Food Waste Gets a Second Look: A Fridge-opolis Q&A with Melissa Coffey
How much respect do appliances in our kitchen get?
Don’t answer that. It’s a rhetorical question. They get no respect, my friend. They cook our meals, keep our tasty treats from spoiling, and generally improve our lives, yet how often do you see them featured in picture books? I’m not going to say it never happens. I’m just going to say that it happens a lot less than you might think.
There are those, however, for whom such bravery deserves attention. And debut picture book author Melissa Coffey falls squarely into that category. Austin-based, I should admit right here and now that I was intrigued to hear more about her brand new title FRIDGE-OPOLIS, not because it involved everybody’s favorite icebox, but rather because the title has a take on food waste that I’ve not seen discussed before. And, as somebody with more than one bag of rotting asparagus in her crisper, you might say I was an interested party.
The plot of FRIDGE-OPOLIS is as follows:
“This debut picture book is a humorous introduction to recycling and composting for young readers!
There is rioting, rotting, and reeking.
Please send us your Lemon Fresh group!
Bring all your top sponges and cleaners.
Our city smells worse than . . .
In the jam-packed city of Fridge-opolis, Swiss cheese has turned moldy and bleu. The broccoli is in a bad mood downtown in the crispers. And the Eastside high-rises are full of dressings cloudy with gloom. With the city in chaos, Mayor Mayonnaise calls on Doctor Baking Soda at Undersink Labs for help. Will they be able to save Fridge-opolis from utter rancid ruin?
The interview of FRIDGE-OPOLIS is as follows as well:
Betsy Bird: Melissa! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer some of my questions. And congrats on the release of FRIDGE-OPOLIS! It’s that omnipresent entity in our homes that we hardly even think about. What inspired you to give it, as it were, a life of its own?
Melissa Coffey: Thank you so much for having me on Fuse 8, Betsy, and helping me celebrate my book birthday for FRIDGE-OPOLIS, illustrated by Josh Cleland!
I don’t know about you, but one of my very least favorite household chores is cleaning out the fridge. Who hasn’t found some leftovers lurking in the back or forgotten veggies that have turned mushy in the crispers? I was pained by how much food we were wasting in our household, including food I had lovingly packed in my sons’ lunchboxes only to have it come home at the end of the day untouched. I think a lot of families can relate. I’m a practical Midwestern girl at heart, so part of my family values is to conserve precious resources, and yet, here I was cringing as I scraped dinner plates or tossed expired food down the garbage disposal.
By creating funny, anthropomorphic food characters from each section of a fridge (hello, mustachioed Mayor Mayonnaise!) and modeling FRIDGE-OPOLIS after New York City, I wanted to bring this problem to life and present solutions, but in a playful, engaging, age-appropriate way.
BB: One aspect of the book that intrigues me particularly is what it has to say about food waste. As environmental messages go, this hits a lot closer to home than some of the other things kids read about, and yet I cannot recall a single picture book that’s ever tackled the subject. What’s your hope for how this book might be used?
MC: I had never seen this important, but overlooked topic addressed in a picture book before either. And yet, we waste up to 40% of all food in the US, and food is the number one thing dumped in landfills which is a major contributor to climate change.
You’re absolutely right, Betsy, this is one environmental area where fortunately even the smallest actions and daily, eco-friendly habits can have a big impact. Even the youngest of people can play a part in its solution. That’s empowering.
Of course, I want young readers to find the book’s silly wordplay, Josh Cleland’s wonderful illustrations, and the characters’ hilarious antics entertaining. But I also truly hope FRIDGE-OPOLIS will be used by parents and teachers as a springboard to exploring deeper conversations and learning more about ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle. That’s why I included back matter with “Food for Thought.” I’d love to see the book incorporated into Earth Day celebrations and environmental science units. I think it offers a gentle tool for food resource recovery networks, non-profits, and other green groups working towards sustainability.
BB: Can you give us a sneak preview of any of the tips you include in the book for kids?
MC: Absolutely! Kids can start with their own lunchboxes or trays. Do I toss my uneaten apple in the cafeteria trash (no!). Or should I save it for an afternoon snack, share it with a friend or make apple chips at home (yes!)? Kids can get involved in meal planning and grocery shopping for the week. They can create their own “Recycling Ridge” at home whenever they see the recycling symbol. And perhaps most fun, they can make a worm bin (vermicompost) indoors or outdoors. Worm poop is great for the soil!
BB: Honest answers only: What is the current state of your own fridge right now. Cause mine is . . . not great.
MC: Ha ha, you’re not the only one! Let’s just say it’s an ongoing challenge, but our FRIDGE-OPOLIS looks better than it used to, and we definitely give leftovers more love. I think the goal is never going to be perfection. The goal is to be more conscious of our family’s overall food footprint and do the best we can to offset it.
BB: Finally, what are you working on these days?
MC: I have several picture book manuscripts out on submission right now, and another one going out in September. I’m also working on an early graphic novel inspired by my youngest son, who created the main character and some terrific sketches. He wants to be an artist and has illustrative talent, so that’s been a really fun collaboration! But mainly, I’m excited to be planning for the FRIDGE-OPOLIS story time and book launch party in Austin on Sept. 17, and some upcoming school and library visits so I can share my debut with young readers!
I’d like to thank Ms. Coffey for speaking with me today and to Paul Crichton for setting this up. FRIDGE-OPOLIS is on shelves everywhere starting today. Go read!
Filed under: Interviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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