Let’s Talk About Waste: Supply and Demand

Forty percent of edible food in the United States goes to waste. This includes over fifty percent of all available produce. Even as someone who works in the culinary industry, this seems like a LOT of waste. Especially when we consider the amount of people who don’t have enough to eat. But what is the root of this problem? Unfortunately, consumers are to blame.

We only want the most perfect fruit and vegetables from the market. When purchasing from farmers, the buyer has a standard level of quality and expects a certain amount of it. To ensure they can fulfill their contract, the farmer over plants the crop. When the time comes to harvest, the farmer may or may not be able to afford to cover all of the fields after the major buyer’s purchase is satisfied, so the surplus may not get harvested at all. If they can afford the labor, they will certainly make efforts to sell their remaining stock, but unfortunately, much of the remaining produce is turned over.

At the grocery, naturally, we pick the prettiest peach. And what happens to produce that is approaching its expiration point? It is still edible. But if no one buys it, these fruits and veggies are considered loss and discarded. The market wants to keep everything fresh. Understandably, there is a mission to avoid fruit flies and other pests, but is there really a risk of that from giving a few more days?

France is actually passing a law making it a crime for grocery stores to dispose of edible food. They are bringing hefty fines to store managers who disobey and are encouraging markets to cooperate with charities. This is a huge step forward. In the United States, there are tax deductions for donations to shelters, but it seems that many stores and restaurants don’t see the effort to be worth the time. It’s quite sad. We should take more responsibility for our communities if we have the opportunity. It seems something is amiss when we are perfectly able to help others with very little effort and choose not to. Is the corporate structure so rigid that is does not allow time for a few employees to take a few minutes to be caring members of the community while on the company clock?

I was recently reading an article on NPR about a couple who lived for six months on food that was considered inedible. They made a film about it: Just Eat It. This food that they primarily found in dumpsters was essentially never past the sell-by date, but only close to it. On that note, a sell-by date is not an expiration date. The only truly serious date on packaging that is strictly regulated is baby formula. Everything else is variable and not uniform across the board from company to company, state to state. We need to pay more mind to common sense and discretion, rather than arbitrary and subjective systems. A mushy spot on an apple doesn’t mean the whole piece of fruit deserves to be chucked.

All of this is to say that our country wastes an unnecessary amount of sustenance. There is a huge obesity crisis because of how accessible processed convenience food is. I understand that giving away produce may seem, on paper, like it is reducing the value of a farmer’s hard work. Someone does have to pay for it. And it wouldn’t be fair to expect a grocery store to pay for an entire shipment of nearly rotten product. How can we arrive at an amicable medium? We certainly have the means to feed our population healthy food, but distribution seems to be posing a problem.

 

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