Boing Boing Responses

Yesterday’s Times article has prompted some spirited discussion in this Boing Boing forum, which is wonderful. And healthy.

I contemplated commenting in that forum, but had waaay too much to say. Instead, I’ve compiled some of my reactions to the comments here, with reference to the order of their appearance in the thread:

(19) People really want to blame ‘the lawyers’ for everything from hindering food donations to ruining this country. I won’t comment on the latter, but the former is simply outdated. The Times article even mentioned “A Good Samaritan law,” (The Bill Emerson Food Donation Act) which protects food donors from liability when they give food. I guess if people want to believe something, they’re going to believe it.Don't throw me away!

(29) If I was king for the day, or Food Waste Czar (a guy can dream, right?), all stores would have sale produce racks. One store I go to has one, and I routinely buy tasty apples with one bad spot and potatoes that require a tiny bit of trimming.

(54) The ‘Why should I care?’ question is a persistent one. ‘My actions don’t affect others,’ many folks say. Well, like it or not, our fates are intertwined on this planet. Unless you grow your own food using no machinery or petro-fertilizers and compost what you don’t eat, your food wasting affects others in many ways. As commenter 29 mentioned, the waste of fossil fuels is a key reason why food waste matters.

To squander food is to waste the oil used to plant, fertilize, harvest and transport that food (from farm to processor to store to home). Simply tossing food because it’s ‘your right’ means that the carbon footprint (the fuel use, freight emissions, energy from processing it) only went to the cause of feeding landfills. There, rotting food emits methane, a greenhouse gas more harmful than carbon dioxide. But yeah, it’s a free country; go ahead and throw out your own food simply because you bought it.

(100) I would emphasize that the 27 percent number is out of date. It comes from a study released in 1997, which means the research was done in 1995. It’s probably closer to one-half than one-quarter. We’ll see when the USDA finally gets around to updating their numbers, although I’m skeptical about how rigorous that update will be.

(23, 65) Convenience is a real culprit. Avoiding food waste can take some time and effort. Whether it’s planning your week’s meals ahead or canning fruits and vegetables. But I just don’t see how the alternative–throwing away almost half of our food–is sustainable.

And yes, the loss of food knowledge is another factor in waste. For example, fewer people today think to make stale bread into croutons, panzanella or bread pudding. Or to simply slice off the moldy part of cheese.

(28) In looking at the reasons for waste, the technology vs. convenience question fascinates me. As technology improvements–effective storage, refrigerated transport and protective packaging–have made it possible to avoid the majority of food waste, we haven’t.

To generalize, First World food waste mostly comes from indifference, laziness, lack of knowledge, etc. In developing nations, it’s often poor storage and distribution that cause the high levels of waste.

(37) From my experience working at a supermarket and talking to store and produce managers, they didn’t really mind the waste. While I’m sure that varies, it’s seen as a cost of doing business. They didn’t want to see it happen too much, like any business would want to cut inefficiency, but they weren’t too too put off by it.

The people most upset by food waste seem to be farmers, who often have an abundance of waste. Frequently, they’ll choose not to harvest an entire field if the price for that crop goes south. But given their investment of time, money and labor in growing that food, they almost universally express regret. Fortunately, they often donate unsold crops through the food recovery network or invite gleaners to harvest them.

(58) To a certain extent, it’s true that capitalism encourages waste. But my response to supermarket waste is: If restaurants can use software to (somewhat) accurately predict demand and make ordering more precise, why can’t grocery stores? And when they do have to bump perfectly good produce, donate it!

We not be able to completely avoid food waste, but we can do a whole heck of a lot better.

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