Ohio National Guard Serving at the SeaGate Food Bank

A Mounting Mashup of Food Waste and Hunger

As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, politicians discuss a quick return to normal – whatever that is. But we see many mounting mashups of wildly contradictory extremes. Perhaps none is more striking than the growing contradiction between massive food waste, insecurity, and hunger.

Food Banks Overwhelmed

Food banks are facing unprecedented demand for their services. Unemployment is already at levels never seen since the Great Depression almost a century ago. More than 30 million Americans have already filed for unemployment. Later this week, the U.S. Department of Labor will release its report for April and it’s likely to be the worst ever recorded. This situation is playing out all over the world. Spain, for example, will see unemployment rise above 20 percent.

Mary Ann Budenske runs a small food pantry in Casper, Wyoming. She is already seeing shortages of staples like milk and eggs. The shipments she receives disappear quickly because of the overwhelming need in her community. Knowing that farmers have produce they can’t sell, she’s desperately reaching out to secure supplies for her pantry. But she tells the New York Times that the results are unsatisfying:

Pretty much I’m getting the bureaucratic “We’re looking into that — we’ll get back in touch with you.” The whole thing makes me sick.

Shortages and Global Hunger

This problem is sweeping the globe. As a result of soaring hunger and poverty, it’s becoming likely that more people around the world will die from the economic effects that follow from the health impact of this pandemic. When people die in large numbers, economic activity drops. This basic fact is hard to ignore, but no doubt, some will try.

Destroying Food with Nowhere to Go

Amidst all this hunger and need, we have jarring images of farmers who can’t sell what they’ve produced. So they’re destroying it. Restaurants and food service organizations normally buy much of it. But they don’t need it now. Sysco has laid off a third of its workforce. It’s a vicious spiral of economic and health devastation. Each part of this picture makes the other worse.

Agencies and governments are trying to cope. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is working to buy hundreds of millions of dollars worth of food and produce for food banks. But it’s a drop in the bucket, compared to the vast need and the amount of food going to waste.

We long for better news, but this situation is not headed in a good direction at the moment. The gap between jarring images of food waste, insecurity, and hunger is too much to ignore. Our only hope is that people of good will can act to bring change for the better.

Click here for more on efforts to cope and here for more on the global situation.

Ohio National Guard Serving at the SeaGate Food Bank, photograph by Senior Airman Kregg York of the Ohio National Guard / flickr

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May 6, 2020

4 Responses to “A Mounting Mashup of Food Waste and Hunger”

  1. May 06, 2020 at 7:03 am, Allen Browne said:

    A global/national problem needs global/national solutions. There needs to be federal leadership and coordination. Food needs do not go away. How to meet those food needs is an ongoing problem and opportunity. We have the greatest food production and distribution system in the world. The problem is how to use it to feed people rather than feed wallets.

    • May 06, 2020 at 7:51 am, Ted said:

      I agree with you completely, Allen.

  2. May 06, 2020 at 8:05 am, Mary-Jo said:

    Change needed is an understatement as I get a visual, for the first time, of meat production, packing, and distribution centers in the USA that have been shown on the news. I never realized how massive these places are! Even before the pandemic, I’ve been noticing so many more announcements of food contaminations and recalls. P’haps it’s time to decrease size and capacity of these food production ‘parks’, and move more toward decentralized, smaller, increased number of plants. It may increase costs in one sense, but it also would be great for diversified regional increased employment, more manageable production and supply chains, improved hygiene and safer production and products, decreased food spoilage, contamination’s, and needs for recalls.

  3. May 06, 2020 at 12:24 pm, Richard Atkinson said:

    Here is an article that shows that Publix grocery stores are trying to help out by buying up food from farmers that otherwise would go to waste and giving it to food banks. I am sure there are other companies out there doing the same thing. Americans and American companies are out there helping to take care of their neighbors. Let’s hope this lock down ends soon. https://www.businessinsider.com/publix-buying-milk-produce-farmers-donating-food-banks-2020-4?amp%253B