Letter to the Editor: Just eat your food

To the Editor: 

Last week’s article, “Exploring food waste,” written by Michael Ding ’18, explains the premise and take-home messages of my new favorite documentary, Just Eat It!: A Food Waste Story. The film’s creators, Jen Rustemeyer and Grant Baldwin, show the power of individual consumer choice through superb storytelling and stunning cinematography. The film is more upbeat than may be apparent from Ding’s article, and explains that food waste can be greatly reduced by making simple changes to the social institutions that govern our food consumption: no laws govern the establishment of expiration, use-by, sell-by or best-by dates on any food except for infant formula, but the food safety confusion this creates can be avoided with better labeling. Hosts and restaurants should not give credence to the idea that they must offer guests more food than they can eat. Stores and restaurants need to understand that Good Samaritan laws protect them from liability when they donate surplus food to non-profit organizations. All of these institutions are founded on consumer demand – our demand.

Ding identifies a common campus perception: that we have the right to consume or to waste, because we paid for it and it’s ours. Technically, that may be true. But these next few decades belong to our generation, and wasting scarce natural resources now creates conflicts and quality of life dilemmas which we will be responsible for solving.

Groups at the College such as the Williams Recovery of All Perishable Surplus (WRAPS) do important work getting our surplus food to local food pantries, but dining services won’t have so much extra food in the first place if it doesn’t have to plan on much of it going uneaten. Instead, dining services would have the wherewithal to bring us higher-quality foods. We could afford to pay slightly higher prices for locally, sustainably and equitably produced foods; investment in a moral economy is more powerful than divestment from an immoral one.

Agriculture accounts for approximately 20 percent of U.S. fossil fuel consumption, 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and America’s lowest-paying jobs, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. When we scrape half-full plates at the dining hall clearing station, we’re not throwing away food; we’re emptying gallons of gasoline onto the floor and deriding the labor of every field hand, warehouse worker, truck driver and dining employee who got that food onto our plates. Food appears in the dining halls with the same predictability that the sun comes up in the morning, and for some of us, this abundance of energy and nutrition is all that we have ever known. But some of us belong to the one in six Americans who don’t have enough to eat at home. Imagine knowing that your family’s diet is extremely restricted by price and watching your peers produce over five tons of food waste each month.

Just eat your food. Over the course of a meal, you can start fixing the food system and transforming our society, all without leaving your seat.

Mary Ignatiadis ’16