Pope: Wasting food is tantamount to stealing from the poor (so how can you help?)(Read article summary)
Says the pope, wasting food is no different from stealing from the hungry, during his Wednesday catechesis. How can you help? Lisa Suhay, through her volunteer activities, found mouths that needed feeding.
Pope Francis took a page out of the "Book of Mom"Â yesterdayÂ by denouncing consumerism and the â€śculture of wasteâ€ť of modern economies when it comes to food during his catechesis Wednesday. Given the high volume of food thrown away by American businesses daily, this papal message could be manna from heaven for food banks.
My hope as a community volunteer is that the popeâ€™s message will help food banks get more volunteers and create additional partnerships with businesses in order to perform what they call â€śfood rescue.â€ť
"Remember, however, that the food that is thrown away is as if we had stolen it from the table of the poor, from those who are hungry," according to his written remarks.Â Â
The UNâ€™s Food and Agriculture Organization released data showing approximately 1.3 billion tons of food â€” one third of the worldâ€™s total food production â€” are lost or wasted every year. Furthermore, "The consumer share of food losses andÂ waste can be very high in specific locations; for example, the amount of food wastedÂ in one community in new york state in theÂ united states of America in one year wasÂ sufficient to feed everyone in the communityÂ for 1.5 months and 60 percent of the lossesÂ occurred after the food was purchased by theÂ consumer," the report states.Â
â€śConsumerism has made us accustomed to wasting food daily and we are unable to see its real value,â€ť Francis said, comparing this attitude to the frugality of â€śour grandparentsâ€ť who â€śused to make a point of not throwing away leftover food.â€ťÂ Â
While the pope is pointing the finger at us wasting food as individuals and families, I have found that individuals canâ€™t hold a candle to the food waste taking place among businesses.Â Â In his speech, the pope also warned that a â€śculture of wasteâ€ťÂ chiding media by adding â€śsome homeless people die of cold on the streets, it is not news. In contrast, a 10-point drop on the stock markets of some cities, is a tragedy.â€ť
The speech was part of the United Nationsâ€™ anti-food waste campaign to mark World Environment Day.Â
As a volunteer who works with others to feed local children, I wanted to shout, â€śAmen!â€ť when I read theÂ pope's speech.
It wasnâ€™t until I founded an all-volunteer chess program for at-risk kids after school at our local community center four years ago that I became familiar with the hunger that pains our communityâ€™s children. The quest to relieve their suffering led me to discover the stunning amount of food beingÂ thrown away by businesses â€“ much of it not rescued by food banksÂ thatÂ are sorely in need of more volunteers to make the pick-ups.
Many kids here in Norfolk, Virg. go directly from school , where they eat lunch beforeÂ noonÂ in most cases, to their local community center for after school care programs so parents can work. In our city,Â these programs often allow parents to pick kids up as late asÂ seven p.m. In areas we serve with our after school chess programs most of the kids live well below the poverty line and donâ€™t eat anything after school because parents often canâ€™t afford to pack snacks or extra sandwiches.
The other volunteers and I quickly realized that it is impossible to teach a hungry child. School teachers knew this long before we did.
A local preacher, the Rev. Arthur Devine hooked us up by explaining that all the supermarkets, bakeries, and eateries must, by state law, throw away all foods labeled as â€śfreshâ€ť at the end of each day. He advised me to just go to store managers and ask to be allowed to pickup the food that was to be wasted.
â€śThe food bank does manage to get most of it, but even they canâ€™t get it all with the limited number of volunteers available,â€ť Mr. Devine explained.
So on chess days I now make the rounds to Yorgos Bageldashery where we get two massive trash bags of fresh, mouthwatering bagels. Anything the kids donâ€™t eat we package and send home with them and give anything remaining to the local senior citizen home.
Yesterday, I watched a boy, age 4, trying to wolf down a bagel while stuffing as many as possible into his little shirt sleeves and playing chess. â€śSlow down,â€ť I soothed. â€śThereâ€™s plenty.â€ť With his cheeks looking fit to burst, he tried to ask if he could take them home, he said, â€śMurf uf homufff?â€ť
Itâ€™s impossible not to want to fix as much of the problem as you personally are able when thatâ€™s what you are met with week after week, child after child, year after year as I have.Â Â
Many parents do not make use of local food banks. Part of it is pride, part is hope that it will get better before they have to swallow their pride. Another factor is a lack of transportation to food pantry locations. Often itâ€™s just lack of knowledge that such things exist or being a working single parent who canâ€™t get to the locations due to scheduling issues.
My approach is to simply give the food to the kids at the end of each of our chess meetings and have them tell their parents the absolute truth, â€śTell your Mama or Grandma that you are just helping out because these are gonna go to waste if someone doesnâ€™t take them home.â€ť
Telling one of these children that food is going to go to waste is like suggesting to a Christian that if they donâ€™t take home a Bible someoneâ€™s gonna burn it. Food is that sacred in these households.
Julie Braley marketing and business relations director for the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia here in NorfolkÂ Â was thrilled to hear the Popeâ€™s speech. In a telephone interview today she said,Â Â â€śItâ€™s great to see leaders in this country and other countries who are willing to step up and address the issues of hunger and waste. Giving time as a volunteer, food donations, money â€“ no one has to go hungry.â€ť
To get an idea of how much food is being thrown away in the US, consider that every day the volunteers from the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia pick up the leftovers from supermarkets, restaurants, and other food service establishments and help 400 local partner agencies (like Devineâ€™s church) redistribute this wealth to the hungry via soup kitchens, food pantries, and after school Kidsâ€™ CafĂ© programs.Â Â Last year that included 3.3 million poundsÂ of fresh produce.
â€śA lot of what we get is food rescue, those fresh products like sandwiches and bakery items that they [businesses]Â have to get rid of because theyâ€™re not fresh anymore at the end of the day,â€ť Ms. Brayley explained in our interview. â€śWe also get meat, dairy, things like that, that arenâ€™t good for their shelves anymore; but we go pick that stuff up directly or have our partner agencies pick it up. Fresh produce is one of our major initiatives to distribute as much as possible.â€ť
Bayley recently went on a ride-along with a volunteer.Â Â â€śOne of our drivers does pickups from Walmart. She has a refrigerated truck. At the end of the day we take it over to Potterâ€™s HouseÂ â€“ a food pantry â€“ and other services in Virginia Beach. As it came off the truck people were coming through to take food home and out to their families â€“ a little over 5,000 pounds of food that day which would have been wasted had we not picked it up.â€ť
Thatâ€™s not a misprint, they picked up over 5,000 pounds of good food destined for the dumpster and rescued both it and the hungry.
The catch is that they only have so many volunteers to get that kind of work done and itâ€™s happening across the nation in every community at every business that serves or sells food.
Thereâ€™s no reason for any child in America to go to bed hungry or be too anxious about where their next meal is coming from to pay attention in class. When it comes to educating a hungry child, a bagel is a terrible thing to waste.