In today’s world, where so many wake up in poverty and go to sleep hungry, each of us should ask: “how can I change this?” It is a sin to waste food while others do not have enough to eat. Every year the food waste in America alone can feed over 50 million people per year. Here’s an example: if a farmer grows 100,000 pounds of tomatoes, usually about half of them must be thrown away, 50,000 pounds down the drain. This is because if a tomato is slightly misshapen, discolored, too small (or too big), or blemished in any way, it will not meet the consumer demand for a “perfect” tomato and will therefore be rejected, as will other vegetable produce: this is true for many fruit and vegetable crops. To prevent tons of produce from being rejected by picky customers (and supermarkets buyers), crops are “culled” (hand sorted) after they are picked. So about half goes into the truck on its way to the store and the other half goes into another truck straight to the dump, or destined to be plowed under and sprayed with insecticide.
As of 2011, 1.3 billion tons of food, about one third of the global food production, are lost or wasted annually.
I could furnish you with hundreds of links describing various food wastrels from around the globe but that’s not the point of this post, we know there is a monumental amount of edibles that end up in waste bins, it’s well documented. Instead I’d like to write about some of our tactics for feeding the down & out in Australia in the early seventies. Remember, in those days we didn’t have the benefit of the internet or texting for fast communication. It started simply with a phone call from a friend of a friend, a fellow restaurateur who was becoming increasingly concerned at the growing numbers of poor people knocking on his door asking for leftovers. His place was situated in an outer suburb, close to newly arrived migrants and an Aboriginal enclave. He ran a simple, inexpensive family restaurant and began to keep track of all his food waste as well as the few uneaten dishes that came back to his kitchen (IIRC, his servings were on the generous side). He played soccer with us sometimes as in those days a few restaurant owners & staff got together on winter Sundays and played for fun, mostly a Franco-Italian affair. His phone call to his best friend, an Italian chef, kick-started the whole thing. Then the Italian chef, a close friend of mine, called me and we decided to hold an informal meeting at the next soccer game.
This is what we did: first, we formed a group of restaurant owners that wanted to help, mostly people we knew. This was the easy part. We got together twenty three establishments within a day and set up a schedule for gathering, collecting and delivery. Identifying the needy and have food dropped twice a week at a collection point was not as simple. We found that the health authorities at the Sydney town hall weren’t as receptive as we thought. We needed permits even though it was not a financial venture….but try and convince well-paid civil servants. However sanity prevailed and by chance we got a retired chief of Justice to put pressure on the Lord Mayor who wasn’t aware of our plight and gave us the go-ahead. For the next two years we supplied edibles to roughly four hundred and thirty people. Then the numbers dwindled down, some moved out of the city and some found jobs when a new Labour government took office (1974). We proved that it could be done.
Though I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but now that we are better equipped in communication skills and can use the social networks that we go on to every day we should take advantage of this new technology. It’s a good start to organize online food communities and in the process shame supermarkets, restaurants and fast food outlets into working with the hungry instead of dumping good foodstuffs. If each community were to set up a Facebook page with phone numbers and website addresses of known food wastrels it would change the landscape, and help the poor and the vulnerable. There are numerous instances of campaigns started by various groups for the betterment of the people. As you know, some boycotts have been successful in changing the mindset of obdurate corporations, and with the rapidly spreading OWS movement there is no better time to organize and look after the needy and the hungry. Online activism is the way to go!