Gleaned Information

Monday, I met with Joel Berg, the first and only USDA Coordinator of Food Recovery and Gleaning.

Berg held that position from 1996 to 1999, and his seat hasn’t been filled since he left (largely due to politics–he was a Clinton appointee). While I’d interviewed him by phone, I learned a great deal more about his work to prevent food waste at the federal level.

Joel BergOne of Berg’s main contributions was to establish state food recovery coordinators. Often state ag department or farm bureau workers, these folks told farmers how they could donate excess crops (while getting tax breaks). Despite the lack of USDA involvement today, many state coordinators are still informally spreading the food recovery gospel.

I’ve often lamented how little the federal agencies pay attention to food waste. Berg said that the dearth of food waste research probably stems from a lack of pressure to consider it. The guides and studies on the topic in 1996 and 1997 were written because then-Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman was a big gleaning proponent.

When we discussed the abundance of produce that doesn’t make it to supermarkets, Berg noted our picky shopping habits. “American consumers are the most spoiled in the world,” said Berg, who’s now executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger.

I asked Berg, a political creature, about the odds of the Federal Food Donation bill passing. He said that Chuck Schumer planned to introduce a Senate version, but that the legislation’s best chance would be getting attached to the Farm Bill. If that ever passes

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