In Josh Lohnes’ PhD innovative and sophisticated dissertation (WVU Dept of Geography), he examines the power relations between food banks, food pantries, Feeding America, and Big Food. He shows how food pantries in such an under-resourced and rural state as West Virginia are caught between their local context and rules that favor the needs of corporate America and the institutional demands of Feeding America. Ending hunger always plays second fiddle to the government, and institutional rules.
He develops the concept of the food bank fix, adapted from the scholar David Harvey’s idea of a spatial fix to capitalism, to explain how the charitable food system plays an essential element in protecting the inherently wasteful food system through revaluing and distributing their surplus. This system is a food destruction network, whose raison d’etre is to protect capitalism from the ravages of its own excess.
Lohnes argues: “Although food banks are charged with resolving the problem of hunger, I argue that they are also key sites for revaluing food waste and resolving crises of overproduction under capitalism.”
Lohnes points out how Feeding America’s use of meals (1.2 pounds = 1 meal no matter the type of food) rather than pounds is little more than a cynical repackaging of food waste. He shows how their core metric of meals per person in need (MPIN) drives food banks to distribute an ever increasing amount of food from year to year, as it positions next year’s metrics based on this year’s median of the 200 food banks in the network. Over the course of the past decade, the MPIN has risen by 50%, forcing food banks to grow the amount of food they distribute accordingly in order to stay in the good graces of Feeding America. Those food banks who dont push enough food out the door to all their service area can have the territory taken away from them or their contact with Feeding America revoked. These perverse incentives lead to food banks prioritizing those agencies who have the greatest capacity to move food or to establish mobile pantries in “underserved areas,” with no wrap around services to help the recipients actually get out of poverty.