Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Way To Eliminate Food Stamps: Distribute Free Food Via the 'Good Samaritan' Act!

With my late brother, John, at a Vegas buffet in 2006. The Vegas Strip buffets waste on average 375 tons of food a day - much of it never touched.

The recently shown (on MSNBC)  documentary film 'Just Eat It' examined how one couple (Jen and Grant) lived 6 months exclusively relying on thrown out food - for which they spent a total of $200. In all they estimated they rescued $20,000 of tossed out food - mainly perfectly fine veggies, fruit and packaged food - hurled into dumpsters by retail stores, supermarkets. Why? Because the assorted food either was "geometrically challenged" (i.e. malformed bananas, apples or zucchini) or was within 3 or so days of the  "use by" date.

In all, the volume of food waste the couple encountered was mind boggling, and we aren't talking scraps or "garbage" here, but perfectly fine food which they were seen subsequently preparing as assorted dishes to restaurant quality standards.  (The couple video -catalogued everything they got and also the final dishes - arranged in arrays.) 

The whole theme of the 50 minute odd film, integrated within a 2 hr, program was the horrific problem of food wastage in this country - putting forth the spectacle of 40 percent of food tossed out when one sixth of the people are food -deprived. This is an abomination.

Where does this monumental waste occur? Well, in three phases or stages :first, at the produce level where farmers harvest mainly vegetables and fruit and they toss out 40 percent at that level because the shape isn't perfect (for retail stores' acceptance) or the look is odd or the fruit has a few spots.  This is otherwise perfectly good fruit  (or vegetables) that any hungry person or family would be glad for.

A second stage is the retail store level itself, because - as I mentioned - the products have not been purchased within 3 days of the "use date" or the fruit has one or two spots on or has become too soft, or "unacceptable" in the eyes of the retailer.  In one encounter, Jen and Grant found a supermarket dumpster laden to overflowing with hundreds of containers of hummus. Of course, there was too much to take all back but they took some.

In other instance, they encountered a supermarket dumpster filled up to eight feet deep with tossed out canned, packaged and other food products. Again, hurled out because of proximity to the "use by" date or even "sell by" date.  They managed to collect more than forty five pounds of goods that they took back and stocked in their home and fridge, giving some of it to a needy neighbor.

The question that occurred is why the retail stores are not taking advantage of a federal "Good Samaritan" law that shields them from any litigation and allows distribution of would -be tossed food to those that need it?  Evidently, the retailers either don't care about the law, are unaware of it, or still somehow fear lawsuits if someone gets ill- even though the law plainly shields them!

It occurred to Janice and myself that if retailers across the nation truly committed to this  Good Samaritan food law we could literally eliminate the bane of food stamp welfare overnight. Distribution centers could be set up near the retailers or at special outlets to give away the perfectly good food for free. No more trying to stretch $29 per person for a week! And there are serious environmental reasons for taking this step but let's go on to the final stage of waste - the consumer.

The third stage of waste is with the grocery consumer - who through ignorance or negligence wastes one fourth of all the food purchased. In the former instance the shopper often doesn't know the meanings of 'use by' and 'sell by' dates printed on the cans or packages, for example. 'Sell by' is for the retailers' own purpose and really ought to be presented as a special code that doesn't involve the consumer.  'Use by' is a hypothetical date by which it has been estimated the food should be used.   But as food specialists featured point out, that doesn't mean the food "automatically goes bad" at that date. It is more a matter of slight decrease in quality, maybe the taste isn't quite as high - say a '10'  but maybe a '9'. But certainly no reason to toss it!

In one graphic image the level of food waste by consumers is depicted by showing  a shopper carrying 4 full bags of groceries to her car and simply dropping one in the parking lot - while continuing her departure. In other words, American consumers waste 25 percent of their food each week. They either let it go bad by packing it into the fridge and forget it, or they fail to freeze portions for later use - or toss it say after a banana gets a spot or two.

As one food specialist observed, the total water embodied in the foodstuffs wasted, i.e. that amount needed to produce them, could have supplied 500 million people around the world!  Worse, that amount left to rot in landfills produces hundreds of tons of methane  gas which is 20 times more potent (and heat insulating) then CO2.

Obviously then, one needs to seriously halt waste at least at one of  three earlier stages before retiring it to a landfill: 1) use it for energy production, 2) use it to feed animals - if not humans, and 3) use it for composting.

Highlighting mega-waste of food is the Las Vegas strip, where 375 tons of food  get dumped each day - most of it untouched. If this isn't a crime I don't know what is, but if you've never been to any buffets on the Vegas  strip you can't grasp how easy it is to happen.  First, the sheer choices in food are staggering, even at breakfast buffets like at the Luxor or Bellagio. You see enormous hams to be sliced for you, roast beef, pork roast, fried and baked chicken legs- thighs, Polish sausages, mounds of fresh bacon, fruits (strawberries, peaches, avocados, pears, oranges etc.), pancakes, waffles, and every kind of omelet you could want cooked by the chefs right in front of you. Second, you are getting it for something like $10.95 each so you "dig in" determined to wolf down your money's worth and more.

In the image shown, for example, my late brother John and myself went to a buffet with my wife - and we had piled up so much food on our respective plates there was no way we could finish it all. Like too many who go to these buffets we allowed our greed and eyes to rule our gastronomical perceptions.  I myself -had to leave behind a whole baked potato, and a whole chicken leg, each untouched  Johnny left behind most of a giant slice of ham, and a pile of roast beef as well as mashed potatoes. Janice couldn't finish all her sweet potatoes, apple sauce and turkey leg. 

Where did all this food go? Well, to waste! However, we learn in the movie 'Just Eat It' that RC Farms outside Vegas has been rescuing at least 8 percent of all the Strip buffet waste for a number of years now. That translates to 30 tons a day that comes straight from the lunch and dinner buffets on the Strip to their farm where it is processed into mush then fed to their dozens of  hogs.

They are making a dent but not enough. Alas, the 92 percent (375 tons / day)  of buffet leftovers unsaved ends up in nearby landfills where- as the documentary showed -  it generates enormous amounts of methane - a greenhouse gas with twenty times the forcing factor of CO2.  That is, the ability to absorb heat in the form of solar infrared radiation. This is directly contingent on the molecular vibrations undergone by the molecule which allow it to absorb and re-emit incident radiation.

Given  the 40 percent of perfectly fine food tossed out each day in this country, there is no reason - none at all  - a massive 'rescue' program cannot be organized to ensure distribution to those who are food-insecure.  The only reason for not doing it is lack of adequate will on the part of the retailers, the pols and the public. If this "Good Samaritan" Act could be used to push mass distribution to the needy-  instead of waste  - we might be able to eliminate or at least vastly reduce the food stamp rolls! (And you'd be amazed how many candy bars are tossed out too!)

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