This Week in John Oliver: We All Waste a Ton of Food

I’ve been thinking about food since high school. Not in the “I’m hungry, what should I have to eat” sense, but in the “Where does it come from? How did my food get to me? Who is involved in the production of my food?” sense. I was probably not much fun at the cafeteria table. I don’t remember exactly when, but I learned some time ago that America’s hunger problem is an issue of distribution, not of supply. We’ve got enough food to feed everyone, but the food is not getting to people.

In this week’s episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver zeroes in where all that leftover food might be going. The totally heartbreaking answer is that it’s going straight to the dump. Food gets thrown out and it gets thrown out for stupid reasons. Some of it is due to culture: we have bizarre shopping habits and misconceptions about food on the shelves. Some of it is due to law and tax codes: for-profit entities have no incentive to give away what they don’t/can’t/won’t sell. My favorite Daily Show alum explains below.

So what next? Grist recommends “Revising regulations like these and getting ugly produce on the shelves could be a good first step toward curbing the waste trend.” I do like the idea of revising regulations–or setting new ones–to contest various date-labeling practices. I think tax incentives typically go a long in getting businesses to change their practices. I’m not sure how that curbs the culture of buying groceries and then throwing them out. I’m not sure how we help under-resourced pantries to make sure that food gets to those in need once it arrives. This was reminder that I’m overdue for volunteering at Rosie’s Place, a shelter in Boston where I can give my time. If you’re a home gardener, I recommend visiting, a service that will connect you to a pantry.

As I understand it, the first step is admitting there’s a problem and naming it. Tax incentives and regulations are further steps. Getting folks to change their daily behavior–the culture shift–will take more than that. I’m always concerned that John Oliver is just speaking to the choir. The choir could always use a refresher and I’m happy to have been poked on this topic that isn’t always so front of mind.


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