Child Hunger and Banquet Food Waste

In the last several days I attended APHSA-ISM, a conference of human services administrators from all over the U.S. and the IT industry at the Philadelphia Convention Center. One of the beneficiaries we raised funds for was Philabundance, a local food bank.

A few hours  after we saw the heartbreaking marketing video of Philabundance, we attended the first conference luncheon. The ballroom had round tables for over 1,000 attendees, each table with nine chairs. Many tables were not full. There were only six people at ours.

The meal was family style. The waiters brought dishes of food and we served ourselves. Our table had large bowls of green salad and a pasta/ham salad, a basket of bread, a plate of chicken breasts, a plate of beef, and a large platter of some type of rice cake. Our table had food for at least 20 people. The beef dish wasn’t even touched. One of us took a single slice just for a taste. Then there was a plate of cupcakes for dessert of which we didn’t consume half.

I could not help but take a picture as I left:

banquet food waste
[click to enlarge]
None of the dishes were even half empty as we all walked out of the room. This was only our table.  There were over a hundred more in the room.

I do not know what the hotel did with the food that got removed from the tables. It was enough to feed an army.

I do not have the solution;  none of us in the room did, even though these were the people from around the country who have to administer food stamp programs, whose job it is to worry about the most vulnerable members of our society – hungry children.

This was a drastic reminder of the inequality in our country. Why do I get to eat in abundance in an air-conditioned ballroom, while 16 million kids in America aren’t getting the food they need?

Worldwide Waste of Food

The food discarded by consumers and retailers in just the most developed nations would be more than enough to sustain all the world’s 870 million hungry people if effective distribution methods were available.

— New York Times, Editorial Board

As with most civilization technologies, the solution to this waste is infrastructure. None of us want to waste food. Nobody decides to take more food at Souplantation than they can eat, just to leave it for the busboy to take away, okay, almost nobody. I have seen violators!

Here is a post I wrote about food waste at the Hampton Inn a couple of years ago. In that article I pointed out the eggs I noticed in the trash can after they cleared the breakfast buffet at 10:00 am.

Waste at Hampton Inn
Wasted food at the Hampton Inn

I pointed out in that post, if they simply didn’t peel the eggs before they put them on display, they would not have to throw them out every day. And sure enough, soon after that all the Hampton Inns started serving unpeeled eggs and have done so ever since. My post was probably a coincidence and perhaps aligned with consumer complaints from many people to cause them to change this.

If there were a way to get the extra four-inches of the Subway foot-long that I can’t quite eat to some starving child in Somalia, that child would get calories for several days out of that sandwich. But there is no way.

If there were a way to let supermarkets transport the food they are forced to throw into the dumpsters to a country where there is a food shortage, many mouths would be fed.

Since transporting our waste is not practical and possible, the ultimate solution is to figure out less expensive ways to produce the food where it is needed. We’re right back at sustainable agriculture, and the infrastructure required to support it. Solving the world hunger problem is a project of decades, not years, and requires continuous commitment from individuals and governments.

Since governments by nature only care for their own problems and needs, the misaligned distribution of infrastructure and wealth cuts out the poorest nations. We need to find a profit incentive. Some entrepreneur must find a way to make distribution of food technologies and food itself to developing nations profitable, and then things will start rolling.

Here is a need. Does anyone have an idea how to fill it?

Food Waste at Hampton Inn

I stay at Hampton Inns quite often. A couple of weeks ago I was at the Hampton Inn in downtown Albany. Their breakfasts are not elaborate, but I generally only have orange juice, eat some fruit, some yoghurt and, when they have them, I’ll eat a hard-boiled egg.

When I checked out it was about 11:00am, and their breakfast buffet closes down at 10:00 or 10:30. I was looking for a snack for the road, so I went over to the breakfast area and found they had left some muffins out. I picked up a couple, grabbed a napkin, and happened to glance into the trash can as I walked away:

Waste at Hampton Inn

Amongst the Styrofoam dishes, napkins, muffin wrappers were a whole bunch of already peeled hardboiled eggs.

It was a stinging realization.

They peel the eggs and place then into a container from which the guests pick them out with tongs. This makes it easy for the guests, but apparently they can’t save the leftover eggs for the next day.

I know that hardboiled eggs in their shells last for many days, even weeks, if properly refrigerated. For the cost of customers peeling their own eggs they could save their eggs for the next day.

I can count twelve visible eggs in this single photograph, and I didn’t do any digging. This must be going on every day.

Each one of those eggs could keep a hungry child alive for another day in Africa.