Where does food go when sell-by or expiration dates take it off of the shelves?
There I was on a Saturday afternoon in one of Santa Cruz’s many natural foods markets, awaiting the arrival of my vegetarian sandwich. My pangs of hunger quickly turned to confusion as I watched an employee behind the counter dutifully unwrap plastic-wrapped sandwiches and deposit the wrappers in the recycling and the seemingly edible sandwiches in the compost bin.
‘How could this be?’ I thought, wondering if I could ask for one of the discarded sandwiches instead of the fresh one I had just ordered. Nearly one in four Santa Cruz County children are struggling with hunger according to Second Harvest Food Bank (SHFB), which has seen annual rises in need for food assistance each year since 2005. Was this routine of tossing unsold food really a part of the store’s sustainability mission?
The fact that this incident took place in an establishment that touts its environmental ethic was even more perplexing to me. While recycling the packaging and composting leftovers is a responsible method of handling waste, I had to wonder why good food was being wasted in the first place. So often, particularly in the sustainable food mecca that is Santa Cruz, the emphasis lies in where our food comes from. Less often considered, though, is the fate of that food when it doesn’t end up going through the checkout line.