Food Policy

Stop Government Promotion of Food Waste

Why do we put up with laws and regulations that contribute to the problem?


food waste
Pixavril /

Earlier this year, Italy adopted measures to reduce the quantity of food that's wasted in the country. The laws encourage the use of doggy bags, which are uncommon on the continent. More importantly, they eliminate longstanding rules that have made it difficult or impossible farmers and grocers to donate food to those in need.

For those readers unfamiliar with the term, food waste means "food that completes the food supply chain up to a final product, of good quality and fit for consumption, but still does not get consumed because it is discarded, whether or not after it is left to spoil."

The Italian law fights food waste in several ways.

"The new laws seek to make donating food easier by allowing businesses to record donations in a simple form every month," reports The Independent. "Sanctions for giving away food past its sell-by date have been removed, and business owners will pay less waste tax the more they donate."

Other countries on the continent have already adopted similar measures. France has taken Italy one step further, with a law that took effect earlier this year requiring restaurants to provide doggie bags to customers who ask for them.

As I detail at length in my forthcoming book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable, food waste is an enormous problem that poses huge challenges.

We waste around forty percent of our food, I note. If the percentage of food we waste is surprising, then the actual waste figures are closer to staggering. For example, Americans wasted 133 billion pounds of food in 2010. Forty-million tons of food waste end up in America's landfills every year.

Government efforts to reduce this tide of food waste are increasingly common. They're often the subject of much fanfare.

Yet hidden behind many of these government campaigns to reduce food waste is the frequent cause of that food waste: other government regulations. Much of our wasted food isn't due to the excesses or carelessness of individuals and food companies. Rather, it's often caused by idiotic and outrageous rules that force us to waste food.

Take the Italian example above. The causes of food waste cited by The Independent were: 1) complex government recordkeeping requirements; 2) rules barring food from being shared; and 3) high taxes.

Italy didn't need more rules to reduce food waste. It needed fewer rules so that people could follow their natural inclinations both to reduce food waste and to share food with those in need.

The challenges posed by rules are hardly confined to Europe. Just last week, for example, I wrote about USDA rules that forced a farmer to throw out tons of cherries.

And it's not just national governments that promote food waste. In Oakland, Calif. last year—in an example that opens the chapter in Biting the Hands that Feed Us that details ways that rules often promote food waste—the city council adopted a series of new composting and recycling services that was billed as "a huge step" forward in the city's goal of eliminating food waste (and other waste). Instead, though, Oakland's rules did just the opposite.

Restaurants in Oakland that had been composting food waste found those services were now far more expensive under the city's new mandatory contract. They were thousands of dollars more expensive, in fact, than the costs to simply throw out their food waste, where they'd end up in the city landfill. One restaurateur who owned eateries in Oakland and elsewhere in the Bay Area said he pays nearly seven times as much for composting for his Oakland restaurant as he does for his San Francisco restaurant.

Mandatory rules. Perverse incentives. More food waste. Reducing food waste means we first need to rid ourselves of the rules that promote it in the first place.

NEXT: Conviction Overturned for Making a Murderer's Brendan Dassey

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  1. I think the conclusion can be summed a little more directly.

    If you want more efficiency and lower prices in food distribution, the last thing you want is more government involvement.

    1. *Plows crop into dirt*

      No idea what you’re talking about.

    2. One man’s starvation is another man’s necessary price support .

      1. +1 Hooverian (and Rooseveltian) economics.

        1. The only times in history that Americans suffered from widespread malnutrition was early settlement, during and after the Civil War and in the 1930s. The media always blames that on the Great Depression. FDR paying farmers not to farm apparently helped or something.

          1. Price controls. It was illegal under the New Deal to sell below the “floor”.

            1. Their response to people being hungry was to make cheap food illegal.

              +1 best and the brightest

          2. Thought my reference to that was clear. It’s amazing that people believed wealth could be created through destruction of consumable goods. Then again, don’t think that foolish belief is dead.

            1. It never dies.

              1. It makes Freddie Krueger look mortal.

    3. Food lines are good. *

      Bernie ’16

      What he is saying is that Government Dog Almighty should be in control of all food. Proles should be required to line up once or twice a day to receive their caloric allotment.

      That my friends would end all food waste and that is a good thing.

      1. Can we get Bernie to move to someplace he’d actually like? Venezuala perhaps?

        1. How expensive are summer houses there?

          1. 3 rolls of tp, a half pound of sugar, and one dozen eggs.

            1. So call it a 10 million Bolivars?

        2. And libertarians can move to Yemen.

          Or, we could accept that people’s choices of where to live are complicated and stop being arses about “love it or leave it”.

      2. When people are stuck in food lines there is little time for conspiring.

    4. Started working at home! It is by far the best job I have ever had. I just recently purchased a Brand new BMW since getting a check for 25470 dollar this 7-week past. I began this 6 months ago and I am now bringing home at least 97 dollar per hour. I work through this website. Go here…

  2. Baylen should write a book so he can promote it in his blog posts.

    1. He’s got a book out in September of this year I hear. My understanding is that you can pre pay?

  3. When the migrant crisis in Europe first started I and a lot of other people said this would happen. We were all called racists and pants shitters on this board. Reason hardly covers the issue anymore. Funny that.


    German Intelligence says ISIS sleeper cells amongst migrants. Who could have seen that coming?

    1. They might have had a better time selling that premise if they hadn’t used the photo of widows and orphans to represent the refugees.

    2. Easily solved with body cams.

    3. You have to be some kind of special to not have believed that would have happened.

      1. Just have to have an open mind.

    4. It’s amazing how common it is for people to take information as the gospel truth from a source they otherwise sneer at.

      Exactly why do you suddenly think German Intelligence is a trusted source? Just about everything any government agency says is otherwise treated as the babblings of fools, and just about anything any intelligence agency says is otherwise treated as part of a conspiracy theory.

      1. Let’s ask Vox.

      2. When you consider that they work for the women seen as responsible for this happening, they have a motivation to lie and pretend it’s not a threat. Why would they lie and exaggerate the threat when doing so makes them and the German government look bad?

        Just because you don’t want to believe it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

        1. When has any government employee done anything but cover their ass and nto stick their neck out?

          Any time the government is embarrassed by anything it has done, the first reaction is to cover it up. Second reaction is to find a scapegoat.

          None of this observation has anything to do with what I want to believe. It has everything to do with scoffing at your sudden belief in a government announcement, to the point of quoting it as a reliable and definitive source.

          1. People lie but they lie for a reason. Here, the only reason they would lie would be to downplay the threat.

            Beyond that you are just killing the messenger. I don’t care if they are biggest liars ever, sometimes even liars tell the truth. You are just doubting it because Libertarians fucking love Muslims and will never believe anything bad about them.

            1. I’m neither doubting nor believing it. I’m ignoring it mostly, settibg it aside as a data point a little.

              You don’t need to see the world as black or white. That mentality is what leads people to think Hillary and Trump are the only choices.

              1. There is a jihadist attack in Europe about once a week and has been for several months now. Did those things not happen?

                Of course you are going to ignore it. Paying attention to it requires you to actually defend and question your ideology. And that is not something Libertarians ever do. It doesn’t matter how many women get raped or people get murdered, open borders are fabulous and a moral imperative.

                1. I ignore most government prognostications precisely because they are from the government and have little relation to reality or thr truth. They may be true, they may be lies, and I cannot tell.

                  The jihadi attacks in Europe might well provide an excellent reason for governments to lie in order to increase their funding and control. They might also provide an excellent reasn to uncork the truth they were hiding before because they like to keep the peasants uninformed. There is no way to tell the difference.

                  My ideology is simply that governments lie and tell the truth in whatever measures suit some purpose to which I am not privy. Hell, most of the time, government bureaucrats have reasons completely at odds with each other, and may well tell some portion of truth or lies just to confuse other bureaucrats.

                  To attribute my distrust of government to some love of Muslims is really really weird.

              2. and of course all Libertarians love Muslims. There is no political group in the country, not even Progressives, who have as much love and affection and belief in the goodness of Muslims than Libertarians.

                1. You go to great lengths to set up various bizarre strawmen, but this is one of the oddest. I have long since given up trying to relate your meanderings to Poe’s Law, and while you are a single person, or at least a single account, and fun to poke at once in a while, I can assure you I don’t think you are a Muslim because of it, or not a Muslim because of it. Your meanderings are just more data points unrelated to truth or lies in any way that I can fathom; just more data points to file away: John is fun to poke with a stick.

      3. But this time it said something we like!

        People are so busy pushing their damned agenda that it’s difficult to wade through the bullshit for the corn kernels of truth, and you’re pretty sure what’s left is unpalatable to boot. You’ve got people on one side who are convinced the brown people are going to rape our supper, impregnate our jobs and steal our welfare. On the other, people who are convinced everyone on earth is an angel except those fucking white demons, who really don’t give enough of themselves or work hard enough to count in civilized society.

        Neither is just going to tell you what’s going on. They’re going to paint a picture that works out really well for their narrative, glossing over whatever might “confuse” people into accepting false gods narratives.

        If you say, “But, really, there’s a common thread in attacks against the public, and it isn’t Mormon tribalism,” then you’re a RACIST RACISTER perpetuating the RACISMS.

        If you say, “Look, this is all a little hysterical, I really don’t buy that there’s an entire demographic whose primary characteristic is that they are all evil,” then you are a PROGGIETARD SJWTARD who disagrees because you are WRONG and STUPID.

        And SMOD help you if you say both, because then you just piss everyone off.

        1. Saying ISIS used the migrant waves to slip terrorists into Europe is hardly saying all brown people are evil.

      4. Is the person quoted really even German intelligence? He is described as “the deputy head of Bavaria’s intelligence”. Do state governments in Germany have their own intelligence services?

    5. I feel like most of the racist comments came from the usual suspects. I think most people agree free borders or welfare state. Both don’t work together.

  4. I fail to see how this relates to Trump.

    1. Trump is a racist and TRADE WAR! Or something

    2. This was supposed to be a joke in reference to Linnekin’s post.

      1. All jokes will be missed until after the election.

      2. Mine was a joke too. Just not a very good one apparently

  5. The fact that we have food waste at all is a testament to human ingenuity. My grandfather’s generation knew what it meant not to have food at all, and my parents generation knew what it meant to be in short supply. My generation had sufficient supplies of food even if it wasn’t always what we preferred. We did not waste food.

    Now I can eat anything I like anytime I like and there is exotic food from all over the world at my fingertips.

    1. My grandfather grew up during the depression. He’s like a one man army fighting against waste of all varieties.

      1. Do his leftovers become rancid in an effort to minimize waste? My grandfather was like that toward the end of his life; the smell of the refrigerator would make you reach.

        1. Mom was that way, and a hoarder. When Mom went in the nursing home, my sister came up to visit, and clean out the spare bedroom. Sis went through something like 40 of the big size garbage bags.

    2. Nose to tail cooking was a question of survival not a foodie trend

      1. So true since because it takes a while to boil shoe leather to a tender flavorful state

  6. France has taken Italy one step further, with a law that took effect earlier this year requiring restaurants to provide doggie bags to customers who ask for them.

    And California will take France one step further, with a law requiring customers to bring their own re-usable doggie bags to every restaurant.

    1. Reusable doggie-bags.

      Albeit not all restaurants are like Olive Garden. That place probably has a long-term supplier’s contract with the polystyrene box manufacturing company so that they’re never out.

    2. There’s no guarantee people will eat the left overs. France needs to take it still further – force people to eat.

      1. +1 P?t? de foie humain.

  7. Restaurants are already incentivized to reduce food waste. It’s a cost, you now, one of those numbers on the frowny-face side of the ledger. We don’t like that. One of my go-to lines for a cover letter is to cite the restaurant where I dropped food costs by 38% through improved training practices. If it comes in the door, a restaurant that makes money will ensure that it doesn’t go out the door without a price tag on it.

    Restaurants don’t waste great sums of food. The customers, on the other hand, waste food like mad. Throw in regulations such as the one that says food that has hit the dining room may never again see the line, or, any other purpose, really, and the trash cans start filling up like nobody’s business.

    Say a guest orders a medium-rare steak. We send out a medium-rare steak; the customer returns it. “I said medium-rare.” When the server asks what medium-rare means to the customer, they say “hint of pink in the middle”. Fine. Fine. But we can’t just throw the original steak back on the grill to medium-well that fucker. No. Ha. No. It might all have been an insidious plot to contaminate the kitchen with anthrax! Throw it out and start over.

    Employees used to eat well off mistakes and re-dos. Now, the trash must be it’s inevitable end, because otherwise HR and the health department will show us the color of our insides.

    1. I grew up in the business. I love customers who don’t have a clue what they are actually ordering.

    2. “Say a guest orders a medium-rare steak. We send out a medium-rare steak; the customer returns it. “I said medium-rare.”

      Hamster this drives me shit house. =D

      1. Just about everyone who works with the public has a selection of choice anecdotes. And while even the common refrains aren’t going to be every member of the public who walks through the door, after working with the public long enough one begins to question where we ever got the idea that humans were an intelligent species.

        And allergies! My goodness, people. When I see “ALLERGY” on the ticket, I drop tools and summon the server. What allergy, be specific here. Is it citrus, because the servers have no idea how ubiquitous citrus is on the menu and I won’t be the cook responsible for a dramatic scene of ambulances in the dining room. Won’t, and you can’t make me. So the customer wants the fajita chicken no salsa, but what exactly is the guest allergic to?

        There are all sorts of gluten allergies that, once the customer is advised we cannot remove the gluten-contaminated fat from the fryer and provide clean, gluten-free new oil just for his order, magically disappear and the customer is no longer allergic. Fancy that. The guest with the tomato allergy who thought leaving the salsa off his flatbread would do, and when he gets his flatbread sans tomato in any form, including the marinara sauce, objects because, you know, he wasn’t actually allergic to tomatoes. He just thought salsa would give him heartburn.

        Shellfish allergy in a surf-and-turf. “Just clean the grill real good, I’m sure it will be fine.”

        Fun times, yo.

        1. “There are all sorts of gluten allergies…”

          99% of which are self-diagnosed. Have you ever seen anyone with a true gluten allergy? If they eat gluten it can kill them, or nearly does. It is a very serious condition.

          1. Most “gluten allergies” are “I feel bad after gorging on carbs for a day straight, so I must be allergic to gluten.” No, you’re feeling bad because you’re eating enough for 3 people.

          2. I have a good friend, nick name Short Stuff, who has a severe gluten allergy. Her husband no longer drinks beer. Oh well, more for me.

          3. I’ve known two people that avoid gluten due to celiac disease.

            Neither ever claimed that it would kill them, they just refuse to eat it because the extreme discomfort. They also both had a very short list of restaurants they were willing to go to in town.

        2. I don’t know about your customers, but my husband’s nightshade allergy? is 100% neutralized by cooking. So marinara sauce wouldn’t bother him, but he takes raw tomatoes off his hamburgers.

          That said, his allergy is also minor enough that he can just scrape stuff off and be fine, though he will wear gloves when cutting tomatoes/potatoes lest he get a rash.
          ?The nightshade family includes tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and probably other things.

    3. I think there is a lot of retail waste regarding expiration dates etc that are set by the states (and the interests that buy off the legislators and regulatory bodies) as Linnekin pointed out a while back

    4. Customers always fuck everything up.

      1. Amen

      2. Not everything.

        Last Christmas the whole family went out to dinner. Dad ordered a Riesling with his dinner; I got a Pinot Noir. The server couldn’t tell them apart.

        1. the server couldn’t read? Or they couldn’t physically discern the color?

    5. One method I guess that *could* reduce food is the concept of pay-for-weight style restaurants. The cost is correlated to the weight on the plate that is. People would only take what they need because they would be price conscious.

      1. You mean you’re not suggesting fat people pay more?

  8. But someone might get sick if grocery stores are allowed to donate expired foods that are still edible! You just want poor people to get food poisoning!

    1. Did they use eggless mayo?

  9. Washington Post’s best and brightest:

    How one family is sending 13 kids to college, living debt free ? and still plans to retire early

    Nice story overall I suppose, but these details kill me:

    Yet they paid off their mortgage early four years ago. They have no debt ? never have, besides mortgages.


    Years later, they enlarged the kitchen, using two zero-percent finance offers good for 12 months.

    *snip snip*

    Son goes to school:

    With aid more scarce in grad school, he said he’ll end up owing almost $90,000.

    “I think about it a good amount,” said Caleb, who started working as a physical therapy technician at 18. “I try not to worry too much.” He hopes to pay off the loan in 10 years.

    1. We live debt free except for that $90,000 in student loan debt. How do they write this shit?

      1. Yes, yes, we did borrow money to remodel our kitchen. But that was a 0% offer, so not debt. Or not debt-debt, you know?

        1. It’s not a debt if you refuse to pay it!

          /S/commie kid

    2. I didn’t read this one, but in general such articles rarely, if ever, disclose an important piece of info. in my view: FAMILY INCOME.

      1. I have relatives that are debt free through bankruptcy

  10. I feel awful saying this, but mixed doubles badminton is turning me on

    1. I like the post race hugging and in water girl on girl action in swimming.

    2. You should’ve seen the women’s 75kg A session yesterday.

  11. Any chance Leicester does well in the Champions league? Just opened premier league season with a loss to Hull City…ooof.

    1. I doubt it. You need depth in CL. That’s why the big sides always go deep. To me, that’s the difference.

      1. I hate thinking one man makes all the difference, but no Kante today…you could tell.

        1. It generally doesn’t.

          In soccer, you shouldn’t have to rely on one player. It should always be about the unit. Teams that rely on one guy or insist on doing so, do it because either they lack depth or are tactically naive.

      2. Let’s hope it tucks up England’s league coefficient and pushes them behind Italy.

        1. Serie A is mired in an extended slump. It may not happen until Milan and Inter return to top flight soccer. Napoli (or Roma) can help if they win Europa but it’s up to the Big Three to get it back on track.

          1. What the F are you idgits going on about ?

            Don’t you know that the NFL Preseason has begun ?

            Hush now so I can hear the TVee.

  12. While we’re pretty conscious of food management, there’s always going to be a certain amount of waste. The amount of food in a pack or box or whatever is certain to keep this going. We buy as we need more or less but there’s no guarantee you can always finish everything you bought and/or cooked.

    It is what it is and unless you go full blown tyrannical and assign a food bureaucrat to each family (which I bet is something bureaucrats and experts fantasize about), it’s gonna be what it is.

    1. Scotland’s “Named Person” scheme for the win!

  13. OT: How do you people respond to someone who pulls out the ‘Obama has reduced the debt every year and has set the economy back on track’ argument?

    1. First, try and explain that deficit is not the same as debt. Then point out Bush was not President in 2009.

    2. Whether Clinton or whoever is championed as a debt champion Perez, I always point to that damn national debt counter. The rebuttal to that is always “b-b-but not real debt!”

    3. LabFor. EM ratio. Unfunded liabilities.

    4. Just luagh and walk away.

      If they are that ignorant facts won’t persuade then.

  14. Did this get covered yesterday? Our good friend Preet Bharara is leading a federal investigation into the Clinton Foundation. Those clowns all deserve each other.

    Bharara’s official biography notes that he, “has applied renewed focus on large-scale, sophisticated financial frauds by creating two new units ? the Complex Frauds Unit and the complementary Civil Frauds Unit.

    “The Civil Frauds Unit has collected close to $500 million in settlements since its inception, including multi-million dollar settlements with Deutsche Bank and CitiMortgage for faulty lending practices and other fraudulent conduct.”

    Nice that he is so proud of shaking down businesses…

  15. Did I and too many other Minnesodans get excited about Phyllis Khan being defeated in the primary too soon?

    A local blog brought up the inconvenient fact that the winner Ilhan Omar may have married her brother in order to get him into the country.

    A reader has written us to point out that the Somali website Somalispot posted information last week suggesting Omar’s involvement in marriage and immigration fraud. The post notes that Omar married Ahmed Hirsi in 2002. Hirsi is the father of Omar’s three children. Omar is depicted with Hirsi and their children on Omar’s campaign website here.

    The post further notes that Omar married her brother Ahmed Nur Said Elmi in 2009, implying that the latter marriage assisted his entry into the United States. Her brother was a British citizen. “As soon as Ilhan Omar married him,” the post continues, “he started university at her [a]lma mater North Dakota State University where he graduated in 2012. Shortly thereafter, he moved to Minneapolis where he was living in a public housing complex and was later evicted. He then returned to the United Kingdom where he now lives.”

    1. What do you have against incestuous marriage? They were both consenting adults!


      1. It is pretty funny. I just went and did the search at the Minnesoda Official Marriage System and sure enough her name comes up twice between 1/1/2002 and 1/1/2010.

        Will be interesting to see if this story gets any play at all.

    2. “Marriage fraud”. Let’s prosecute married people who strangers think aren’t in love with each other. What a fun idea!

      With that out of the way… her brother. Ewww.

    3. you minnesodans owe the rest of America an apology for pushing us down the slippery slope of Jesse Ventura that led us to the Donald.

  16. Anna . I agree that James `s storry is really great… last thursday I got a top of the range Mitsubishi Evo after bringing in $4828 this last 5 weeks and just over ten grand last-munth . no-doubt about it, this really is the best work I’ve ever had . I began this four months/ago and straight away started to bring in at least $87, per-hour

  17. Make Our Food System More Sustainable

    Our “food system” has never been “sustainable”. Aiming for “sustainability” is aiming for stagnation and failure. “Sustainability” is basically the new code word for Malthusian bullshit (and “anything system” is a code word for critical theory bullshit).

    What we should do with our “food system” is continually improve it; that is, discover new ways of producing, preparing, storing, and delivering food.

  18. Try growing it yourself and you’ll find out how valuable food really is. And what you decide is unfit for consumption is your own business. And what you decide is waste gets recycled back to the compost heap, and turned back under in a couple of years (if you’re in a cold climate, and don’t fuss with fancy composters). The problem is indeed the foolish rules may by the urban elite who have no practical knowledge of anything other than how to hail a cab.

    1. This.

      After putting hours of work into my tomato plants only to have many of them ruined by blossom end rot and the rest eaten by squirrels before they even turn red, I’m glad I can go to the store and buy as many tomatoes as I want.

      I like heirloom produce that is eaten the day of the harvest, but it’s idiotic to think that this type of agriculture can be expanded to feed the whole world.

  19. I’m from the government. I’m here to help you.

  20. Stop it now!

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  22. Don’t worry our government will solve the problem by creating food monitors who will follow you around the store and only allow you to buy as much as you need to sustain. don’t forget to keep you food cards handy that will show how many family members you are feeding. One country in Europe all ready has food monitors to follow you around the store to make sure you are only buying healthy foods, one of the Netherland nations I think.

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