Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables

I have written once before about food waste, and when I saw this video I wanted to highlight it since it tackles the same issue. Supermarkets around the world set standards for “food quality” which include appearance. Even if a piece of produce is as tasty and nutritious as can be, it is discarded when it doesn’t meet certain specifications for size, color, or shape. I love to see that the EU declared 2014 the European Year Against Food Waste! I also love that supermarkets are selling “ugly” produce at a lower price, that consumers are embracing it, and that farmers are making a profit off of items that would otherwise have been thrown away. Bravo!

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Movie Review: Dive!

Last night, I was fortunate to attend a movie screening and panel discussion sponsored by ASU’s School of Nutrition & Health Promotion and the
Global Institute of Sustainability. The movie being shown was Dive! and the tagline is “Living off America’s Waste.” As it suggests, the film chronicles the journey of (mostly) one guy who procures food for his family through periodic dumpster-dives at grocery stores.

Dive DVD cover

While I can’t say that the movie made me want to follow in his footsteps, it was appalling to see the amount of completely edible food that is wasted in this country. At the time of the film, the figure was at about 93 billion pounds per year, but a recent report by the Natural Resources Defense Council puts the figure at closer to 135 billion pounds per year at a cost of $165 billion. Equally appalling was the lack of corporate responsibility for such issues: the corporate offices of most grocery chains refused to talk to him even off the record about why they don’t donate more of their food to food banks or pantries.

Of course, grocery chains aren’t the only culprits, and some waste is inherent in any system. An additional challenge is that even though the Good Samaritan Law should absolve corporations of responsibility should someone become sick from eating donated food, there is legal precedent suggesting that it has been successfully challenged in the past. That said, a loss of somewhere between 40 and 50% of our nation’s food, in my mind, is unforgivable. The relationship between food waste and food insecurity is strong. It’s easy to think about hunger as a problem that’s occurring “somewhere else,” but in 2012, 49 million Americans were food insecure. I think this film does an excellent job of showing just how much waste there is, and also how that waste could be better utilized to feed the millions of Americans who don’t know where they will get their next meal.

Fortunately, the panelists gave me some hope. In attendance were Eric Lehnhardt, the Executive Director of Flash Food; Jayson Matthews, Chief Development Officer of the United Food Bank; and Chris Wharton, ASU professor and the co-founder of Chow Locally (my CSA!). In their own ways, each of these men is doing a lot to fight hunger and food waste in Arizona. Jayson mentioned that since the film’s release, grocery stores are doing more to donate to local food banks and pantries (although there’s still a wide delta between the amount of waste generated and the amount of food donated). Eric started Flash Food as a student and it has grown into a successful just-in-time food donation operation. And Chris, whom I’ve heard speak before, pointed out that the waste of food is indicative of a larger pattern of over-consumption in the US and is unlikely to be solved as long as our mentality remains in the mode of consumption of all things at all times.

I wish I could recommend the panel discussion, but I’ll have to settle for recommending the film instead. Although it’s quite partisan, it’s well worth a watch.