If aliens were studying human societies, other than our bizarre obsession with blowing things up, they’d likely be most shocked at the way in which we manage our food. While industrialized agriculture and corporate supermarkets have produced and distributed food on an almost supernatural scale, the amount we waste and the inefficiencies in the system are so grotesque as to be criminal.
According to a 2014 report from the USDA: “In the United States, 31 percent—or 133 billion pounds—of the 430 billion pounds of the available food supply at the retail and consumer levels in 2010 went uneaten”. When waste costs over $1 billion to dispose of and more than 40 million people in the United States are defined as ‘food insecure,’ it is clear something is very, very wrong.
But thanks to the former president of Trader Joe’s Doug Rauch, this could all be about to change with the emergence of a new, non-profit grocery store “Daily Table,” which aims to redress the major inefficiencies in the US food system in an extremely innovative way. Reports the Boston Globe:
Daily Table on Washington Street in Dorchester looks like a boutique supermarket. Carrots and squash fill wood crates, precooked bean soups and pastas line refrigerator cases, and a 7-foot window displays a bustling kitchen where chefs chop vegetables and cook chili.
But unlike Whole Foods and Star Market, the new business isn’t built on profit margins or sales growth.
Daily Table bills itself as the first not-for-profit grocery store in the country with a mission to provide nutritious and affordable meals for low-income families. The store is expected to open soon, pending final permits.
The current planned prices — $1.19 for a dozen eggs, $1.99 for a block of cheddar cheese and 55 cents for a can of tuna — are considerably lower than the cheapest alternatives at traditional supermarkets. The store can offer lower prices because it sources surplus foods or goods nearing their “sell-by” dates from farmers, supermarkets, manufacturers, and food distributors, who would rather donate or sell their products at steep discounts than toss them in the trash.
This might sound like the food is bad to ultra picky American consumers, but Rauch says this is not the case as the food purchased or donated is usually just unsold inventory, or have blemishes that have nothing to do with quality. To keep prices low, the food is sold at cost or with a small mark-up. The model ensures that sales “cover the costs of labor, rent, food, trucking, storing, and other operating expenses.”
“Our goal, if we’re lucky, is to break even,” Rauch told the Globe. “That would be fantastic.”
Once profit is taken out of the food system as the major driving force, the actual business of feeding everyone nutritious food can get underway. The system as it stands is insane — not only is healthy food ludicrously expensive (just go to your local Whole Foods, where organic eggs can cost up to $8), but everything else is generally low quality, pumped full of antibiotics and grown with chemical pesticides to keep costs down. We also eat food grown thousands of miles away from us creating a giant CO2 footprint, and at such low costs that farmers barely make a living. This results in the wreckage of ecosystems crumbling under the weight of industrial agriculture, making the entire process not only incredibly unfair and wasteful, but completely unsustainable in the long run.
Daily Table can’t fix the food system completely, but it provides a new, more sane model that provides hope for the future.
More of this please.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.