Why does food get wasted in America? We live in a rich country. To a large extent, our nation is built upon the backs of the poor. It is popular to complain about the unfair distribution of goods and services and even to assign blame to a malicious conspiracy. Conspiracies might exist, on the level of the international banking cartels, but the truth is, there is actually a lot of freedom in this country to recycle and redistribute wealth in the form of goods and raw materials. Restaurants, produce warehouses, and bakeries throw away food because it is easier than recycling. Someone has to pick up the food at a time and in a manner that is convenient to the donors. Someone has to have the time and the means to pick up the food – and the desire.
The Good Samaritan Law, which exists in all continental US states, offers protection against law suits brought by anyone who becomes ill after eating donated food. There are also some tax benefits to donating surpluses. So, if food, lumber, paint and other basic human needs are rotting in a dumpster, it is mainly due to benign neglect. There is no one stopping people in the community from rescuing the goods.
“A store may order more produce than it ends up needing, trucks may be too full to ship all of the ordered produce, or shipments can be delayed or arrive too early due to weather, market fluctuations, and equipment malfunctions. Often, entire pallets of usable food will be refused by markets because some items have slight cosmetic imperfections. The problem with surplus produce is that unlike canned goods, which could be resold or redistributed later, produce will spoil if it sits too long,” reads the website of Fair Foods, a non-profit organization based in Boston, Massachusetts.
Rescuing food and redistributing it to the people requires intensive work and planning. Trucks and strong men are need to pick up the fresh food that is being discarded and to bring it to some location for sorting and cleaning. The food must then be transported into poor communities – especially to locations where people do not have cars or who have other mobility limitations, such as the elderly. Repairs will be needed for the trucks, and of course there is the cost of gasoline. Even free food is never free, but Fair Foods has found a way to distribute huge amounts of fresh food in low income neighborhoods with limited supermarket access for about 10 cents a pound. They truck food in from all over New England and sell 20 pound bags of assorted produce, which will feed a family for a week, for $2 a bag. Their primary pick up location is the Chelsea Market on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, where huge container loads of produce sit in boxes piled up on the docks and warehouses.
Fair Foods has distributed hundreds of millions of pounds of food over the past 20 years, but the food that they have distributed is only a fraction of the food that is available. The organization currently relies on one medium sized truck like that used for movers, which is very old and requires frequent tinkering, in order to pick up the food in bulk; and a pickup truck to take the produce to various locations around Boston. There are a handful of core volunteers who work around the clock and share a home with Nancy Jamison, the founder of Fair Foods. The huge house itself is suffering from benign neglect – the roof leaks and the entire place is in need of a fresh coat of paint. Jamison, 63, though a carpenter by trade, is suffering from health problems and cannot keep up with the home repairs in addition to feeding the poor, so she feeds the poor.
Hundreds of other volunteers pitch in when they can. But if Americans want the poor to be fed, including themselves, more strong hands are needed. The government solution of bureaucracy is not a solution: Food Pantry executives receive 6-digit incomes and only distribute a fraction of the amount of fresh food that Fair Food volunteers distribute at the various drop off locations.
Daniel Fitzpatrick told the Dorchester Reporter, “Everyone looks forward to it. If they don’t show up, people starve.” 10,000 families in Boston rely on the produce.
Fair Foods began in the mid-1980s when Dorchester’s Nancy Jamison, 58, loaded up the back of her pick-up with discarded carrots and parked it in front of her home. As her neighbors walked home from their jobs, they scooped up the carrots. “They were gone in an hour and a half,” she said. Food redistribution is “something that I believe all Americans should do with all the assets and blessings that we have,” said Jamison.
Right now, most people are over-extended, underpaid and exhausted from working jobs to make enough money to buy food and pay bills for their family. Or else, they are unemployed and suffering the mental and emotional breakdown that goes along with having no income. When you are struggling night and day to keep yourself alive, volunteer work does not seem like an option. But when you are underemployed, giving a few hours of work in exchange for a bag of food starts looking really nice.
Rescuing food can address many of our basic problems: we are lonely, we are anxious, we are hungry, and we need more exercise. This author, after volunteering at Fair Foods, realized how deeply and blissfully she could sleep if she simply physically exhausted herself during the day. In order for discarded food to reach the masses, a reorganization of society needs to take place so that communities begin to take personal care of each other. For example, somebody needs to fix Nancy’s roof. People with children need to coordinate their time so they can take turns contributing to society. That means husbands and wives as well as friends and neighbors. Some major grants or donations are required to buy new trucks so that the available volunteers can be used to their capacity.
The good news is, there is so much hope. All we have to do is revolutionize our thinking. Instead of just earning wages in order to pay for groceries and babysitters and cable TV, we can work together to meet our needs and escape the lonely prison of the flat screen. Some people have muscle, some people have personal warmth, some people are super organized, and everyone has something to contribute.
There is no one stopping us. There is just nobody helping us. That in itself is not the worst thing because with help comes dependency and debt. We don’t need help. We just need to get to work.