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5 Myths about hunger in America

The food that America wastes could feed everybody.

4According to Jonathan Bloom's new book, "American Wasteland," up to 40 percent of the food we produce is ultimately thrown away. Much of it, such as household waste or decomposing fruits and vegetables, is unfit to eat or impractical to collect. Unnecessary expiration dates, particularly on canned foods, condemn millions of pounds of food to landfills. Logistically, we just can't feed everyone with leftovers.

Still, that doesn't mean we shouldn't use them. Since President Bill Clinton signed the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996, initiatives around the country have retrieved millions of pounds of great food from restaurants and hotels and have used it to feed the hungry and provide culinary job training for the unemployed. Food banks have redistributed hundreds of millions of pounds of nonperishable items, and food activists called gleaners have taken to farms to forage for crops that won't make it to market.

Hunger is about food.

5Ever since President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty in 1964, the government has worked diligently to ensure that no American goes hungry. For years, the USDA flooded communities with surplus commodities such as cheese and butter. Enrollment in the food stamp program (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), the front-line federal weapon in the fight against hunger, is at an all-time high, with 42.4 million people receiving support.

Yet the number of Americans who struggle to put food on their tables has never decreased. This is because hunger isn't about food. It's about jobs and wages.

The passage of living-wage laws, tariffs that protect U.S. jobs and comprehensive public health care - coupled with consumer support for businesses that pay good wages, reinvest in their communities or embrace green polices - would do more to combat hunger than anything charities have tried in the past five decades. Incentives for local food production would keep us healthy and our local economies thriving.

For example, D.C. Central Kitchen, which I founded in 1989, provides locally sourced, made-from-scratch meals for public and charter schools in Washington as well as for clients of Fresh Start, our catering company. In the middle of a recession, we just added 30 well-paid employees who receive benefits, many from our own job-training program. Last year, 80 of our graduates, many of them felons or former drug addicts, earned more than $2 million in salaries and paid more than $200,000 in local payroll taxes. And while learning new skills, they produced more than 1.4 million healthy meals for shelters and food programs.

What we are doing isn't unique. It's happening all over America, and it isn't charity - it's rock-solid business.

Robert Egger is the founder and president of D.C. Central Kitchen and the Campus Kitchens Project.


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