The community meal our church hosts--a modest operation that
serves four free meals a week to about 50 guests--has recently lost its main
source of donations. For several years, we've received big boxes of discarded
produce--lettuce, peppers, asparagus, chiles, tomatoes, potatoes, whatever was
being gleaned from the store shelves--from our local chain grocery. A new
manager decided to end this practice.
The loss is devastating. For one thing, our community has
only one grocery store. We can't just go down the street to another one and ask
its manager to help us. For another thing, the fruits and vegetables that we
used as a basis for our menus were the only fresh produce that many of our
guests ate each week.
After taking what we needed for our menus, we put the
remaining boxes in the hallway for people to "shop." Over and over again, we
heard people say, "Oh, green beans. I love fresh green beans. I never buy them
for myself because they are too expensive." At the end of the day, we sent the remaining
vegetables on to a local farm for goat and chicken feed.
It wasn't a perfect system--there were frustrations and
difficulties. But it was almost waste-free.
In a new
book, food journalist Jonathan Bloom documents food waste from "farm to
fork." He estimates that 40-50 percent of food produced in the United States is
never eaten. Obviously, this amount of wasted food is a moral issue, a social
issue and a religious issue. It goes far beyond one chain supermarket and one
For a few years, however, we glimpsed what it might feel
like to solve this problem. It is painful to watch our solution get dumped in