The United States wastes about half of all its produce. Millions of dollars and thousands of pounds of perfectly good food is left to spoil or thrown out prematurely. At the same time thousands of people face hunger and food insecurity daily. How can both these things be true? How can we seemingly have enough food to throw half of it away yet many struggle to find reliable meals?
More than half of all farm produce in Africa spoils before it can be eaten – could making better use of the sun be the solution? pic.twitter.com/uvhKZOFJOn
— BBC World Service (@bbcworldservice) January 2, 2018
This tragedy is part of what Michael Pollan writes about in his manifesto. Our eating culture has become so distanced from whole, unprocessed foods we are willing to waste thousands of pounds of food for the sake of vanity and efficiency. He writes that our love for savoring food has been replaced by a chase for highly-marketed nutrients. We do not value perishable food for we are focused on food additives, supplements, and similar wonders. With focus on popular super-foods and vitamins we do not, as a whole, care that we waste so much perfectly edible food.
The other question I had this week is why more of this wasted food is not being rescued before it is trashed. Dr. Wheat of the University of Washington said in her interview that some food is donated to nearby shelters and food banks. We should be expecting more of a holistic system that saves all food from local farms like the one at UW as well as produce stores like Whole Foods and PCC. Dr. Wheat said she does train community members how to grow food and I’m curious how much of the training involves this level of sustainability.
One local organization in Seattle rescues unused food from restaurants before it is wasted. The group then cooks the food and serves it to people experiencing homelessness. I think both Pollan and Wheat would agree this is one small, inspiring effort to combat hunger and food waste.
Litfin, Karen. “Interview with Beth Wheat.” University of Washington, canvas.uw.edu/courses/1126772/pages/lesson-01-required-learning-resources-approx-5-hours?module_item_id=7901891.
Pollan, Michael. In Defense of Food: an Eater’s Manifesto. Penguin Books, 2009.
I really enjoyed the points you made here. You shine a light on some definite policy issues concerning food. For example, stores and restaurants being required to dispose of foods that are still edible due to laws. This is disturbing to say the least. Hopefully, more steps are taken in order to rescue these foods and put them to good use, because, as you said, food insecurity is a big issue for much of the planet.
Given how much food is wasted, it is more than infuriating to listen to hunger alleviation touted as a justification for our current food system. Who is our food system feeding? The American dumpster? On to your point, I think there is value in making sure less food goes to waste, but I also fear that this is a reactive strategy when we need a total system overhaul. The problems starts long before the food is ready to be consumed (or thrown away) and it is bigger than the food system itself. I think food wastefulness is a symptom, and while we should treat the symptoms we must also search for the cure.
You make some excellent points about food waste and programs that can make an impact on a local level. Often larger grocery and restaurant chains instruct their employees to destroy edible food rather than leave it accessible for those who need it. Others lock down their dumpsters for fear of liability if someone gets sick from the food inside. In this landscape, organizations like Food Lifeline here in WA working to “rescue” food that would otherwise be discarded become incredibly important. They create partnerships with grocery stores, food producers, restaurants and others, diverting waste at multiple levels of the commodity chain and redistributing it to food insecure families.
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