Why Can’t We Get Wasted Food to the Hungry?
Acton Institute Powerblog

Why Can’t We Get Wasted Food to the Hungry?

product_large_362In your kitchen right now is food that is going to be wasted. Although it may still be sitting in your pantry or in your refrigerator, you’ll eventually throw it away. Milk and cheese will go bad before you finish it, bread will get stale and moldy, and the can of kale will go in the trash as soon as you remember you bought a can of kale (seriously, what were you thinking?).

That Americans waste a lot of food is no surprise. But what may shock you is just how much food we waste.

According to the USDA, 31 percent—or 133 billion pounds—of the 430 billion pounds of the available food supply at the retail and consumer levels in 2010 went uneaten. The estimated value of this food loss was $161.6 billion using retail prices. The estimated calories associated with food loss: 141 trillion in 2010, or 1,249 calories per capita per day. That’s a lot of calories that could be used for those in our nation who go hungry.

About 10 percent of the loss (43 billion pounds) occurs at the retail level (supermarkets, restaurants, etc.). Since a significant portion of that wasted food is edible, why isn’t it given to the poor and homeless?

As Harrison Jacobs explains, there are two main reasons usable food is wasted at the retail level. The first is liability:

Many vendors mistakenly believe they’ll get sued for providing food that gets somebody sick, even if they think that food is safe. The vendors may decide giving away their leftovers isn’t worth the legal risk.

What these vendors may not know (or fully understand) is that in 1996, Congress passed the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, thus protecting good faith food donors from civil and criminal liability. The law specifically protects individuals, corporations, wholesalers, caterers, farmers, restaurateurs, and others from liability for donating food in good faith.

That’s a relatively easy fix, since it simply requires educating vendors. The second reason—logistics— is more challenging:

Stores often don’t have the space to store leftover food while they are waiting for agencies to pick it up. And food banks may not have the capacity to transport or properly store the food if it’s highly perishable. Even worse, many stores don’t even know they should be donating their leftover food or where to donate it.

Organizations like Feeding America and Food Finders try to make it easier for vendors to donate food by acting as middlemen between food vendors like grocery stores, produce markets, restaurants, and hotels and food providers like food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters.

The logistical problems provide an opportunity for Christian ministries and charities. Churches, for instance, often have space that could be used to create small-scale freezer and refrigeration storage. They are also frequently located in neighborhoods close to food vendors, reducing the cost and hassle of transportation.

Many churches already have food donation ministries for the needy, though they tend to be limited to providing dry goods. By expanding the offerings to include perishables like produce, meat, and dairy, churches in America could have an even greater impact on the lives of our hungry neighbors.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).