biggest food service company globally. In response to COVID-19, Compass Group UK partnered with food recovery organizations and food safety experts to create a plan to distribute food surplus to nonprofit organizations across the United Kingdom. Within 3 weeks of the plan's inception, around 60,000 meals were donated to more than 30 national nonprofits and local relief organizations.
7. Divert (United States)
Divert is a technology company that uses data to inform solutions to minimize food waste from the retail supply chain. Divert currently partners with supermarket chain Giant to recycle perishable foods. Perishable food is removed from the supply chain and repurposed to generate clean energy. Divert also recycles all food waste that cannot go to food banks.
8. Edible York: The Abundance Project (United Kingdom)
Located in the United Kingdom, Edible York is an NGO that aims to build a healthier York community through edible gardening and horticultural workshops. The organization runs a program titled "Abundance" that collects surplus fruit that would inevitably end up in a landfill. Volunteers then redistribute the fruit to the York community. Volunteers also rescue potatoes and deliver them to the most vulnerable people and families impacted by pandemic. Additionally, Edible York is providing information on farms that have remained open for business.
9. The Felix Project (United Kingdom)
Based in London, The Felix Project is a nonprofit that collects fresh food thrown away by wholesalers, and delivers it to charities and schools. As the pandemic creates a spike in the demand from food banks in London, The Felix Project is expanding their deliveries to emergency food hubs, homeless shelters, churches and hospitals. Through these steps, they ensure that London's most vulnerable communities are fed.
10. Food Aid Foundation (Malaysia)
Malaysia-based food recovery nonprofit Food Aid Foundation distributes supply chain food surplus among the country's most vulnerable populations. They have carried out emergency food relief efforts in Malaysian neighborhoods such as Alor, Setar, Ipoh, and Penang. The organization receives donations from renowned Asian chefs such as Alex Chong, and partners with major food conglomerates like Captain Oats and Indofood to fund their initiatives.
11. Food for Soul (Italy)
Based in Italy, Food for Soul is a self-proclaimed cultural project that recovers imperfect foods from landfills in countries ranging from France to Brazil, and repurposes them into meals for the homeless, refugees, and other vulnerable communities. Seeking creative ways to encourage food waste reduction, Founder and Italian chef Massimo Bottura hosts a family-friendly Instagram cooking show that teaches viewers how to repurpose household food waste into meals.
12. Food Recovery Network (FRN) (United States)
Food Recovery Network (FRN) is a nonprofit led by college students who collect campus food waste and donate it to local nonprofits, churches, and other community organizations. FRN operates on 230 college campuses across America. Despite mass college campus closures, over 30 student chapters continue to rescue food waste. And since the beginning of the pandemic, several companies have donated their food surplus left by business closures and event cancellations. FRN also created a logistical resource guide that includes information on ways individuals and businesses can reduce their food waste.
13. FruPro (United Kingdom)
Launched in response to the pandemic, FruPro is a London-based online platform that connects major foodservice and catering suppliers to independent retailers to eliminate losses in the food supply chain. Since FruPro's launch, 36,741 packages of fresh produce have been delivered, feeding around 500,000 people. FruPro is also developing a plan to distribute food to local nonprofits and food banks.
14. The Harvard Law School Food Law And Policy Clinic (FLPC) (United States)
Directed by Emily Broad Lieb, Harvard Law Schools' Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) is leading an emergency COVID-19 response effort to inform the public the pandemic's impact on food systems. The response includes informational resources analyzing opportunities for low-cost home food delivery. It also includes policy briefings urging Congress and the USDA to take legislative action to mitigate the pandemic's burden on the food system and its workers.
15. Imperfect Foods (United States)
Operating in 43 states, the San-Francisco based company, Imperfect Foods, aims to eliminate food waste by collecting blemished food rejected by grocery stores. They then redistribute it in customizable boxes to customers. As a result of COVID-19, delivery services face delays due to an increase in demand and a decrease in staff. Nonetheless, Imperfect Foods' Twitter offers daily tips on how to lower household food waste.
16. Mesa Brasil SESC (Brazil)
Mesa Brasil SESC is a Brazilian food bank network whose objective is to reduce national food waste by redistributing food surplus to food insecure Brazilian communities. Mesa Brasil's network contains over 1100 companies that include supermarkets, restaurants, and food service distributors. According to their Facebook page, "Mesa Brazil is acting with full force to combat the effects of the pandemic among the most vulnerable populations." As of April 1st, they had donated over 23,500 kilograms (52,000 pounds) of food to 148 charity organizations across the country.
17. Move for Hunger (United States)
If food is discarded during one's relocation process, Move for Hunger is available to collect and donate it to food banks. The organization connects people who are moving with a moving company to coordinate a pick up time for non-perishable food items. The service operates across the United States and parts of Canada. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Move for Hunger has expanded its operational efforts, delivering food to food banks faster than ever before.
18. Planet Food: The Real Junk Food Project York (United Kingdom)
Based in the United Kingdom, Planet Food York is a nonprofit that recovers food that would end up in a landfill. The food is then sold at their "pay-as-you-feel" food store. In the face of COVID-19, Planet Food York is partnering with local churches and food banks to deliver bags of food to the community. The food ranges from fresh produce to chocolate Easter eggs.
19. ReFED (United States)
ReFED is a U.S.- based consortium that seeks to discover policy solutions to end food waste. The organization has published numerous educational resources on the ways people can get involved to combat food waste. ReFED also hosts a weekly interactive webinar series titled "Better Together: Food System Best Practices for Navigating COVID-19" every Wednesday at 3PM EST which focuses on specific food system challenges and potential solutions.
20. Replate (United States)
Operating in more than 300 U.S. cities, Replate is a nonprofit comprised of professional drivers known as "food rescuers" who collect surplus meals from businesses and distribute them to vulnerable communities. By partnering with Beyond Meat and DoorDash during the pandemic, Replate is able to provide fresh, nutritious meals to frontline workers and food insecure communities.
21. Rock and Wrap It Up (United States)
Rock and Wrap It Up is a New York-based anti-poverty organization that works to divert excess food from stadiums, companies, and other commercial enterprises towards food banks and veterans. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Rock and Wrap it Up has collected thousands of pounds worth of food from Madison Square Garden and MetLife Stadium. As of early April, film and TV partners have donated over 2,000 additional pounds of food.
22. Second Harvest (Canada)
Second Harvest is Canada's largest food rescue organization. Second Harvest recently committed CAD$4.5 million dollars (USD $3.2 million) towards local charities and nonprofits that distribute surplus food to food insecure Canadians. The organization currently accepts food donations from companies such as Loblaw, Starbucks, and Sysco, and is working to partner with farms and smaller community stores
23. Winnow (United Kingdom)
Winnow is a technology company that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to reduce food waste in commercial kitchens. Winnow's Waste Monitor System, a food waste tracker, is used by chefs in more than 40 countries. Additionally, Winnow Vision is a system of cameras pointed at garbage bins that collects data on food waste. Through AI, Winnow has saved over USD $42 million dollars in food purchasing costs.
Reposted with permission from Food Tank.
- Reducing Food Waste Is Good for Economy and Climate, Report Says ›
- 20 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Food Waste - EcoWatch ›
- How to Make a Change for Stop Food Waste Day - EcoWatch ›
- COVID-19 Creates Food Waste Mountains That Harm the Environment - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Democrats in the House and Senate have introduced legislation to ban some of the most toxic pesticides currently in use in the U.S. D-Keine / E+ / Getty Images
By Jake Johnson
Democrats in the House and Senate on Tuesday introduced sweeping legislation that would ban some of the most toxic pesticides currently in use in the U.S. and institute stronger protections for farmworkers and communities that have been exposed to damaging chemicals by the agriculture industry.
- California Bans Pesticide Linked to Brain Damage in Children ... ›
- Hawaii Bans Use of Toxic Pesticide Chlorpyrifos - EcoWatch ›
- Trump EPA OKs 'Emergency' Use of Bee-Killing Pesticide on 13.9 ... ›
BP, the energy giant that grew from oil and gas production, is taking its business in a new direction, announcing Tuesday that it will slash its oil and gas production by 40 percent and increase its annual investment in low-carbon technology to $5 billion, a ten-fold increase over its current level, according to CNN.
- World's Largest Fund Manager to 'Reshape' Investment Portfolio to ... ›
- Oil Companies Are Thinking About a Low-Carbon Future, but Aren't ... ›
- BP Announces Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Target, but Offers No ... ›
By Alex Thornton
The Australian government has announced a A$190 million (US$130 million) investment in the nation's first Recycling Modernization Fund, with the aim of transforming the country's waste and recycling industry. The hope is that as many as 10,000 jobs can be created in what is being called a "once in a generation" opportunity to remodel the way Australia deals with its waste.
Waste Mountain<p>The need for a dramatic increase in Australia's recycling capacity pre-dates the COVID-19 pandemic. <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-27/where-does-all-australias-waste-go/11755424" target="_blank">Australians create approximately 67 million tons of waste a year</a>, and like in many wealthy countries, much of that was sent overseas. That all changed when China announced it was <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/10/china-has-banned-foreign-waste-so-whats-the-future-of-world-recycling" target="_blank">banning the import of a huge range of foreign waste</a> and recyclables. Soon <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/05/malaysia-flooded-with-plastic-waste-to-send-back-some-scrap-to-source" target="_blank">other countries followed suit</a>, and Australia was forced to look for alternative solutions.</p>
Biggest exporters of plastic. Statista
Waste Export Ban<p>Australia has adopted a strategy of taking responsibility for its own waste. Starting in January 2021, it is phasing in <a href="http://www.environment.gov.au/protection/waste-resource-recovery/waste-export-ban" target="_blank">bans on the export of different forms of waste</a>. By mid 2024, Australia's home-grown recycling industry will have to deal with an extra 650,000 tons of waste plastic, paper, glass and tires.</p><p>"As we cease shipping our waste overseas, the waste and recycling transformation will reshape our domestic waste industry, driving job creation and putting valuable materials back into the economy," federal environment minister Sussan Ley said in a <a href="https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-australia-waste/australia-to-set-up-132-million-fund-to-boost-recycling-following-export-curbs-idUKKBN247060" target="_blank">statement to Reuters</a>.</p>
Timeline for Australia's waste export ban. Australian Government
Trash Into Treasure<p>The benefits to the environment of boosting recycling rates are well known – less landfill, less plastic in our ocean, reduced need for virgin materials, and lower carbon emissions. The Recycling Modernization Fund initiative aims to divert more than 10 million tons of waste from landfill, part of an <a href="http://www.environment.gov.au/protection/waste-resource-recovery/publications/national-waste-policy-action-plan" target="_blank">overall strategy to reduce the total waste generated per person by 10%</a>, and push <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/7381c1de-31d0-429b-912c-91a6dbc83af7/files/national-waste-report-2018.pdf" target="_blank">Australia's total resource recovery rate from 58% in 2017</a> to 80% by 2030.</p><p>But like many countries, Australia is focusing on the economic benefits of better waste management as well.</p><p>"This will mean Australia converts more waste into higher valued resources ready for reuse locally by manufacturers and brands in their packaging and products," Rose Read, CEO of the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council, <a href="https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-australia-waste/australia-to-set-up-132-million-fund-to-boost-recycling-following-export-curbs-idUKKBN247060" target="_blank">told Reuters</a>.</p>
Green Jobs<p>The great potential of the circular economy to create green jobs is being recognized across the world.</p><p>In the UK, the Waste and Resources Action Program has launched a <a href="https://wrap.org.uk/buildbackbetter" target="_blank">six-point plan which it claims could add $90 billion to the economy, and create 500,000 new jobs</a>. Investment in the circular economy forms a significant part of the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/us/politics/biden-climate-plan.html" target="_blank">$2 trillion climate plan that Democratic candidate Joe Biden</a> is taking into November's US presidential election. And the <a href="https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_940" target="_blank">European Union has put its Green New Deal at the heart of its plans for recovery</a> from the economic shock of COVID-19.</p><p>The World Economic Forum's <a href="http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_The_Future_Of_Nature_And_Business_2020.pdf" target="_blank">Future of Nature and Business</a> report identifies 15 systemic transitions with annual business opportunities worth $10 billion a year that could create 395 million jobs by 2030.</p><p>As is the case with Australia's Recycling Modernization Fund, a combination of private enterprise and government investment can offer ways to get people back to work by building a more environmentally sustainable economy.</p>
- The Complex and Frustrating Reality of Recycling Plastic - EcoWatch ›
- U.S. Products Labeled Recyclable Really Aren't, Greenpeace ... ›
- Mutant Enzyme Recycles Plastic in Hours, Could Revolutionize ... ›
The Great American Outdoors Act is now the law of the land.
<div id="e0008" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ffc07febbf5d2d585ad06d3f43e2be56"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1290667833999929344" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Breaking News: The President has just signed the bipartisan #GreatAmericanOutdoorsAct. It will help: 🏗️ Restore… https://t.co/RPefKPMn7S</div> — Fix Our Parks (@Fix Our Parks)<a href="https://twitter.com/FixOurParksUS/statuses/1290667833999929344">1596554165.0</a></blockquote></div>
- Judge Rebukes Trump's Attack on Public Lands, Rules Coal Mining ... ›
- Great American Outdoors Act Passes House With Bipartisan Support ... ›
- Great American Outdoors Act Approved by Senate in Major ... ›
By Andrew J. Whelton and Caitlin R. Proctor
In recent years wildfires have entered urban areas, causing breathtaking destruction.
Survivors left everything to flee the Camp Fire's path. Andrew Whelton / Purdue University
Wildfires and Water<p>Both the Tubbs and Camp fires destroyed fire hydrants, water pipes and meter boxes. Water leaks and ruptured hydrants were common. The Camp Fire inferno spread at a speed of one football field per second, chasing everyone – including water system operators – out of town.</p><p>After the fires passed, testing ultimately revealed widespread hazardous drinking water contamination. Evidence suggests that the toxic chemicals originated from a combination of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/aws2.1183" target="_blank">burning vegetation, structures and plastic materials</a>.</p>
Pipes, water meters and meter covers after wildfires destroyed them. Caitlin Proctor, Amisha Shah, David Yu, and Andrew Whelton/Purdue University
Dangerous Contamination Levels<p>Benzene was found at concentrations of 40,000 parts per billion (ppb) in drinking water after the Tubbs Fire and at more than 2,217 ppb after the Camp Fire. According to the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, children exposed to benzene for a single day can suffer <a href="https://engineering.purdue.edu/PlumbingSafety/resources/Benzene-Levels-in-Water.pdf" target="_blank">harm at levels as low as 26 ppb</a>.</p><p>The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends limiting children's short-term acute exposure to <a href="https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-03/documents/dwtable2018.pdf" target="_blank">200 ppb</a>, and long-term exposure to less than <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/national-primary-drinking-water-regulations" target="_blank">5 ppb</a>. The EPA regulatory level for what constitutes a hazardous waste is <a href="https://19january2017snapshot.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-06/documents/tclp.pdf" target="_blank">500 ppb</a>.</p><p>In early 2019, California conducted contaminated water testing on humans by taking contaminated water from the Paradise Irrigation District and asking persons to smell it. The state found that even when people smelled contaminated water that had less than 200 ppb benzene, <a href="https://engineering.purdue.edu/PlumbingSafety/resources/Dissipatiion-of-Burn-Related-VOC-From-Water.pdf" target="_blank">at least one person reported nausea and throat irritation</a>. The test also showed that water contained a variety of other benzene-like compounds that first responders had not sampled for.</p><p>The officials who carried out this small-scale test did not appear to realize the significance of what they had done, until we asked whether they had had their action approved in advance by an institutional review board. In response, they asserted that such a review was not needed.</p><p>In our view, this episode is telling for two reasons. First, one subject reported an adverse health effect after being exposed to water that contained benzene at a level below the EPA's recommended one-day limit for children. Second, doing this kind of test without proper oversight suggests that officials greatly underestimated the potential for serious contamination of local water supplies and public harm. After the Camp Fire, together with the EPA, we estimated that some plastic pipes needed <a href="https://engineering.purdue.edu/PlumbingSafety/opinions/Final-HDPE-Service-Line-Decontamination-2019-03-18.pdf" target="_blank">more than 280 days</a> of flushing to make them safe again.</p>
Plastic pipes can be damaged by heat and fire contact. Andrew Whelton / Purdue University
Building Codes Could Make Areas Disaster-Ready<p>Our research underscores that community building codes are inadequate to prevent wildfire-caused pollution of drinking water and homes.</p><p>Installing one-way valves, called backflow prevention devices, at each water meter can prevent contamination rushing out of the damaged building from flowing into the larger buried pipe network.</p><p>Adopting codes that required builders to install fire-resistant meter boxes and place them farther from vegetation would help prevent infrastructure from burning so readily in wildfires. Concrete meter boxes and water meters with minimal plastic components would be less likely to ignite. Some plastics may be practically impossible to make safe again, since all types are susceptible to fire and heat.</p><p>Water main shutoff valves and water sampling taps should exist at every water meter box. Sample taps can help responders quickly determine water safety.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9540d7e271306ed417112042a3efc9a4"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GnlrzI1wdAI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Smell Test Doesn’t Work<p>Under no circumstance should people be told to <a href="https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/press_room/press_releases/2018/pr122418_voc.pdf" target="_blank">smell the water</a> to determine its safety, as was recommended for months after the Camp Fire. Many chemicals have no odor when they are harmful. Only testing can determine safety.</p><p>Ordering people to boil their water will not make it safe if it contains toxic chemicals that enter the air. Boiling just transmits those substances into the air faster. "Do not use" orders can keep people safe until agencies can test the water. Before such advisories are lifted or modified, regulators should be required to carry out a full chemical screen of the water systems. Yet, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/aws2.1183" target="_blank">disaster</a> after <a href="https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlehtml/2017/ew/c5ew00294j" target="_blank">disaster</a>, government agencies have failed to take this step.</p><p>Buildings should be tested to find contamination. <a href="https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2020/Q1/study-your-homes-water-quality-could-vary-by-the-room-and-the-season.html" target="_blank">Home drinking water quality can differ from room to room</a>, so reliable testing should sample both cold and hot water at many locations within each building.</p><p>While infrastructure is being repaired, survivors need a safe water supply. Water treatment devices sold for home use, such as refrigerator and faucet water filters, are not approved for extremely contaminated water, although product sales representatives and government officials may <a href="https://undark.org/2019/09/19/camp-fire-california-drinking-water-carcinogens/" target="_blank">mistakenly think</a> the devices can be used for that purpose.</p><p>To avoid this kind of confusion, external technical experts should be called in assist local public health departments, which can quickly become overwhelmed after disasters.</p>
<div id="71cf9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e059d199e8368d282a31601e372e4dda"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1204068265980547075" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">The Los Angeles City Council's Planning and Land Use Committee signed off on an effort to expand the city's fire-re… https://t.co/fP8Z8mUq7R</div> — IntlCodeCouncil (@IntlCodeCouncil)<a href="https://twitter.com/IntlCodeCouncil/statuses/1204068265980547075">1575907219.0</a></blockquote></div>
Preparing for Future Fires<p>The damage that the Tubbs and Camp fires caused to local water systems was preventable. We believe that urban and rural communities, as well as state legislatures, should establish codes and lists of authorized construction materials for high-risk areas. They also should establish rapid methods to assess health, prepare for water testing and decontamination, and set aside emergency water supplies.</p><p>Wildfires are coming to urban areas. Protecting drinking water systems, buried underground or in buildings, is one thing communities can do to prepare for that reality.</p>
- After a Quiet Summer, 'Dangerous' California Wildfire Burns ... ›
- California Wildfires: One of 'Greatest Tragedies' State Has Ever Faced ›
- Losses From California Wildfires Top $1 Billion, Expected to Rise ... ›
New satellite images have revealed 11 new throngs of emperor penguin colonies, lifting the number of known emperor penguin colonies by 20 percent and their total population by 5 to 10 percent, according to The Guardian.
- This Penguin Colony Has Fallen by 77% on Antarctic Islands ... ›
- Antarctica's Ice Is Melting 5 Times Faster Than in the 90s - EcoWatch ›
- Green Snow Is Spreading in Antarctica Due to the Climate Crisis ... ›
- Antarctic Penguin Poop Emits Laughing Gas - EcoWatch ›
By Zulfikar Abbany
"We don't have a definition of life," says Kevin Peter Hand, one early California morning when we speak via video. "We don't actually know what life is."