June 22, 2015
By Mickey Friedman
2003. It seems like a lifetime ago when Republican Bob Ney renamed French fries because the French didn’t want to invade Iraq. We showed those Frenchies. Freedom fries not only tasted better but were better for you. And we all know who won the war in Iraq. It certainly wasn’t the French.
But I’m not one to hold a grudge. Give credit where credit is due. Pâté – especially if you don’t know how it’s made – is pretty damn good. And it’s hard to knock that brie cheese.
Anyway, my point is they’ve just done something almost as impressive as inventing French dressing and the French Open.
They’ve just passed a law that forces French supermarkets to give away their unsold food to charities. Incroyable. Or even better, incredible.
According to the UK Guardian “the Socialist deputy Guillaume Garot, a former food minister said ‘It’s scandalous to see bleach being poured into supermarket dustbins along with edible foods.’”
Holy moley, they’ve got Socialist deputies. Who obviously aren’t messing around. Because “The law explicitly bans the practice of supermarkets deliberately spoiling unsold food so it cannot be eaten. Bigger supermarkets … will be obliged to sign formal contracts with charities by July next year, or face penalties including fines … or two years in jail.” Fines of about $83,000. And two years is two years whether the guards speak English or French.
Pourqoui, you ask? Why?
Well, the French are wasting too much pâté and brie and the pommes de terre they need for freedom fries. And fruits and vegetables and meat and dairy products. “According to official estimates, the average French person throws out 20-30kg of food a year, at a combined national cost of up to €20bn.” Which in the States would be 44 – 66 pounds of food a year. At a cost of about $22 billion.
And as an article in ThinkProgress adds: “Mired in an economic slump, France has seen a growing number of people living off food scavenged from waste bins outside grocery stores, which has prompted an outcry from aid workers and activists … ‘There’s an absolute urgency – charities are desperate for food,’ Assemblymember Yves Jégo told Parliament.”
Food waste, it turns out, is a very big deal. A 2013 Report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers found that “The world wastes from one-third to one-half of the four billion metric tons of food it produces each year.”
This is an even bigger problem than it seems. When you consider the effects of the climate crisis and the added stress of the world’s growing population, it is becoming increasingly difficult and more expensive to produce food.
According to the study, the problem of food waste changes with economic development. In poorer less developed countries waste occurs mainly at the farmer/producer level with inefficient harvesting and storage and transportation.
“In mature, fully developed countries … more-efficient farming practices and better transport, storage and processing facilities ensure that a larger proportion of the food produced reaches markets and consumers. However, characteristics associated with modern consumer culture mean produce is often wasted through retail and customer behavior.”
According to Grant Bowman’s fascinating documentary “Just Eat It,” about 97% of all our food waste ends up in a landfill or incinerator.
Unfortunately the consequences of food waste are multiplied. First, we waste extraordinary amounts of water and energy to create the food we waste. Then we squander extraordinary amounts of energy and land to bury or destroy what we’re wasting.
When I think about food waste, I think of Mel Greenberg driving around from markets super to small gathering what’s about to be wasted. I see volunteers turning this into dinner for the hungry. I think about the food pantries throughout the county straining to meet the ever-increasing need for food.
So how about we allez. And vamos. Do it. What the French did.
The Best Small Town in America, which successfully banned plastic bags – about which my friends advise me not to joke anymore – well how about we ban supermarket waste. How about we tell our supermarkets they have to give food pantries and Mel Greenberg the food they’re about to throw away?
We remind our friends at Big Y and the Price Chopper of the federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act which protects them when they donate food to non-profits; and protects them from civil and criminal liability across the country if the food they donate in good faith cause harm to a recipient.
And mandate a team from the Police Department, Fire Department, the DPW, the Health Department and volunteers from Railroad Street Youth and Greenagers to create a pickup team. What if The Best Small Town in America funded a seven day a week food pantry in downtown GB which distributed this free food to worthy recipients.
Allez. Vamos. Let’s Go.
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