Oh, great. Europe.
If you love America
like I love bacon, you’re probably getting sick of folks talking about how everything’s apparently soooo much better over in Europe.
There have been photo memes making the rounds on the Internet – crowing about European success stories that all end the same: The successful way is “the opposite of what America does.” Whatever.
Here’s an example: A teacher is pictured standing in front of a classroom blackboard, and the photo’s caption talks about Finland’s school system and how “we pay teachers like doctors.”
No, they don’t. I checked – just in case my wife, a teacher, wants to move to Finland. She doesn’t. Not for what they pay.
HERE’S ANOTHER example: A photo’s caption reads in part: “Iceland’s president explains how his country recovered so quickly from the recession: The government bailed out the people and imprisoned the bankers.”
No, it didn’t. Well, the government imprisoned some bankers after the 2008 global financial crisis. But the nation didn’t recover “so quickly.” Iceland actually instituted stern austerity measures that only began to get lifted – slowly – last summer. Icelanders are just now beginning to see economic daylight.
But hey, I like Europe.
Just not like I love bacon.
If you also love bacon, forgive me if this next sentence drives you to tears: Perfectly good bacon is getting thrown away. Right now.
Oh yes. In 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. supermarkets and grocery stores threw out 43 billion pounds of food. That’s $46.7 billion worth. I can’t imagine the numbers are much better in 2016.
Again, this isn’t all spoiled food. Much is edible – just unsold. The “best by” dates you see on a lot of food doesn’t mean the food automatically spoils on that day.
So why does it all get discarded? Sometimes it’s logistics. Stores might not always have the space or other resources to keep food around for charities to pick up before it actually does go bad.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of aesthetics. If a zucchini looks too curvy and weird, but it’s perfectly edible, it might still get tossed during post-harvest or by supermarket produce buyers.
Here’s where Europe comes back in. Two countries’ answers to food waste isn’t exactly the opposite of what America does, but it represents an intriguing approach to the problem of hunger.
FRANCE’S ANSWER is, I think, too heavy-handed: Its government simply banned supermarkets from throwing away food or intentionally spoiling it (such as spraying bleach on it, to render it inedible to people diving in Dumpsters). If a French grocery is caught wasting food, it’s fined. If you’re a fan of government forcing you to do the right thing, this could be the law for you.
Italy’s approach is more nuanced. A proposed law, up for a vote this week in the Italian Senate, rewards companies for donating unsold food by reducing their garbage tax. The more food you donate, the bigger tax break you get.
According to Italian Agriculture Minister Maurizio Martina, “We are making it more convenient for companies to donate than to waste.
By one USDA estimate, 49 million Americans suffer from food insecurity, defined as a lack of access to “enough food for an active, healthy life.”
You might be one of those people who think giving away free food to food-insecure families just enables a generation of deadbeats. I’m not convinced. But if you are one of those people, you might even like the approach that’s being taken in Denmark.
A charity there has opened a supermarket in Copenhagen called WeFood, which sells surplus produce, unsold at other stores, 30 to 50 percent cheaper than normal supermarkets. Anybody can shop there.
Eva Kjer Hansen, the Danish minister for food and the environment, gets my vote for Obvious Quote of the Year: “It’s ridiculous that food is just thrown out or goes to waste.”
So why don’t supermarkets in the United States do more of this?
Well, they can and they do. But more should.
A lot of food outlets likely help because it’s good business sense. The IRS provides tax incentives to businesses that donate food. And the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act encourages food and grocery donations to qualified nonprofits.
The Emerson Act protects food donors. As long as the donor doesn’t act “with negligence or intentional misconduct,” the donor isn’t liable for damage incurred from food illness.
THAT ASSURANCE gives some lie to the argument that stores don’t give away food because owners are afraid of the liability factor. What if a well-meaning grocer gives away food that somehow makes someone sick? This law protects that grocer.
I can’t tell you all the supermarkets around here that help feed the hungry, but God bless them. Ask folks at the store you shop at what they do with their surplus food, and how you can help feed the hungry.
Helping save wasted food isn’t a waste of time.