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‹ The Weekly Green

Pumpkin Trash

November 24, 2015
It is the week of Thanksgiving and that brings the matter of food to the table – in particular the matter of food waste. Because a lot of those pumpkins won’t make it to front porches or dinner tables. Come Black Friday, a significant number of all pumpkins produced this year will be on the way to the landfill to become part of the one-third of US food production wasted.

This while about one in seven US households is food insecure and the children in one in ten go hungry. No turkey for them!


LandfillHow can this be?

It starts with the producers who aim to produce as much as possible. Our economy is driven by production growth, after all. The retailers pay them their price and that’s the end of it for the producers.

The product comes to the retailer with an expiration date which is merely a best guess by the producer. This best guess may well be informed by the desire to move product and, therefore, set as sharp as possible.

Once the product passes the expiration date, it becomes virtually unsellable and must be removed in order to make room for fresh products.

Donating it to the hungry is obviously the decent thing to do, but involves repackaging and transport to a distribution center. That costs money. Taking it to the dump costs money too, but far less. So, with an eye to the bottom line, the choice for the retailer is clear.

It might be different if there were tax breaks for food donations, so that such donation costs could be recouped. And there are! The problem is that they are not a permanent part of the tax code and have to be re-approved by Congress every year. So retailers cannot be sure if they will see their money back in any given year, and understandably choose the path of least risk.

A bill was introduced in Congress this year to make these tax breaks a permanent part of the tax code. It made it through the house with a sheaf of riders attached and a different name, but still contained the original provisions.

By the time it passed the Senate, however, it not only had changed its name again, but its content had been replaced by provisions governing border security and US-Israeli relations. All that was left of the original bill was the number: HR 644.

So we’re back to square one on that end.

You’d think dumping all this unsold product would mean a big loss to the retailers, too. But no. There is such a thing as ‘carrying cost’. This means that while you think you buy one avocado, you’re actually buying two – only the second one is not yours. Matter of fact, it won’t be anybody’s.

If all this product is wasted anyway, why not reduce production by the amount of overproduction? That would surely have all sorts of beneficial effects on the environment, from a large reduction of waste to shrinking the economy’s sasquatchian carbon footprint.

But that would bust the engine of our economy! There would be no growth, so more people unemployed, so more people going hungry, so…it’s dizzying!

It might be simpler to ask our representatives to reintroduce HR644 (if under another number) and to sure that when it comes out the other end of the House, it still does what we want it to do: feed the hungry.

Please post your comments and suggestions on the Weekly Green Facebook page.

Happy Thanksgiving!


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