Just saw an interesting NPR story called Overburdened food banks can’t say no to junk. And that brought to mind a Spoonfed discussion from November: Would you feed your own kid the same food you donate to food pantries?
The NPR piece notes that most of the unhealthy food given to food banks comes from grocery stores and food companies, which makes sense given the sheer volume of those donations. And that’s a big challenge with implications far beyond food banks. But our earlier conversation (including comments from food-pantry workers) shows that individuals can make a difference. Whether that’s by donating wholesome food or giving money so food banks can buy healthy fare in bulk, our choices matter.Copyright protected by Digiprove © 2011 Christina Le Beau
So interesting. As I’m cleaning up my own kitchen, I find myself looking at a few items that many people consider perfectly edible, but I don’t want to feed them to my family. So I’ve been going through all of this in my mind, do I just donate them or throw them away? I hate to see them go to waste, but I don’t consider them “good enough” for my kids, so it seems kind of wrong to give them to someone else’s kids!
Bethesda, this was the exact dilemma we discussed in that earlier post. Personally, I’m in the camp that says throw them away and donate money instead, but there were quite a few perspectives on the issue. What’s universal, though, is that we’re all thinking about it and making conscious decisions.
As a new reader, I guess I’m a bit late to the party here. Just got around to reading the old post with comments – wow! That was an education. You’ve got quite the brilliant and well-informed readership here. I’m really glad you’re putting this stuff out there. Can’t wait to read more.
Bethesda, it’s true! I feel so fortunate to have the reader community I do. So glad you’ve joined us.
I heard that same story and I had two conflicting thoughts. The first was in response to the argument that food banks have to accept the “unhealthy” to get the “healthy” too – which I get, but I couldn’t help but wonder why taking it from a grocery store means they have to give it out to people. I mean, why can’t they just throw the “unhealthy” away? Sure, that might create an increased waste disposal cost for the pantry, but what other downside is there? Or, recognizing that some people like/value the “unhealthy,” why can’t they ration it? For every X healthy things, the pantry client gets to pick 1 unhealthy thing. Then they aren’t throwing it out and they are also educating on moderation.
The second thought I had was along the lines of “Bethesda”‘s comment, because I had a similar dilemma relating to infant formula a year or so ago. It turns out that when you’re pregnant you get a ridiculous amount of free formula samples. WHO breastfeeding marketing code, be damned…I ended up with 5 cans and 3 bottles. I knew I wasn’t going to feed it to my baby and I didn’t even want it in my house to tempt my husband (or myself on a particularly difficult day), but I was faced with the awful dilemma of trash vs giving it away. I didn’t consider it good enough for my baby and I didn’t want to help support someone else in feeding it to their baby…but it is food (expensive food), there are some legitimate reasons for not breastfeeding, and who am I to judge whether or not the person receiving it had a legitimate reason (was I going to say I would only give it to adoptive parents or single dads, etc?). So, I did end up giving it away, no questions asked. When I heard the NPR story, it seemed very parallel to that situation and I have a hard time drawing a distinction between the two; in which case, if it’s not my prerogative to throw away formula, why would it be my prerogative to throw away Doritos? I’d love to know what you think about this.
Au Coeur, great idea about rationing the unhealthy stuff. Not only does that help educate patrons, but it also addresses the likely reason food banks can’t just throw the crap away: quantity. They need the amount of food they’re getting, so they feel they have no choice but to distribute it. Even more reason for those of us donating individually to give healthy food and money.
Regarding the infant formula: I faced the same question when I was pregnant and a new nursing mom, because you’re right — the formula samples are out of control (and that’s a whole other issue). I did donate the formula. Because even though I think there are too many women feeding formula who could be breastfeeding instead, I knew that wasn’t a battle I could fight. And, in the meantime, there were low-income mothers out there who could use it.
The difference between that and Doritos, though, is that, for the people who choose not to or can’t breastfeed, formula is the only food infants are eating, so it’s essential. Doritos are not.
I’m not entirely comfortable with this logic, because so much of the infant formula out there is akin to junk food, but that’s where I landed.
I was just asked to buy girl scout cookies from my cousin, about 2 min AFTER I ranted about how no one in our family should be eating gluten (lots of auto-immune in our family).
My response: No Thank you – they have gluten.
Her response: The Girl Scouts also have a program that will donate any cookies that you’d like to purchase to our wonderful troops! Just let me know how many boxes you’d like to donate!?
My reply: I don’t want to poison the troops with gluten & sugar either; How about I just give you $5.
It does matter!
I learned a lot about food banks last year as a part of a campaign I was working on.
While every food bank is different the one I toured that serves the LA area does indeed have to accept the bad to get the good. The way they handle it is to give each food a color code. Green is healthy (think veggies and fruit) and there was a ton of it there. Yellow is proceed with caution (things you should only eat in moderation). Red is stuff that should be eaten rarely (things like candy, cakes, soda, etc.) They never purchase red items. (isn’t that so telling!)
When the food bank gives out their donations they focus mainly on green foods, and some yellows with possibly one or two red items amongst dozens. I think that’s a great way to deal with what is a bad situation, but also send a clear message to companies that what they are offering is considered junk.
Also, they noted that funds actually help them more than donations of food since they can buy the same stuff you’re getting for pennies on the dollar. It helps of course to get to know your local food bank and find out what their system is.
Of course our food system could change and that would tremendously help these problems, but I think it’ll take awhile and some hard, hard work.
Kelly, that’s so interesting about the color coding. That does seem like a good way to both ration and educate.
And yes on the cash! Not sure whether you clicked through to my original food-pantries post (mentioned above), but that’s what I discovered as well, and that’s mostly what we do now.
For what it’s worth, i went to a food pantry once. There was no “junk” food per se, although there was a lot of white-flour-pasta, canned fruit in syrup, canned food with questionable ingredients, etc. We don’t eat that stuff in our household. The people who worked there were so THRILLED that someone was actually choosing what little ‘health-food’ choices (organic blood orange juice, flaxseed meal, whole grain rice, etc.) that they actually threw in a few things extra that weren’t on the ‘allottment’ for our family size. So it’s hard to say if the donation is ‘wasted’ or not- maybe your food pantry gets enough people interested in healthy food that it does a world of good… or maybe it sits on the shelf and no one chooses it until it’s 13 years expired.
Hmmmm this is a great discussion. I usually give away food that is close to expiry or that I don’t want to eat. I don’t have enough money to donate it, so I’m trying to help as much as I can.