The Politics of Food Waste at Georgetown

PAULA HONG: Food manufacturers and distributors face the fear of liability. Food companies do not want to face accusations that consumers got sick due to their products. This fear restricts most companies from donating their unused food, increasing the amount of food waste in the United States.

Currently, the USDA estimates that 30 to 40 percent of the total food supply goes to waste. This percentage means that nearly 133 billion pounds of edible food and over $160 billion of US dollars are wasted each year

According to a 2015 report by NPR’s “The Salt,” college campuses throughout the United States waste nearly 22 million pounds of food each year.

The first sentence on Georgetown University’s dining services webpage is how the dining hall committee is committed to “sustainability.” Some of the recent actions the committee began implementing include: reducing the distribution of plastic bags, composting, trayless dining, and electric vehicles for food transportation.

A 2008 study done by Amarak found that when institutions went trayless, that food waste decreased by 25 to 30 percent. In some cases, the university seems to be moving in the right direction.

However, some of the university’s other food vendors do not have the same focus that the university’s primary dining hall services claims it has.

Part of the university’s meal plan program for its students includes meal swipes at an Einstein’s bagel company franchise located at the bottom of the school’s Car Barn building.

There, a credible source admitted to throwing out “all of the bagels that don’t get sold,” throughout the day.

When asked whether the employee knew if they could donate or give the uneaten food to others, the source said “no. We have to throw it out. They won’t let us donate it to the homeless shelter down the street or nothing.” The “they” that the employee was referring to was the “upper management,” the source later referred to.

The business between the university and any external organization such as Einstein’s Bagel Company can get a bit tricky. It is understandable that major food companies such as Einstein’s would not want to take risks that could potentially harm someone’s health because of unprofessional distribution of food.

However, in 1996, the US Congress passed the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act to try and help provide for large companies a “federal floor of civil and criminal liability protection for food donors and the nonprofit organizations.”

Taking a step towards reducing food waste without tainting companies’ images, the US Congress attempted to relieve those who wanted to donate, the stress of facing liability charges.

While Georgetown and its dining hall services are implementing many changes that reduce the amount of food wasted the goal is to keep trying. To keep fighting for better ways that could reduce even more of the waste. The university could start having a conversation with some of its external vendors about more ways to make positive changes.

Max Magid