Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Scandal of Food Waste

I am proud to be taking part in Blog Action Day OCT 16 2011

It isn't as if we don't produce enough food to feed everyone. The main issue is that food doesn't reach the people that it needs to. Throughout my life, I've seen a number of cases where food is wasted. In some cases, I have solutions (either my own ideas or solutions I've witnessed). I'll talk about those afterword.

First, I don't really think that governments or large organizations are either the major cause or the solution to wastefulness. I think that individuals cause and can solve waste.

As I've mentioned in another post, my parents grew up in the depression and WWII rationing. I see wasting food (or anything else) as just... ...well... ...wasteful.

My earliest example that I remember is a relative who was on welfare. My family went over to his house to visit one day. They served steak (new york strip) and potatoes. While we struggled to eat everything on our plates, they simply tossed the half (or more) that they didn't finish. His response was, "it's not my money." I was flabbergasted. This willful wastefulness is one of the worst causes because they know that they are wasting and do so with glee. I was only about 12 years old (and not paying taxes yet) but I was, very quietly, livid. This formed my early opinions on welfare (I have since seen numerous examples of where it really helped someone get back on their feet). The main problem is that there is no down side to waste. I don't know if there is any solution to sociopathic waste.

My other experiences come from driving a truck for a food bank distributor. I spent almost two years driving a delivery truck for a food bank distributor. I saw a lot of waste and I saw a lot of solutions to waste.

We would pick up donations from stores and deliver them to various food banks (a different food bank each day of the week). We had three 14' refrigerated trucks. Around a holiday, three stores could fill the back of the truck. I don't mean that the shelves were full. I mean that the even the aisle was packed so high and tight that we had to open the door very carefully. Most days weren't nearly that full but it was still usually quite a load.

So, I know how much waste there is in a grocery store. Not all stores donate. Even here in southern California, there is a chain that mulches it's food rather than donating it. So, I know how much food is going to waste there.

Note that mulching the food isn't out of spite as some of you might think. Think about it from their perspective. What is their liability if someone hurts him or her self climbing in the dumpster. Even worse: what happens if someone gets sick off of a steak that's been sitting in the dumpster for 2 days. How does the store prove that the person didn't buy it? What will that do to the store's reputation, let alone it's court costs?

Another big area of waste is bread. In our area, at least, a single bakery has a monopoly on artisan type breads. They actually force the stores to order more bread than they can sell in order to get any bread at all. This results in 2-3 big garbage bags of that type of bread from each store. Even the biggest food banks have trouble giving out all that bread. If anyone knows what to do with this, I'm sure the stores would like to know.

The packing plants and distributors are even worse. They only send the "pretty" produce. Think about it, how many of you buy perfectly edible fruit or vegetables that have blemishes on them? That stuff gets tossed before it even reaches a store.

I'm not saying that this is necessarily bad (everyone should have the right to get the best food for their family) but that the food is out there. We just need to get it into the hands of those who need it.

So, what can we do? We can't force people to only buy/cook what they can eat. We can't force people to buy less than the best quality food they can for their family. We can, on the other hand, control what we ourselves do.

What can we, as individuals do? Here is what I came up with. Can you think of any others?
  1. We can be careful to only put on the table what we can eat (or plan for leftovers).

  2. Discover which produce is still perfectly good even when it isn't pretty looking.

  3. Try to match up stores with food banks and figure out how to get the food from the store to the food bank. The stores don't want to throw away food but any other solutions are too expensive. What we can do is give them an alternative that doesn't cost them very much. The manpower needed to put food in bags or boxes isn't much higher than that needed to throw it in a dumpster (or mulching machine)

  4. Find uses for non-pretty produce that is sorted out by farmers and distributors. Note that many of them already do something with it but I keep hearing stories of some new plan to deal with that waste so there must still be opportunities out there.

  5. Find something to do with all that artisan bread!

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