When it stinks like wasted food and a broken food system, it probably is

I wouldn't say that I'm an angry person, but there are few things that make me livid. Specifically? Food waste and the existence of hunger. Why? Because the two are inextricably linked and more people should be pissed off about the connection rather than living passively and letting this reality survive. What spurred this rant isn't a few years of pent up aggression and frustration from studying the colossally messed up nature of our food system but, rather, two recent public radio reports about the boom in corn production and the incredible amounts of waste created by supermarkets. A few stand-out passages from these reports:

Chris Edgington has been growing corn for decades. Here’s what his corn isn’t: “It is not the corn you eat off the cob,” he says. “It is not what’s in the can. It is not what’s in the freezer, in the bag. It is not that product.”

That product, sweet corn, is a different crop. And a lot smaller. Last year, for every pound of sweet corn, U.S. farmers grew more than 260 pounds of field corn.
— Dan Weissman, Marketplace, 10/6/14
A full 10 percent of the available food supply in the U.S. is wasted every year at the retail level, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and about 20 percent is wasted at home. That’s food worth more than $160 billion. And it’s food that could go toward feeding the estimated 1 in 7 American households that can’t find enough to eat.
— Kristophor Husted, NPR, 9/25/14

To those of us studying food systems, none of this information is new. However, the problems - and solutions! - seem to be and are glaringly obvious. For example, kudos to the supermarkets that compost their food waste. Woohoo! But excellent marks would be given to those institutions that prevent waste from the beginning, rather than support the grossly inefficient and shameful reality of uneaten and wasted food. We're perpetuating a food system that, well, doesn't produce food and, if it does, it simply promotes an unhealthy relationship with food that's bad for people, planet and, yes, profit. This myth of plenty creates a false sense of security to farmers and eaters alike. Most notably: People are hungry. 

My crusade against food waste and the primary reason behind this post is largely shaped by my experience on the Cheyenne River Reservation. Hunger and poverty is rampant, and, as one young mom put it, "We live expensive, but you just don't see it." In La Plant, participation in town-wide food-related events is much greater toward the end of the month when food stamp money or commodities boxes run low. This is commonplace on most reservations, and these regions are labeled as "food insecure." Take a look:

I'm not willing to accept that food waste or food insecurity is a symptom of overproduction, that nothing can be done about it or that fixing it is too costly. Not fixing it and not addressing the issues are only exacerbating the problems and further debilitating our already fragile food system. There are many wonderful people doing amazing work, so to all the food recovery activists, sustainable farmers, defenders and supporters of good, just food - thank you. But, now's a time to go beyond voting with your dollars, move out of our often insular circles and talk about it. Make people listen or better understand why our food system is based on overproduction, inefficiency, insecurity, injustice, and, well, nonsense. The people most affected deserve more voices and comrades in this fight.

For your listening pleasure: