Irma Eats: Food Waste After the Storm

It's pretty easy for me to get on a soap box about food waste on a good day. But after a hurricane it's even more painful. Stores shelves are empty and their dumpsters are full. 


Some stores claim their generators failed and they lost power - other stores admit they didn't have generators at all. I can't help but find this obnoxiously irresponsible. Hurricanes, specifically, are seldom a surprise. Stores knew in advance that their respective towns would most likely lose power - it's why they ordered extra shipments of bottled water and canned goods. But what did they do to insure that their refrigerated and frozen food sections would survive the storm? Did they send their freezer + refrigerated isles to a safer location the same way it was transported to their store as part of their hurricane preparedness plan? Do we mandate they have generators? No. Grocery stores get a fat insurance check when they clear their isles after a storm. Less work to file a claim and far more financially rewarding than taking a proactive approach - so it's the road stores take. 


Stores clear their over packed isles and send all that food straight to the dump. Twice now I've seen stores fill over-sized dumpsters they wheeled in just for the occasion. The biggest irony is all of that food - it's production, packaging, and irresponsible disposal - puts us at a greater risk of more devastating natural disasters. 


It's a painful reminder of our relationship with food and how our abundance hurts others. A child dies every five seconds from hunger and hunger related illness. And it's clear we don't have a food shortage. What we have is a deadly distribution flaw. I am certain those families would have taken their chances on egos that were in a deep freezer that temporarily lost power. Or any of the grapes or other refrigerated produce (that didn't need to be refrigerated in the first place) that are now being sent straight to the landfill.


I can't help but think that we shouldn't have access to such excess when so many have nothing. What if those in need, genuine my child is dying need, had a little more? Are we not willing to go with a little less for them? When the power goes out and the food goes "bad" we're o.k. with the waste because we "need" to throw it away. Do we not need to ensure that children aren't dying in the streets from lack of food and drink? 


And on a more mico-level it forces us consumers to look at how we live and hoard food - because grocery stores aren't the only ones who had full freezers that made it to the landfill this week. Plenty of every day people faced the same fate. People from every corner of the state throwing away food (though, in the defense of the people, most I know did try to cook, store and save their stock pile). Stores from nearly every town in Florida throwing away pallets on pallets on pallets.

16,000 people a day. 

The storms aren't stopping. Neither is the suffering of those who go without. We are the ones in a position to demand change. We must start taking a more proactive, less self-centered approach to our resources. 

All images are from St. Augustine, FL post Matthew / Irma - our most recent hurricanes. No stores/ chains were without blood on their hands. Massive food waste isn't out of the ordinary for these stores. Here's a shot of perfectly good, cold food my family rescued from the dumpster on a random non-hurricane day. You can read more about that here.