increasing number of Americans face poverty and, as a result, hunger.
Meanwhile, we waste close to half of all food produced domestically.
an American paradox. How can waste and hunger coexist? Two words: poor
farm to fork, America squanders 40 percent of its food. Every day, Americans
waste enough food to fill the 90,000-seat Rose Bowl. So much of the food that
isn’t consumed is perfectly edible, yet we lack the will and the means to
collect and distribute it to those in need. That must change.
insecurity is the highest it has been since the United States Department of
Agriculture (USDA) began tracking in 1995. In all, 15 percent of American
households were “food insecure,” meaning they did not have the resources to
obtain adequate nutrition and lead a healthy lifestyle.
the number of hungry Americans – and the environmental impact of waste, which
is another story altogether – it’s high time we harness the food we now
squander. While we struggle to feed everyone today, it won’t get any easier as
national and global populations continue to grow.
a decent chunk of what we now waste wouldn’t be terribly difficult. We would
just need to redistribute edible but unsellable foods. In other words, harvest
all of our crops, encourage donations from food manufacturers and wholesalers,
and, where necessary, collect unsold food from supermarkets, restaurants, and
industrial kitchens. This would go a long way to feeding the low-income
Americans who face food insecurity.
diligent, non-profit food recovery groups already perform these tasks. In
agricultural settings, this usually takes the form of gleaning, where
volunteers descend on a farm to pick what would otherwise be plowed under.
Major farm food recovery operations, the Society of St. Andrew being the
largest, also receive donations by the pallet or truckload on a fairly regular
basis. More retail-based solutions occur in urban settings through food
recovery groups like City Harvest and D.C. Central Kitchen, which rescue
millions of pounds of edible food each year.
few other steps will help reduce waste.
we can adopt a more systematic approach to recovering and redistributing the
excess. In particular, agricultural excess could have a major impact. That’s
why the USDA should promote food recovery and encourage its constituents to
donate. That would mean reminding growers that donation is the best option for
extra crops or products they don’t plan to sell.
keep it simple, the USDA could return to having a federal gleaning coordinator
– as was the case under the Clinton-era Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman –
a position which didn’t exist before and hasn’t since.
we should establish incentives for farmers to harvest all that they grow.
Whether by carrot or by stick, this encouragement needs to happen.
Unfortunately, all too often, the price of a good means that it’s not
economically viable to harvest entire fields. And, with hand-picked crops, our choosiness
sometimes means that produce that is the wrong shape, size, or color stays in
the field or tree.
we must begin streamlining tax deductions for food donations and make them open
to all donors. This would boost the charitable
giving that helps an estimated 21 million Americans to feed their families.
Under the current tax code, unincorporated farms aren’t eligible to take such
deductions. For growers and retailers able to take these deductions, doing so
is anything but easy. As a result, many farms and stores don’t receive any
financial benefit when they donate valuable, nourishing goods to those who need
be clear, many farmers and supermarkets are currently donating food. Yet more
why the fourth step would be a national database of available recipients and
collecting agencies. While most supermarkets donate some items, they’re usually
not the foods most needed to provide healthy meals for those in need. Coordination
through a database could ensure food donations are better targeted.
while stores donate baked goods freely, they’re often hesitant to give
perishable foods like proteins and produce. That’s why we must remind potential
donors that the 1996 Federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act
protects them from liability when they donate food in good faith, and that
donating food is an opportunity to garner positive publicity.
we as a nation make a commitment to reducing waste and putting our food to
better use, the potential rewards are considerable. Based on the numbers,
cutting a quarter of our food waste could provide sustenance for all who need
practice, that probably wouldn't eliminate the need for other hunger relief
tools like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) and the
National School Lunch Program. But trimming our food waste surely wouldn’t
hurt. It would go a long way toward diminishing American hunger.
To view a PDF version of this document, click here.
Jonathan Bloom is a journalist and blogger who created WastedFood.com. American Wasteland, published in October 2010 by Da Capo Press, is his first book.