June found me traveling in California for the Agriculture, Food and Human Values conference in Los Angeles and to the San Francisco Bay Area for a talk in Berkeley at La Pena. I also gave talks or met with Urban Gleaners, Foodshift, UC Nutrition Policy Institute, Alameda County Community Food Bank, Oregon Food Bank, Prevention Institute, and California Food Policy Advocates.
A reflection about food waste and food banks, from these meetings:
Food waste has a life of its own and should not be connected to directly as a solution to hunger. The idea of recovering leftovers to feed to the poor remains inherently undignified to me. Food waste captured and redistributed is not the answer to hunger. As I heard many people in Toronto say, it is a “garbage food for garbage people” attitude.
Part of the problem with this attitude to food waste is the concept of hunger itself. The public thinks that if someone is hungry that they should be grateful for any food and forego their dignity. That mentality underlines the fact that we don’t consider food to be a human right in the U.S.
In a reverse Marie Antoinette, I say, let the rich eat food waste If the stuff is so good.
As one former sustainability executive in the food service field told me, the only answer to stemming the mountain of wasted food is changing business practices of manufacturers and retailers to reduce the waste.
As a society, we seem too eager to honor the waste warriors who insist on “rescuing” (presumably on a white steed) every last food item from the landfill. The American ethos of “waste not, want not,” confounds what is an enormously complex issue with environmental repercussions.
From my perspective as the former interim director of a small gleaning organization in Portland, OR, I am wondering about the carbon footprint of all the food recovery efforts. Food recovery groups should do an analysis of the carbon impacts of their trips to pick up a few burritos or leftover sandwiches. Discussions about the problem of wasted food should include the complexity of how it is calculated, and that the estimated costs are largely inaccurate.
Yet, there are innovative ways to not disproportionately benefit corporations and capture a portion of the food waste stream. Many groups such as FoodShift are developing new uses for surplus food, including using it for value added purposes and as a job creation tool.
Do you know of a project that is addressing these issues? I’d love to hear about it. Contact me.