Why grocery stores destroy food: Serving the market versus serving people

January 24, 2022 by Joshua
in Relationships

When farmers grow for CSAs (where buyers like me pick up a weekly drop-off direct from the farm), they grow for specific people. They’re motivated to grow for flavor and quantity most, it seems, as a customer who keeps buying from his CSA because the flavor is out of this world and the quantity for the price is high.

When farmers grow for a farmers market, they grow for the produce to sell through a market. Flavor and quantity matter, but appearance and shelf life start to matter more.

When farmers grow for supermarket chains, economic conditions, consistency, shipping durability, and other things that matter more to commodity markets in general than what I look for in a peach start to matter more.

When farmers grow for industrial processors, the properties of the produce don’t matter. Apple Jacks may contain some apples, but probably not affecting the flavor that humans could detect. They use chemicals for that flavor.

Why does our society value markets over people? To value a market changes our values relative to valuing our relationships with people. I’m not sure if I’ve written enough to convey that difference. It may take some reflection.

I’ve been volunteering picking up groceries from stores that would otherwise throw it away and bring it to a drop-off point for anyone to pick it up.

Talking with volunteers about stores that decline our requests to participate, we can see from their trash that they throw away perfectly good food as part of their business model. Beyond throwing it away, they destroy it, poking holes in packaging and destroying raw produce. They don’t allow employees to take the food they have to destroy. Whole Foods, I’ve heard, is the worst, and hides its waste from the outside world seeing it, suggesting they destroy the most.

They are pursuing efficiency in the market over people. I’m a big fan of efficiency, but subject to higher values, not as a value itself, which then subverts other values. Billions of people stand to suffer from climate change and other environmental damage, lowering Earth’s ability to sustain life. Amartya Sen won the “Nobel” Prize in Economics (that prize isn’t a genuine Noble Prize, but carries some prestige anyway) for showing how many famines result from not distributing food, not from lack of food.

Today’s valuing of market efficiency over human health, wrongly believing that making a market more efficient helps human health, is what Hannah Arendt described as the Banality of Evil. We’re sleepwalking into catastrophe by demoting values in favor of efficiency, leading to isolation, lower quality, pollution, and more.

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