The idea of not only ending food waste but also putting those goods into the hands of those in need is a great idea on paper. In many cases, however, the devil is in the details of how to get near-expired perishables from there to there.
France has gone beyond the traditional approach in which NGOs and food banks create informal links with local grocery stores, supermarket chains and produce wholesalers. In 2016, the country enacted a law that prohibits grocery stores from throwing away edible food. Essential to implementing that law is Banques Alimentaires a network of food banks that help feed more than 5,000 charities.
“There was one food manufacturer that was not authorized to donate the sandwiches it made for a particular supermarket brand. But now, we get 30,000 sandwiches a month from them — sandwiches that used to be thrown away,” Jacques Bailet, head of Banques Alimentaires told NPR in an interview.
What works in France, though, might be difficult to put in practice in the United States. Or at least so says Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland. Bloom, a journalist who is an expert in issues related to food waste, believes the current political climate in the U.S., where businesses are seeking less government interference, makes the French law close to a non-starter in a nation where its citizens waste more than 200 billion pounds of food per year.
“The French version is quite socialist, but I would say in a great way because you’re providing a way where they [supermarkets] have to do the beneficial things not only for the environment but from an ethical standpoint of getting healthy food to those who need it and minimizing some of the harmful greenhouse gas emissions that come when food ends up in a landfill,” Bloom told NPR.
Members of the French Parliament that drafted the law believe cutting down, if not eliminating food waste, should be a governmental issue akin to rules such as forcing drivers to wear seatbelts. Connecting grocery stores and supermarkets to those in need has also developed many startups that assist in the logistics of transportation and inventory management.
Close to home, a Canadian startup, Flashfood, has developed an app that allows supermarkets to take photos of perishable items that were headed to the landfill (or worse) and offered those goods to consumers at a discounted rate. Already going strong in Vancouver, B.C., and in selected locations in Ontario, CEO and founder Josh Domingues is proud of the fact Flashfood has diverted over 5,500 meals from landfill and into the homes of happy shoppers.
These actions should make observers of the future of food wonder: how a nation that can create every sort of lab-grown clean meat product and myriad meal kits suited for every taste fail to come up with powerful solutions that could make a dent in our nation’s food waste which is enough to fill the Rose Bowl. Are our priorities slightly out of whack?