by Maureen McNair
Recently, during the same week, two adults visiting our South Bay Food Pantry told me they had not eaten in three days and I received an offer for 11,000 pounds of free apples. We all understand that people in our community go without food because they don't have the money to buy it. And, we know that many more than two people in our region went hungry that particular week. The produce wholesaler offered me the apples for free, if I would take them all. The transportation was our responsibility. The apples were harvested in Washington State and transported in a refrigerated semi-truck to the produce wholesaler's warehouse near the San Ysidro border crossing. But, the wholesaler couldn't find buyers for the apples. They were perishable and took up valuable warehouse space. If he didn't give away the apples, the company would have to pay the costs to transport the food to a landfill and pay the fee to use the landfill. That was more cash out of the business' pocket toward an investment that had already lost money. So, it made financial sense for the produce wholesaler to make a tax-deductible gift of the 11,000 pounds of apples.
Activists in the food insecurity community applaud this arrangement to some extent. So do climate change activists. Food waste contributes measurable amounts of greenhouse gases to Earth's atmosphere. Keeping food out of landfills prevents those gases from escaping into our atmosphere and gives the food back to the community. A number of recent laws in California are designed to address this problem. Distributing what would become wasted food to the community is advantageous all around. But, we aren't there yet.
Even though a mutually beneficial relationship exists to some extent between area food pantries and some produce wholesalers, the disconnect I experienced between people who need food and the amount of food available but not distributed in our communities, is a great example of the dysfunction in our food distribution system. San Diego County is actively trying to change our food system to be healthier and more sustainable.
The San Diego Food Alliance System is a coalition of various government and community based organizations who are researching, engaging the community, and revisioning our region's entire food system from production through distribution. Their project, San Diego Food Vision 2030, is designed to "elevate social, environmental, and economic equity for all." Alliance members include the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency and Land Use and Environment Group; the University of California, San Diego Scripps Institute of Oceanography, and the UCSD Center for Community Health; and, many other groups ranging from the Pala Tribe to local food activist groups. They are also partners with 13 cities, from Chula Vista to Vista.
SD Vision 2030 has completed its research phase. Through October and November, the group is collecting visions, goals, and strategies. If you'd like to participate, please go to https:/ / www.sdfsa.org/ vision. The Alliance aims to issue its final report in December.
So, what happened to the apples? I turned down the initial offer because our South Bay Food Pantry doesn't have the trucking or storage to handle 11,000 pounds of apples. I asked the warehouse manager for some time while I called other pantries, split up the load, and accepted about 1,200 pounds of apples. A few weeks later, our pantry received a nice bonus- one of the pantries I alerted to the apple bounty gifted our pantry with their overflow of about 900 pounds of cabbages and pears. This particular transaction ended up working out. But, really, isn't there an easier way to address the social, environmental, and economic issues facing us today?
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