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U.S.-Massive Food Waste & Hunger Side by Side

Published on Saturday, September 4, 2004 by Inter Press Service

US: Food Waste and Hunger Exist Side by Side

by Haider Rizvi

NEW YORK - ''Do you want these? They are so fresh,'' says Catherine, holding
up a bunch of grapes she just pulled out from one of the trash bags piled up
on the sidewalk. ''Take this, man. It's good too,'' adds her friend Morlan,
holding out a loaf of bread.

Though happy to have found something for dinner, both Catherine, 21, and
Morlan, 19, wonder why some edible food is thrown out as garbage in New York

''They only sell this food to the rich,'' says Catherine pointing to the
upscale grocery store that put out the bags.

Inside the store, the manager is visibly upset with Catherine and other
young people who are stuffing their backpacks with fruits and vegetables
from the trash bags. ''They are picking up garbage,'' says the manager. ''I
don't know why they are doing this.''

''I have zero cash right now, and no place to stay,'' Morlan told
Tierramérica. ''What do you expect me to do?''

Such scenes are becoming increasingly commonplace on the streets of U.S.
cities, despite the enormous quantity of food that the world's most affluent
nation produces every year.

Official surveys indicate that every year more than 350 billion pounds (160
billion kg) of edible food is available for human consumption in the United
States. Of that total, nearly 100 billion pounds (45 billion kg) --
including fresh vegetables, fruits, milk, and grain products -- are lost to
waste by retailers, restaurants, and consumers.

By contrast, the amount of food required to meet the needs of the hungry is
only four billion pounds, according to Food Not Bombs, an advocacy group,
which estimates that every year more than 30 million people in the United
States are going hungry on regular basis.

''The American government has billions of dollars in surplus money, which
could go towards poverty elimination nationally or globally,'' Samana
Siddiqui of the Sound Vision Foundation, a Chicago-based non-profit group,
told Tierramérica.

But Joyce Glenn, a novelist who lives next to the grocery store, where
Catherine looks for food in the trash bags, has a different take on the
wastage of food and over-consumption in her country.

''Americans consume as much as they are able in order to lull themselves
into a sense of complacency as long as the need for food, as well as even
luxurious food, gives them a sense of well being,'' says Glenn, who is in
her 60s, and often invites homeless people she sees in the street into her

Noting that food production in the United States and the world has
increased more than the population, food rights groups say they believe more
people are likely to suffer from lack of food as long the agri-business
firms continue to be driven primarily by profits.

''We don't have a democratic say in how food is produced or distributed,''
according to Food Not Bombs. ''In our society, it is acceptable to profit
from other people's suffering and misery.''

The group's position is based on the assertion that people from the more
affluent and middle class sectors of U.S. society are drawn to
over-consumption as a lifestyle -- validated by a study carried out by the
Washington-based World Watch Institute earlier this year.

''U.S. consumption styles have not only spread to other industrialised
nations,'' says the State of the World 2004, ''they have succeeded in
penetrating much of the developing world as well.''

The study shows how millions of middle class people across the globe have
adopted the diets, transportation systems and lifestyles pioneered in the
United States.

To some degree, ''rising consumption has helped meet basic needs,'' said
World Watch president Christopher Flavin. ''But this unprecedented consumer
appetite is undermining the natural systems we all depend on, and making it
even harder for the world poor to meet their basic needs.''

According to the report, the U.S. and Western European consumers, who
constitute only about 12 percent of the world population, are responsible
for about 60 percent of consumption of private consumer goods.

By contrast, the people of Latin American and the Caribbean, whose share in
the world population is just nine percent, spend only seven percent on
non-essential household goods.

''Agriculture, free trade, and intellectual property policies have become a
leading edge of the U.S. corporate push for global economic dominance,''
says Kathy McAfee, executive director of the San Francisco-based Institute
for Food and Development Policy (better known as Food First).

''But at the same time,'' she adds, ''farmers and ecologists around the
world have been achieving impressive successes in increasing food production
by sustainable methods. We are seeing the mobilisation of hundreds of
thousands of small farmers from Mexico to Brazil, from India to Thailand to
the Philippines in defence of their rights.''

© 2004 Inter Press Service