Re-routing supermarket waste to low income citizens, French and American style

Via Daily Table Facebook page
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Two stories hit the same day in remarkable parallel.

The first from France:

French supermarkets will be banned from throwing away or destroying unsold food and must instead donate it to charities or for animal feed, under a law set to crack down on food waste.

The French national assembly voted unanimously to pass the legislation as France battles an epidemic of wasted food that has highlighted the divide between giant food firms and people who are struggling to eat.

… Supermarkets will be barred from deliberately spoiling unsold food so it cannot be eaten. Those with a footprint of 4,305 sq ft (400 sq m) or more will have to sign contracts with charities by July next year or face penalties including fines of up to €75,000 (£53,000) or two years in jail.

The second comes from Boston.

Daily Table bills itself as the first not-for-profit grocery store in the country with a mission to provide nutritious and affordable meals for low-income families. The store is expected to open soon, pending final permits.

The current planned prices — $1.19 for a dozen eggs, $1.99 for a block of cheddar cheese and 55 cents for a can of tuna — are considerably lower than the cheapest alternatives at traditional supermarkets. The store can offer lower prices because it sources surplus foods or goods nearing their “sell-by” dates from farmers, supermarkets, manufacturers, and food distributors, who would rather donate or sell their products at steep discounts than toss them in the trash.

Both models have a lot to recommend them. Both have corresponding major drawbacks.

The French model has the great advantage of a government mandate, it will scale quickly, out of necessity – having a major impact in a short period of time.

Daily Table’s model will grow more slowly, I imagine that they will take nearly a year of working out the bugs in one location before they can expand. The upside is that the incentives all seem to be going their way. Because it’s incorporated as a non-profit, donations are tax deductible for the business that pass on food near the sell by date (that’s a tax expenditure, by public accounting standards, the government is pitching in for those playing along at home). Because it’s structured as a business, it will be looking for opportunities to find good donated and cheap bulk food. It’s will be well poised to fill the market between food pantries and supermarkets – super cheap, but not charity.

The French model is not suited to American’s approach to government. We feel much more comfortable telling businesses what they can’t do, than what they have to do. The upside of that, is that we don’t end up setting up perverse incentives in forcing business to do things they don’t want to do.

Supermarkets will be barred from deliberately spoiling unsold food so it cannot be eaten. Those with a footprint of 4,305 sq ft (400 sq m) or more will have to sign contracts with charities by July next year or face penalties including fines of up to €75,000 (£53,000) or two years in jail.

…The logistics of the law must also not put an unfair burden on charities, with the unsold food given to them in a way that is ready to use, a parliamentary report has stipulated. It must not be up to charities to have to sift through the waste to set aside squashed fruit or food that had gone off. Supermarkets have said that charities must now also be properly equipped with fridges and trucks to be able to handle the food donations.

That’s a lot to logistics to mandate and police. The Daily Table model might be worth the wait. In the meantime, we should be doing what we can to see how we can help.

Print
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Please consider supporting FAFDL.org by ongoing contribution of $1, $2, $3, $5 or $10 a month on Patreon.