Amazon: ‘Donating’ Food Waste to Families Experiencing Homelessness in Seattle.

During Mattieu’s lecture, the tweet about Amazon really stood out to me. It made me think of the AmazonGO store, and then about how they donate their expiring foods to the homeless shelter where I work. Which lead me to take a look at the social implications of donating expiring food to those who cannot afford to buy it. Looking closer into the social differences we place on food waste, and donations to food banks.

Every few days, hundreds of food items arrive at our door, and most of it is organic, health conscious, incredibly expensive food, that is about to expire. Food that was not deemed as ‘sellable’ anymore by AmazonGO, but IS acceptable to eat if you’re homeless. They have claimed to have lowered their food waste because they donate it, but every day I watch hundreds of pounds of food get thrown out. It raises this notion, that the first level of throwing out food, goes to those that cannot afford to buy it.

Many believe that if a company gives away all its food right before it expires, then it is cutting down on wasteful buying practices AND sustainably feeding those who struggle to buy food. The reality is that donating food does add a link in the chain, but ultimately a majority of donated food still ends up in the trash can. Those who are receiving it, are not usually able to utilize it due to issues with cooking and storage. The most difficult barrier, is a lack of adequate time for safe consumption (ie: getting a weeks worth of food that will only be safe to consume for 2 more days).

When discussing food waste, it is critical to look at all the factors, including societal, that make food inaccessible, and eventually be thrown out.

7 thoughts on “Amazon: ‘Donating’ Food Waste to Families Experiencing Homelessness in Seattle.

  1. Aylin Erden

    I think this is a really well thought out reaction to how food waste is handled. This quote: “Food that was not deemed as ‘sellable’ anymore by AmazonGO, but IS acceptable to eat if you’re homeless.” really hit home as well as your further comments on how the donated food still ends up in the trash because of limits that people have for what food they can prepare. I think there is a huge opportunity for people to figure what more they can do and what they can do differently so that food doesn’t pile up in the trash while there are hungry people out there.

  2. Kaelyn Savanna Thede

    This is a very interesting blog post and an idea that I have not thought much about before. I think it is skewed to think that giving people in need expiring food that isn’t good enough for the rest of society is doing some sort of grand social justice. I do agree with you that it is a step forwards (I am hesitant to say in the right direction) but it calls for some critical evaluation of the values present in our food system and what “doing enough” might really look like when it comes to reducing food waste and feeding people in need.

  3. Yuko Watanabe

    Your post let me know the fact about food donation in Seattle and gave me a chance to think about food waste.
    I didn’t know that Amazon donates about expiring food to the homeless people in Seattle.
    I worked at an organization for the homeless people as well (I’m not sure whether it is the same place as you.) At that place I worked, Starbucks and some local restaurants donate cooked dishes for their dinner. One thing surprised me at that place was the fact that the large amount of food is thrown away every day.
    As you pointed out, quite a lot of food still goes to trash can even though people donate food to those who don’t afford to buy them.
    Of course, it is important to donate food to those who need them. However, what we should think about is rebuilding food system by which every people can get enough food and do not need to waste it. Mass production may make it easier for the homeless people to buy food but at the same time, it may produce too much food for us to consume.

  4. Shelby Carroll

    Hey Anne,
    I think this is an awesome topic to generate a discussion from and am glad you drew on this from the lecture.
    Your post, particularly the line “the first level of throwing out food, goes to those that cannot afford to buy it” got me thinking about the difference between helping a community and getting good PR off of goods that otherwise would have no significant impact on a company. I think most everyone realizes that throwing away perfectly edible food is morally questionable. Our society deals with leftovers in a lot of ways as not to feel guilty the next time a Save The Children commercial runs on our televisions; we force ourselves to eat it, pass it over to a family member, treat the dog, compost it, and even donate it to our local food banks. All of these methods deal with the food as waste, once its been put on a plate or near the end of its shelf life. Why doesn’t society deal with excess food in advance?

    For instance, I worked at a restaurant style food bank back in California known as Open Heart Kitchen. Almost every morning, a volunteer arrived with full cases of unopened Starbucks pastries. This occurred often enough that one would think Starbucks would realize the demographic of this location had no interest in their cheese danishes. But instead, the company kept ordering those cheese danishes, they went unsold, and Open Heart Kitchen had a steady supply. Your point, Anne, that so much food still goes to waste even following donation is important here because it is yet another argument in favor of simply watching food production, positioning, and consumption more carefully over working backwards to find “takers” for the leftovers.

    Now, to play my own devil’s advocate, Open Heart Kitchen was grateful to receive these donations and if it were not for the fact San Franciscan’s prefer muffins to danishes, probably would not have received anything from Starbucks. Because of this, reforming to a system where people actually watch that their eyes are not bigger than their stomach when they go to a grocery store and where companies utilize the analytical data available to them to prevent waste in reference to environmental and social aspects instead of the economical alone is an uncertain game. If there is no food waste, who and how will food banks be supplied? Would society actually have enough moral integrity to allocate enough food, from its genesis, to food insecure communities to sustain them? Based on the sheer amount of hunger experienced worldwide, I doubt it.

  5. Orla Triona Casey

    Anne, you bring up many great points about food waste, and whether or not donating nearly expired food helps people out. Companies like Amazon utilize donation programs in order to promote good PR. I work at a Chipotle where technically we are supposed to donate the left-over food at the end of the night to a food bank; however, for the year and a half that I have worked there we have never donated our food. Even though we tend to throw out food waste, the general website and company as a whole claim to be green because they limit their food waste. Your blog post connects into the fact that while companies may claim to donate food waste in the end when it expires most of the food is thrown out.

  6. Joshua Bryce Scheck

    Nice post Anne! I really like how you were able to connect your experiences at work with the food donations by Amazon. It’s crazy that Amazon is essentially just dumping their waste and getting praised by the public for doing so and it really points out the lack of understanding the public has towards food banks. I’ve been through a similar experience through volunteering at the University District Food Bank and I recall being really surprised about how initially seeing how much rotting food there was. The homeless population we were serving were forced to eat a large portion of their food from there and I remember some of them being extremely disgusted by the selection of food. Furthermore, some of the homeless we were serving seemed somewhat mentally impaired and it makes me wonder if eating all of this rotten food coupled with the stigma and loneliness of being homeless causes this to happen and essentially creates a feedback loop, where it is seemingly impossible for them to get out of being homeless. Maybe this problem could be alleviated through the development of community farms, which would help provide fresh produce for these homeless individuals.


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