Friday, February 28, 2020

"Food Waste"

Who is organizing this "food waste" campaign?

As I noted in a previous posting, one technique that President Trump and Republicans in general have been using to attack their opponents, is not to go after their weaknesses but rather their strengths. Both George W. Bush and Donald Trump have spotty records when it comes to their military service. Bush at least served in the Air National Guard, Trump got a deferment for a bone spur.

Both ran for office going up against decorated war heroes. Bush, through his proxies, discredited John Kerry's war service by calling into question his heroism. Trump did as similar thing to John McCain, famously claiming "I prefer heroes that weren't captured."

It is an interesting technique, but if you have your back against the wall, it's really your only option. If you can raise enough questions and create enough of a smokescreen, people will start to wonder if the war hero really was a coward.

The Russians and other opponents of the United States also use similar techniques to tear down our country.  Rather than try to go head-to-head with us comparing our economy to theirs, they take our pluses and turn them into minuses.  Because let's face it, if you compare life in America to life in Russia, Russia will always come up short.

America is the wealthiest country in the world, and provides a higher standard of living for more people than any other country on the planet. You might argue that some Scandinavian country has a better social safety net, but in terms of supporting hundreds of millions of people at a middle-class level of comfort, the United States leads the world. We are a land of plenty, and even the poorest person the United States would be considered wealthy by world standards.  As I've noted time and time again, the biggest health issue we have among the poor is obesity.

To be poor in America means having a crappy car.   A "poor" person in America generally has a place to live, and a kitchen with an oven, refrigerator, and a microwave.  They have a television, a smartphone, and likely air conditioning as well.  To be poor in Africa means not to have eaten in several days.   We have to put our "problems" in perspective.

So systematically, our opponents in the world have been tearing down our country, not by attacking our weaknesses, but our strengths. The very nature of our wealth is being attacked. And the abundance and plenty of our agricultural system which feeds not only the United States but much of the world, is criticized as being wasteful.

This is, of course, ridiculous. No one wastes good food, simply because it has value, and thus no one in their right mind throws valuable things away. The mythology spread online is that people are throwing away food for no good reason.  Activists are pushing this agenda and have even succeed in passing laws in Paris that restaurants are not allowed to throw away food.  The restaurant's solution to this problem is to pack up leftovers, American-style in Styrofoam clamshells and hand them the patrons, who then throw them away at home.  Taking home food from a restaurant is gross and potentially unsafe.  Just order less food.  Split an entree.  Eat at home.

Food safety is very important.  Eating tainted food will make you sick and can possibly even kill you. Thus, when food goes bad you throw it away.  Similarly, food left on somebody's plate should not be reused because this could spread diseases, something particularly relevant in recent months with the spread of the Coronavirus.

Restaurants do not willingly throw away good food. If there are leftover vegetables and meat that is still edible, the chef will use them to make a soup.  If there is a surplus of a particular food item in the kitchen, that becomes tomorrow's lunch special.  So long as the food is edible and enjoyable and saleable a restaurant will sell it. Once the food is spoiled or rotten it'll be thrown away. This is not waste.

Grocery stores do the same thing. You may find a convenient to go to the grocery store and buy a little plastic container filled with diced fruit. You may think they're cutting up fruit for your convenience, but what they're actually doing is going through and cutting out good pieces of fruit from watermelons and pineapples and what not, that have started to go bad, and putting it in containers and selling it. The bad portions of the pineapple or watermelon are thrown away. They pick the good grapes from a bunch, and throw the bad ones away. In this way, they can salvage something from food that otherwise could not be sold.

These are just two examples of how restaurants and grocery stores do not waste food. If food is good and salable, it will be sold.  Food that is bad will be thrown away.  And the decision on whether to throw away food should be left to the restaurant or grocery store - and the health department - not to politicians or "activists" who have no clue about food safety.

But for some reason, some people will have none of this. They're convinced that restaurants and food stores are throwing away edible food for no reason whatsoever. And yes, sometimes this does happen, but for a good reason.  But again, given that we have the fattest homeless people in the world, it's not like anybody is starving. There are so many social programs, food stamps, food banks or other safety nets, there is no reason anybody in the United States should be hungry unless they are putting their mind to it.
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The real question, in my mind, is why is this such an issue now? Our food distribution system hasn't changed one iota in the last 50 years, except perhaps to decrease waste through computerized ordering systems, which can track demand and trends and anticipate customer needs. Who is behind this "Food Waste" narrative? And who are the useful idiots taking up this banner?
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I recounted before how when Mark ran a gourmet food store, they had leftover bread at the end of the day. They tried to give this bread to a homeless shelter but the homeless shelter had to serve a certain number of clients every day and thus wanted a fixed number of identical loaves delivered everyday by a certain time.  Fiver or ten assorted loaves of artisanal bread would not work in their kitchens. And as one of the administrators of the homeless shelter noted, the food has to be uniform lest the clients - as they call him - would fight over the fact that one person a cherry danish and the other got a cheese danish.  Beggars, it seems, can be choosers.

Handing out leftover food to homeless people who came to the back door seemed like another answer, at first, until they started lining up at the loading dock, which interfered with the operation of the business and drove away customers.  The "bug light" scenario raises its ugly head.  There really is no easy solution here.

Why not give leftover food to employees?  That is problematic as well.  Once employees find out that any "leftover" food may be taken home at the end of the night, they squirrel away prime perishables in the walk-in cooler, and later on "discover" them at the end of the night.   "No sense letting this go to waste!" they say, "I'll take it home!"   It is akin to when Mark worked at Williams Sonoma.  They used to sell scratch and dent items to employees for a dollar or two.  So Shelia would intentionally scratch a $350 Kitchen Aid mixer so she could buy it for a buck or two (and tell all her friends how "smart" she was to do so).    You wonder why they are closing so many stores, eh?

Yes, there is "waste" in any industrial process or retail environment, and there's really not much you can do about it.  Believe me, the companies that are making and selling products have every incentive to cut waste to a minimum as it cuts into their bottom line. The grocery business is a cutthroat business and profit margins are measured in the low-single digits. If you're making 1% to 2% selling millions of dollars worth of groceries, you're damn lucky.  The restaurant business isn't much better.

In a way, it is akin to a letter written to Dear Abby many years ago where somebody complained that the local shoe store was throwing away unsold shoes and slicing through the soles with a sharp knife to make sure they couldn't be worn. They felt this was an outrage, as the shoes could be used to shod the homeless. But the problem for the shoe store is, if they throw away the shoes, people dig them out of the dumpster and bring them back and ask for a refund.  So many stores today offer a "lifetime money back guarantee" and they found out was when they throw "perfectly good" but unsalable shoes in the dumpster, people would take them back and ask for a refund or store credit.

They are unsalable as they are out of style, and the labor in packing up and shipping the shoes back to the distributor is more than one would get back from the distributor as the wholesale cost of the shoes. Thus, the most economical thing to do is throw them away.  Booksellers do the same thing with paperbacks - they tear off the cover of unsold books and mail them back - throwing away a "perfectly good" paperback as a result.  Wasteful?  Perhaps, but not as wasteful as mailing books back and forth.  Of course the most economical thing to do is to not order books or shoes you know won't sell.  And today, with computerized ordering systems, this is become less and less of a problem.

The real question, in my mind, is why is this such an issue now?  Our food distribution system hasn't changed one iota in the last 50 years, except perhaps to decrease waste through computerized ordering systems, which can track demand and trends and anticipate customer needs.   Who is behind this "Food Waste" narrative?  And who are the useful idiots taking up this banner?   I leave it to you to figure out the obvious answer.  Just follow the trail of breadcrumbs - unless you think that is "food waste" as well.

Regardless of whether you're outraged or not by the fact that shoe store sliced up the old shoes, you have to bear in mind that it is their shoes to slice up.   If you believe in freedom, then you have to believe in the freedom of people to do as they wish with their own possessions.  Once we start telling people they can't destroy shoes that they own or throw away food they think is spoiled, we start going down a long road toward tyranny.

Because there are plenty of other wasteful and stupid decisions that people make on a daily basis that really should be forbidden, if you think about it.  When the young man in the ghetto decides to spend most of his disposable income, renting a set of cheaply made Chinese 22-inch rims to put on his $1,500 car, he's making a really poor life choice. We should stop him from doing this by outlawing rent-to-own wheel rim places - right?  Or maybe the redneck getting $5000 in tattoos should have to pay off his credit card debt first?   Do we want to interfere in people's lives to do what we think is best for them? 

Maybe not. Freedom includes the right to make bad choices in life. If we tried to choose for other people, then people no longer are free. And this goes for the local restaurant or food store or shoe store. Once we start telling them how to run their business and what they can and cannot throw away, they are no longer free.

It is one thing to tell someone they can't throw toxic waste into the river - when that river is something that everyone else enjoys and needs to use - or perhaps even drinks water from. Your freedom is indeed limited when it intersects the freedoms of other people.

But throwing away food?  How is that harming other people?  Particularly in a country where people are grossly overweight, even the poor.  If we start telling people what they can and cannot do with their own food, then what we're saying is that food is no longer their property, but belongs to the State.

Yes, there are laws against serving tainted or bad food - again your freedoms are limited to the extent the intersect with other people's freedoms.  You can't go around selling tainted food that would end up harming or killing people. But oddly enough that's what these food waste warriors want us to do -  endanger our own food supply by encouraging reuse of bad food.

Back to the main topic, who exactly is behind this "food waste" movement?  It is an interesting thing.  In addition to the law passed in Paris, I see comments all the time online about this.  Recently a reader sent me a link to a series of videos by someone who sounded somewhat Australian. I don't know if they're Australian or not because their YouTube channel had no listing of their name or nationality or any background about them.   Most people are eager to tout their name and credentials in the "About Me" section of their YouTube channel.  But instead, there was nothing but a vague description about how they were doing videos on "economics." I suspected it might be Russian disinformation.  In the comments section accompanying the video about economics United States was a plethora of comments about "food waste" and how awful the United States is, because we waste food. I strongly suspect the Russian Internet Research Agency is at work here.  Well, that, and a whole host of useful idiots.

It is like people who want to ban plastic bags and straws because of the "Pacific Garbage Patch".   Noble intentions, to be sure, but 90+% of the trash there is old fishing gear and plastic waste from Asia, India,and Micronesia.  It ain't us, but certain people want us to feel bad about our prosperity by making it out to be we are polluting the oceans, while at the same time giving themselves a free pass.  China, too, is behind much of this disinformation.  China is the largest polluter of the land, sea, and air in the world - but we give them a pass on our climate treaties because they are an "underdeveloped nation" - right!

This sort of disinformation is a two-pronged attack. First, they get Americans to feel bad about their own country and their own bountiful resources. And to those reading from other countries, it builds up a sense of resentment, if they are in fact hungry and they see people in America have more than enough food. But overall, I think it's just another example of trying to spread ennui and discontent and just make people feel bad about their own country.

Of course, the idea that we should not waste food is an old one.  When I was a child my parents would say that we should always eat our green beans because there were children starving in India. As smart-ass little kids would say, "why don't we mail the green beans to India?"  And while it may have been a smart-ass thing to say, there was a nugget of truth in it.  The food that is so-called being "wasted" in United States cannot realistically be reused to feed people even in our home country much less in other lands.  So the whole issue is moot.

My stepmother went down this path, as she abhorred food waste. Of course, she grew up in the depression, so maybe that influenced her outlook. On more than one occasion I saw her take food out of the trash and eat it because it was "going to go to waste."  One day she bought a piece of ham and she said it was too salty to eat, so she spent an hour driving all over Denver try to find a homeless shelter that would take it. I didn't understand that - if it was too salty to eat why would you want to give it to a homeless person? Don't they deserve edible food as well? And we're not talking about a big piece of ham, but something like about 1/4 to 1/2 pound - barely enough to make a sandwich.

She had good intentions, to be sure. There's an old saying the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  And I think a lot of this food wasting nonsense is based on good intentions - and is a path that leads straight to hell.  Maybe the French can pass laws telling people what they can do with their food - although I think in such a food-centric country it seems an anathema to do so.  But here in the United States we have very strong views about property rights and freedom.  If we start telling people how they can and cannot dispose of their own property, or how they can use it, even if it doesn't directly affect others, will be in for a world of woe.

And who would that favor?    Yea, him.