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Hunger in My Neighborhood

2013 September 20

By Mike Frankel

I occasionally work from home on Fridays, and as a treat, I pick up a great homemade meatball sandwich from a spot not far from my home in South Philly. The route takes me alongside the I-95 overpass. For months, I saw lines of people stretching for several blocks under the overpass. It didn’t matter the weather – rain or shine, hot or cold – there was a line, and I couldn’t figure out what everyone was waiting for. Perhaps a casino bus to Atlantic City?

One cold, dreary Friday, I took a late lunch – and there they were, in line as always: all ages, all
races, all sizes. But for the first time, the line was moving. I pulled up to the curb, eager to finally see what was so important that people had been lining up for months. Then I saw the truck. Its sign read “PHILABUNDANCE” – our area’s major hunger-relief organization. They weren’t waiting for a casino
jaunt. They were waiting for food!

I was shocked and felt somewhat guilty sitting in my warm, dry car with my $10 lunch. How could
this be happening in my diverse middle/working-class neighborhood? Leaving the truck with a bag of food was a familiar face. In that moment, I realized hunger isn’t something that happens elsewhere – my neighbors were hungry.

Shortly after that experience, EPA started working on a new program called the Food Recovery Challenge. I signed on immediately. You may be wondering what EPA has to do with food. Turns out food comprises 21% of municipal waste sent to landfills, more than paper and plastic. That’s not just a hunger problem; unlike other kinds of waste, food decomposes rapidly and becomes a significant source of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas which contributes to climate change. Yet every day, we waste enough food to fill the Rose Bowl Stadium. In 2011, that added up to 36 million tons of food, nearly all of which was sent to landfills or incinerators.

The sad thing is that most of this food is still wholesome and nutritious. Yet one in six Americans are food-insecure: unsure of where their next meal might come from. Diverting even a small portion of the food wasted could potentially feed millions of our neighbors. EPA is working with organizations to buy smarter and divert good food away from landfills to groups like PHILABUNDANCE. And for food unsuitable for feeding families, we’re encouraging organizations to send it to places that compost it to create nutrient-rich natural fertilizer. After all, that will create soil for growing healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables that help feed us. Now that’s a true model of sustainability!

For more information on Food Recovery and what you can do.

About the author: Mike Frankel is a communications coordinator in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office. He is part of an agency-wide group promoting food recovery and sustainability.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

7 Responses leave one →
  1. Jay Cwanek permalink
    September 20, 2013

    Strange, but giving your leftovers to someone outside without cash sounds like what we always did until about 40 years ago, when lawsuits took over.

  2. electra27 permalink
    September 22, 2013

    A while back while riding my bike around the neighborhood I saw a dumpster full of freshly baked bread and dough in plastic bags. I took some home and found it to be perfectly good. Then I called the owner, and asked him about the dumpster. He said he sends most of it to farms for fodder. I asked, why not recycle for hungry people here in the city? Probably wanting me to find what he already knew, he said I was welcome to try. So I started calling places in the neighborhood and city that might need food, like homeless shelters. After several calls it started to dawn on me—no one was willing to come pick up the bread. I live in a very up and coming and very populated area. We have a food recycling opportunity every Monday morning. Though it is a little extra work for me to assemble and bring the food, I do because I feel every little bit helps our air and climate. I asked how many people in my neighborhood also did. Out of the thousands using that subway entrance, she said the last week, 29 people. Our values motivate our actions. Our view of how things connect allows us to see what effect our actions have, and that our collective actions make a difference. We need to see the merit of our actions investing in the future. Would incentives help? In college we were told that if we saved money on electricity our tuition would not go up the next year. And we did and it didn’t. What if savings to businesses and municipal agencies were linked to visible benefits to the employees?

  3. wade permalink
    September 23, 2013

    Jay – it is my understanding that where I used to live excess food from various sources was given to prisions, food banks, schools and other organizations. this was stopped not from lawsuits but from gov’t agencies regulations.

  4. truyen 18+ hay nhat permalink
    September 25, 2013

    Then I called the owner, and asked him about the dumpster. He said he sends most of it to farms for fodder. I asked, why not recycle for hungry people here in the city? Probably wanting me to find what he already knew, he said I was welcome to try.

  5. ayoub permalink
    October 2, 2013

    Jay – it is my understanding that where I used to live excess food from various sources was given to prisions, food banks, schools and other organizations. this was stopped not from lawsuits but from gov’t agencies regulations.

  6. Danica permalink
    October 9, 2013

    The State of Humanity and the World ultimately lies in our hands; change can not happen until we make a shift and change together. I believe it was Ghandi’s quote “Be the Change you wish to see in the world” means more than just being a greener person. Set an example, be a better person. Help one another, because we won’t make it otherwise!

    Cause together, and only together can we change.

  7. Mike Frankel permalink
    October 17, 2013

    Hi Jay

    About your concern over lawsuits there is Federal Law entitled “The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996” which protects the donor and the recipient agency against liability, with the excepting of gross negligence and/or intentional misconduct. In addition, each state has passed Good Samaritan Laws that provide liability protection to good faith donors.

    Thanks
    Mike

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