Food is getting much too expensive to just throw away

My Italian grandmother was what I used to call a dumpster shopper. Occasionally I would go with her to the local A&P, and she would lead me around back. I asked her once why she did that when we could shop inside. She said that the store threw away food, especially fruits and vegetables, which were perfectly good but just “not pretty.” Today there are people who, as dumpster divers, find still good food thrown out by supermarkets.

Recently in the news and public service ads we are learning that one third of the food grown and made is wasted. And a large percentage of that is wasted merely because of the sale dates on packaged and canned goods and a few blemishes on the produce that customers won’t buy.

In the United States, Doug Rauch, former president of Trader Joe’s, a food market that everyone loves, is starting something that I hope becomes a trend and is very possible in Costa Rica. He is calling it Daily Table, a different kind of supermarket and restaurant that will buy the produce and out-of-date packaged and canned goods discarded by first line supermarkets and sell them at prices within the reach of the poor in whose neighborhoods he will establish these stores. He plans to have cooks on hand to prepare healthy dish starters so people can take home half-ready meals (like tomato sauce) and even finished dishes. These are perfectly good products.

In downtown San José, on the corner of Seventh Avenue and the street that goes north to the Children’s Museum, there used to be an indoor feria. Eventually it closed, but it could be set up as a daily table, a place to sell still edible and nutritious produce and canned goods greatly marked down. The feria on 10th Avenue could do the same. Or perhaps they already do. It has been a while since I have visited there. My feria is in Pavas, but even there it gets more and more expensive. Perhaps it is because of the tariffs added to so many basic foods that a writer mentioned in a letter to the editor this week.

Meanwhile, I had lunch this week with Deborah, a visitor from Oregon and a pen pal whom I met through my column. I suggested Il Ritorno. It has been a while since I have been to this Italian restaurant, one of my favorites, which is in Casa Italia. Like just about every restaurant in town, instead of a nice little menu, they now have what I call a magazine with their, I suppose, expanded menu, and the prices, even there, where they once were so reasonable, have gone up. As visitors have said, Costa Rica is becoming one of the most expensive places in the world to eat out.

I wondered what the restaurants here do with their leftovers still on the stove at the end of the day? Have any of them formed a daily table where they can give to the hungry what they needlessly throw away? Just wondering.

This little country has more than one harvest season every year and can grow just about anything. What is happening to the food here? Is this the result of globalization? Are there many countries exporting their home-grown produce and importing that from another country, much of it carefully sealed in plastic bags, and quick to spoil once it is out of the bag?

On the one hand, the news is full of people who are going hungry, from the victims of war to young children going to school without breakfast. And we continue to waste food, which seldom makes headlines.

And while I am going on about the habits of supermarkets and restaurants, I cannot escape my own participation in wasting food. I let leftovers sit in the refrigerator until they qualify as spoiled, and then I throw them out with a clear conscience. Before I cast the next stone, I think I better think about how I can change my own habits. 

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