Hungry for perfection

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One’s eyes have sight but not vision when one’s heart is blind. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, there are about 800 million people worldwide who are hungry.

The UNFAO also states about one-third of the world’s food gets thrown away, or about 2.9 trillion pounds a year. That is enough to feed twice the number of hungry people. The Guardian reports that global food waste causes more climate pollution than India or Russia.

National Geographic reports that about 6 billion pounds of the waste is produce that wasn’t sold or harvested, often due to “imperfect shaping.” For example, misshapen apples or cucumbers that grow too wide will go from the farm straight to the dump. It is a major contributor to food waste because the food itself is perfect in every way except appearance.

The farmers cannot help that retailers who buy their crops won’t buy produce that isn’t visually appealing. Retailers buy what people want, and many people prefer perfection. Obviously, it is a major waste of the farmer’s resources, time and money to throw away so much that is otherwise profitable.

A retailer’s job is to find products it can sell easily to the public. The larger the client base, the more power the retailer has over its suppliers. As a result, the retailers can make more demands, and the suppliers must listen because they need that regular paycheck.

But the customers have the real power to stop waste. Retailers need them to maintain their business and profits. That gives customers the power to demand retailers donate their waste, or to support other local businesses that promote redistribution of this fresh food at low costs.

McGary’s Discount Groceries, 120 W. Fort Lowell Road, is a salvage grocery store that receives food donations from other local retailers. They sell food and household items that are overstocked or “imperfect” at 40 to 60 percent off. McGary’s states that they inspect all of their food to ensure it is sealed and fresh before putting it on the shelf.

McGary’s also sells discount food boxes for about $5 each or two for $10. A cashier estimated that each box is worth about $50 at the store discount prices. The boxes contain a variety of food that either needs to be sold quickly or that the store received a large donation of in overstock.

Borderlands is a national food bank with multiple programs that together salvage over 30 million pounds of fresh produce yearly. Anyone can pick up fresh produce through the organization’s Veggies R’ Us program, supported by its Produce Rescue program that producers are able to call when they have overstock to donate. The next distribution date for Veggies R’ Us in Tucson soon will be listed on

Another program run by Borderlands is Produce On Wheels With-Out Waste. Once a week, typically on a Saturday, POWWOW sets up sites in cities around Arizona where anyone can pick up to 60 pounds of fresh produce for $10.

Borderlands says it also offers a program for the food it cannot distribute in time to recycle it as compost with local ranchers rather than throw it in a dump.

According to the St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance, about 2 million Arizonans go hungry, with 15 to 19 percent of them living in the Tucson region. They also say 1 in 3 children in Arizona grows up in poverty.

Pima Community College student Crista Rheinhart says Interfaith Community Services by Ina and Shannon roads also receives produce donations from local grocery stores and offers one free food box a month to anyone.

“All you need is your ID, a bill with your address on it, a list of the people who live with you and their birthdays,” Rheinhart said. “Then you can go once a month and pick up a box determined by the amount of people in the house.”

It is up to the community to work reducing food waste, and ensure that the hungry have access to food that is thrown away needlessly. It’s important that people don’t turn a blind eye toward community members who need help.

Perhaps the late author and zen practitioner R. H. Blyth put it best: “Perfection means not perfect actions in a perfect world, but appropriate actions in an imperfect one.”


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