Last week, France’s Parliament unanimously passed a bill that would make it illegal for supermarkets to destroy unsold food. Instead, they are now mandated to donate all food they would normally toss into the dumpster to charity. This is a simply brilliant idea and should be the law of the land, everywhere. But consumers have a big role to play in helping reduce food waste, too.
There are so many things wrong with tossing perfectly good, unsold food into the garbage. The most obvious in this country is that one in six Americans are hungry. The very idea that anyone could be without food while tons of it are simply being thrown into the trash is just against humanity. Did you know that a third of the world’s food supply is wasted? The world produces enough food to end hunger. Instead, we are filling landfills instead of bellies.
In this country, one of the biggest food waste problems stems from completely arbitrary expiration dates. There’s a difference between “sell by,” “best by,” and “use before” and most people, even those who work in supermarkets, don’t know how to handle the dates. Market Watch reports, “Faulty expiration-date rules are confusing at best, says Dana Gunders, a NRDC staff scientist with the food and agriculture program. ‘Sell by’ dates are actually for stores to know how much shelf life products have they are not meant for consumers or to indicate the food is bad. ‘Best before’ and ‘use by’ dates are for consumers, but they are manufacturers’ estimates as to when food has reached its peak.”
How many times have you decided not to feed your kid that yogurt because it was a couple of days past expiration? I know I have, even when it looked and smelled perfectly fine. The World Bank reports that North America loses and wastes almost half of what they produce: 42% of their food: “More than half of food loss and waste in developed countries happens during consumption — usually as a result of a deliberate decision to throw food away.”
But back to supermarkets and their role in this waste. Apparently, it’s a totally common practice for stores to destroy unsold food so that it can’t be eaten — by pouring bleach all over it once they throw it in the dumpster. Wow. Wouldn’t want that person whose so desperate for food that they’re digging through a dumpster to get it to actually be able to find something edible. The former food minister who introduced the measure in France says, “It’s scandalous to see bleach being poured into supermarket dustbins along with edible foods.”
Salon breaks down how France’s law will work: “food that’s deemed unsellable, but still edible, is to be donated; larger stores will have to sign formal agreements with charities by July of next year or else face up to €75,000 ($83,000) in fines — or possibly jail time. Food that definitely isn’t safe to eat is instead to be donated to farms, for use as animal feed or compost.”
With supermarkets being responsible for 10% of this food waste, legislating how they throw it away is a good first step. But we can all work harder to buy what we need, be sure to eat our leftovers, and make logical decisions about the quality of our food instead of relying on arbitrary expiration dates. Composting is a great way to see how much food you are throwing away and how much money you are wasting.
Fact: “We produce enough food to provide every person on Earth with 2,700 calories per day. Yet 842 million people still go to bed hungry.”
That is just not okay.