CARE BLOG

What a Waste

6/2/08

I had every intention of eating the tomato - I could see myself cutting it up into slices for salad, using it for grilled cheese or a bacon/lettuce and tomato sandwich. But good intentions aren't enough.
My refrigerator's cooling system suddenly went into overload, freezing
containers of milk and juice solid, ruining fresh fruit and vegetables
and meals I'd prepared in advance. Almost everything went into the
garbage can yesterday, spoiled rotten. It was hard for me to throw
food out and it made me mad at myself. Like many people, I was raised
to "Waste Not, Want Not" and I hate wasting food almost beyond
anything. And yet I do, not only as an individual, but as a citizen,
because my tax dollars and yours fund wasteful food policies by the
U.S. government. We waste millions of dollars and put millions of
lives at risk with these practices.

For example, under U.S. law, food aid to other countries has to be
"home grown" in the U.S. and shipped on vessels registered in the U.S.
This benefits very few people - not the average American farmer nor
the chronically hungry family overseas trying to get through another
"hungry season," the time between harvests when there is precious
little to eat. By and large, it is agro businesses who bid on U.S.
government food contracts for overseas aid, not the Henderson family
farm. It is large shipping concerns who profit from the shipping
requirements built into U.S law, known as "cargo preference" - and
hungry people who suffer. In part, this is because food shipped
overseas takes, on average, three to four months to arrive at its
destination; in part, it's because this food can compete with the food
local farmers are trying to market in order to feed their own families.

Let me explain. Some U.S. food aid is designed to be distributed
directly to needy people, usually in a disaster situation. But some of
the aid is meant to be sold on the open market in-country by aid
organizations, to fund long term, poverty-fighting programs. It would
be far simpler and more efficient to provide direct funding to aid
organizations, in the form of cash. That way, organizations like CARE
could have the flexibility to respond to different situations where
there is hunger in the most appropriate way. Sometimes, there is plenty
of food available but people are too poor to buy it. In a case like
that, cash transfers or vouchers work best. It's a bit like food stamps
that allow people to buy food. Most importantly, you know that the most
vulnerable people are getting what they need to survive. When food is
sold on the open market anyone can buy it and it often doesn't reach
the neediest people.

In a disaster situation, distributing food directly to hungry people is
the best solution. Even a day is a long time when you're hungry, and
in an emergency, every hour and every calorie of nutritious food you
can get counts. Right now in Myanmar, for example, it's critical to get
food to people as quickly as possible. They are in desperate straits,
with no food, water or shelter. There's concern that their existing
stocks of rice and rice seed for future harvests have been damaged,
putting their livelihoods at risk. Rice is a staple food in my house -
by choice, because I love rice, and by tradition, because of my Latin
upbringing. In Myanmar, poor people depend on rice for survival.

But there is a bigger, long term disaster and that is that our
government's policies aren't doing enough to fight chronic hunger. It
takes more than food to do that. Stay tuned for more on this, since
it's something I feel very strongly about.

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