Pope Francis has constantly preached against a “throw-away culture,” one that disregards human life and pollutes Mother Earth. Most recently, he condemned the waste of food, a common occurrence in affluent countries like the United States.
“To throw food away means to throw people away,” Pope Francis told members and volunteers of the European Federation of Food Banks May 18. The federation was meeting in Rome to celebrate the Food Bank of Italy’s 30th anniversary.
In his address, Pope Francis said that fighting “the terrible scourge of hunger means also fighting waste.”
“Waste reveals an indifference towards things and towards those who go without,” he said. “Wastefulness is the crudest form of discarding.”
The pope offered a Gospel-based description of what food banks do. “I think of the moment when Jesus, after the distribution of the loaves to the crowd, asks for the scraps to be gathered up, so that nothing would go to waste,” he said. “It is scandalous today not to notice how precious food is as a good, and how so much good ends up so badly.”
In the United States, over one-third of all available food goes uneaten through loss or waste, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). What makes these statistics even more astounding is that an estimated 11.8 percent of American households were “food insecure” (lacking in food at some period) in 2017, the USDA stated in a September 2018 report.
While the USDA’s figures on food waste relate to retail and consumer populations, public and private school lunch programs also struggle with food waste. For example, the National School Lunch Program serves an estimated 30 million children, but also wastes about $5 million worth of food each day.
To combat food waste, the USDA, which oversees the National School Lunch Program, endorses “share tables” in child nutrition programs. “Share tables are stations where children may return whole food or beverage items they choose not to eat,” a 2016 USDA memo to nutrition program directors states. “These food and beverage items are then available to other children who may want additional servings.” Leftover food or beverages can also be donated to community food banks and homeless shelters.
The USDA also joined the Environmental Protection Agency in 2015 to sponsor a food waste challenge. The goal is to reduce food loss and waste in the United States by 50 percent by 2030. More information about this initiative can be found at usda.gov/foodwaste/faqs.
In another effort to cut down on wasted food, the USDA works with businesses to streamline procedures for donating misbranded meat and poultry products, which would previously be destroyed, and helps produce importers donate fruits and vegetables that don’t meet certain marketing requirements to charitable institutions.
While food waste still exists, it’s good to see steps taken to alleviate it. No better example can be seen locally than what’s taken place in Green Bay for 35 years: Paul’s Pantry.
Long before the USDA promoted the donation of produce to food pantries, Paul’s Pantry founder Leo Frigo cultivated the idea of approaching grocery stores and other food outlets to donate their unwanted, yet edible, foods. Today, Paul’s Pantry is one of the largest food pantries in the United States, “rescuing” more than 5 million pounds of food each year. What isn’t edible is given to local livestock farmers.
Combating food waste in our local communities and our homes is one way to contest the throw-away culture.