BY NORBERT RUG
During the fall, food banks all across America remind people that hunger never goes away. Around the holidays they will see an increase in donations because people feel more charitable then but it is a twelve month a year problem.
I was fortunate enough to have a food bank in Lockport at my disposal when I couldn’t work due to a medical condition. It wasn’t like shopping at Wegmans as they had limited products including some day old baked goods available.
Even though there were some things we didn’t like, I took everything they offered me. My wife would then find creative ways of cooking these and we ate all of them. It is amazing just what you will eat when you are hungry.
I relied on food banks for sustenance 50 years ago when I was in the service. Our neighbors showed us how to apply for a monthly allocation of surplus food that the state would give to low income people. Then, every month we would have a food exchange in the common area of the housing complex where we lived to swap whatever food we didn’t want for food that we did.
I also remember during the Blizzard of ’77 that I took a part temporary job at a local supermarket due to the fact I could not get to my job in Buffalo. I used to dig thru the “Garbage Room” finding perfectly fine food that was not saleable. A tomato with a spot, a dented can or a broken carrot.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture states that between 30-40 percent of the food in the United States is wasted. Large amounts of produce that is grown in the United States is left in the field due to economic reasons. It is also fed to livestock or transported from the fields to a landfill.
I have done “Gleaning” where you go thru a farmer’s field after the harvest. A man I worked with grew a field of “Butter Sugar” corn one year. At the end of the season, after the price dropped, he gave me the field. Told me to take what I wanted for free. My father in law and I went and picked the corn and brought it to my house where my wife and mother in law blanched it, cut it off the cob and packaged the kernels in zip lock plastic bags for freezing. We had 100 bags of corn and it lasted us a full year and a half.
In my humble opinion, the appeal of perfect produce probably started in the 1940s as people adapted to refrigeration. Suddenly, you could get a pineapple in Wisconsin in February. Clarence Birdseye helped hasten the preservation of foods with his quick freezing methods and the days of going to the grocery store every day were dying out. Suddenly stores were ending up with unsaleable products that had to be thrown away.
Americans waste a large quantity of food. According to a report by The Guardian.com approximately half of all produce in the United States is tossed out, around 60 million tons worth $160 billion every rear. The Environmental Protection Agency has discovered that thrown away food is also the largest component in American landfills.
Wasting food represents many problems for our country. With all of the households in the United States that struggle to put food on the table. That much waste could be used to feed hungry Americans. Reducing our food waste by 15 percent would help feed 25 million Americans every year. Food waste is also a primary source of waste going into landfills and is also the one of the largest causes of methane in the United States.
When I worked for Nabisco, forty years ago, they used to donate damaged packages of cookies and crackers until some of the donations ended up being “returned” to stores for a refund. Allegedly they also had to defend themselves against a few lawsuits related to the donated food. They stopped donating food to charity for these reasons and just destroyed the product with imperfect packaging. Some people ruin it for everybody.
The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act was passed in 1996. This act protects businesses from lawsuits when they make a contribution of food to a charity. Although some states might have stricter standards on food donations, this protects them from litigation except for cases involving extreme negligence.
I worked with a person who knew a salesman/driver for a dairy. He would bring in “expired” yogurt for me. It was perfectly fine, it was just past the “Best if used by” date and unsaleable. It was delicious.
There are many reasons why so much food is thrown out in the U.S. Part of the reason is that food is less expensive and more abundant in the United States than almost anywhere else in the world. But the big reason Americans waste food appears to be the national obsession with the aesthetic condition of their food. Food that goes past their “Best if used by” date gets thrown out or grocery stores throw out unattractive produce or dented cans that shoppers will not buy. Other reasons include damage in transit and stores ordering more than they can sell.
Norb is a writer from Lockport. You can read his blog at https://norb-has-opinions.blogspot.com/