Why do we waste so much?

In this time of large population and limited resources it is most important that what resources we do use are used efficiently and not wasted. In this country, very large amounts of food are wasted, thrown away, because of slight blemishes, or slight variations in size, or irregular shapes, that cause 'Grade A' produce buyers to pass them over until they become noticably older, drier, less appealing than others. At this point, or at any point along the distribution line, those produce items which are noticeably less than grade 'A' can be separated from the grade 'A' and offered for sale at a grade 'B' price. There is no need and no sense in holding a bin of tomatoes, with some of them obviously past the point that they will be the first pick of a grade 'A' buyer, but still too good to throw away... there is no sense in holding those all out at a grade 'A' price, until the older items actually deterioriate to the point that they are of no value to anyone. Instead, the grade 'B' items ought to be removed from the grade 'A' pile and given a going market price, (i.e., a price that makes them go, that makes them sell).

There is no reason why those who want perfect tomatoes and unblemished squash should be allowed to dictate the same high 'Grade A' price for everybody.

Those of us who don't mind taking extra dirty potatoes or irregularly shaped carrots, and what not, can reasonably expect to be offered a price advantage that reflects the fact that our willingness to accept nutritious but less than 'perfect' food increases the overall efficiency of the food production and distribution system. Economic incentives *should* accrue to those who promote efficiency, and in a free market, they do. But, the current system is not a free market.

Perishable produce offers a particular challenge to marketers, especially in the current 'self-select' paradigm where consumers can look askance at and pass over any item with the slightest blemish. The items for sale are in a constant state of flux--in transition from fresh to decayed. The relative attractiveness of items can change daily.

Buyers will go for the large items in a produce market selling at a price per item, (rather than per net weight); some smaller items will be passed over, so that they become noticably older, drier than others, or even because they are misshapen. We allow the grocery stores, which have a large part of the responsibility to manage the produce supply, (argueably the most precious natural resource on the planet, at least from our human perspective), to throw away many, many pounds of food every day.

If the produce managers would make an effort to take out grade 'B' produce and sell it at a reduced price to interested consumers, then much of what is now thrown away could go to feed the more needy among us. It is not necessary that we all pay the same high grade 'A' price if we are not all equally concerned that our potatoes be regularly shaped and our tomatoes be completely free of blemishes.

When a store advertises that they sell "only grade 'A' produce", then we can be certain that a lot of grade 'B' and grade 'C' food is being thrown away. There is more profit for the store, evidently, in following this policy (as the system is organized now). The sad truth is that some people have been known to buy grade 'B' produce, then they take it home and eat it, (or not, as the case may be), then go to court claiming that the store sold them spoiled food that made them sick. Others take the food back later claiming that they bought it at regular price and asking for a refund because it is bad. We ought to be able to address these substantial concerns while also promoting a vital, efficient market.

I would be happy to pay a dollar for an ID card that identifies me as a member of the "Grade 'B' Buyers Club"; a group of people who have promised not to sue the store for bad product (we are each responsibile for what we put into our mouths), and promised not to seek refunds on fresh produce items.

I have been banned from stores for taking what were obviously grade 'B' items from the grade 'A' produce rack, asking for the opportunity to purchase the items at a reduced price, then, after being told that the items (which I had taken from the "For Sale" pile) could not be sold at all, and would be thrown away, I (on one occasion) defiantly ate a bruised pear, to show that it was still good inside, and (on another occasion) I took a small box that the store manager insisted must be thrown away. She indicated that if I took the box I was holding, with a few blemished and bruised items in it, that I would not be prosecuted, but that I would be banned from the store.

I wonder how many people have been banned from local grocery stores for taking items that were deemed to have no economic value. If they wish to hire the extra security to protect their policy of throwing away grade 'B' produce, and enforce the ban that they set, that is their perrogative, but if they intend to rely on the police to enforce the ban, then they may be putting an extra, unnecessary, unjustified burden on the publically supported police service. Any police officer (an expensive and valuable community resource) that is called to a grocery store to protect the trash, or to remove a 'tresspasser' is unavailable to the community for other, more pressing concerns, such as protecting against violent crime. The community may frown on this apparent mismanagement of valuable public resources.

Not that I want to promote a climate of lawlessness, but this practice of profligate squandering of resources is a shame.

My letter to HEB Food Stores:
The human population is still increasing. Human beings cut forests and invade wildlife habitat to grow food. Any time that we waste food, we have to destroy more wilderness to make up the loss. Why not sell bruised or blemished produce, grade 'B' items, at reduced price, rather than throw them away? Wasting resources means a harsher life for the next generation.

John Champagne

The high cost of eating meat
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