Replating, Dignity and Planning Ahead

We are working on increasing food security in low-income communities.  So, we talk a great deal about innovative ways to feed people with solutions like mobile food markets, or urban gleaning, or sending excess produce to pantries, or increasing SNAP/EBT benefits at farmers markets, or public community gardens.  You’ve seen (or can see) our posts on the various ways.  All the food mentioned in those solutions is fresh and unused.  But, a few days ago, we received a note asking about our take on addressing food security through re-use of food, or “replating.”

To begin, we’ve only seen the concept referenced as a method to feed homeless populations. People plan to leave the uneaten portions of their restaurant meals on the top of the nearest trash receptacle. But, we were being asked about it as a solution in low-income populations, more generally.  As much as we are steadfastly behind the idea of people offering food to people who need it, we can’t get behind the idea that replating is a “creative” way to get food into the hands of people who need it.

We totally get what people are trying to achieve by formalizing this food giving.  All the standard cliché’s arise: every little bit helps…something’s better than nothing.  And it’s noble to try and address the issue and call it activism.  It just doesn’t strike us as “activism” with so little “action” involved.  For us, activism is movement and direct action towards sustainable change, and interaction is an integral part of making sustainable change.  If you’re organized enough to plan where you’ll leave food and how, after you’ve been to a restaurant, then you can plan ahead for how to find a person to give it to.

Again, we don’t wish to denigrate good intentions…that valuable leftovers don’t get left. But if you’re already planning, why not push for restaurants to serve smaller portions to begin with?  Or eat your own dang leftovers.  Learn to make creative new dishes. Don’t make waste.  If you want to give, give directly to someone, or to a pantry or shelter.  Want some feel good? Take it from me, volunteering at one of these places makes you feel good.

We’re just worried that this is a way for people to further remove themselves from the plight of the hungry.  The dignity seems absent, like leaving scraps.  Not quite the same as seeing the hungry person, or appreciating that a real person needs your help.  And, just because some people eat from trash bins, doesn’t mean they want trash to eat.

One argument is that people don’t want you to pity them, so they’d rather take food left anonymously, than a doggy bag.  This has not been the experience of anyone here.  People usually appreciate the humanity in direct contact.  (Of course, there was a time I was cursed out for the type of food I offered.  Can’t please everyone, and that even happens in my own house sometimes.) Give directly to folks.  Walk up and ask if they’d like it.  But remember, sometimes people just want to be people and make choices about what they want — we all do.

If you must hand out food, and you’re planning ahead, think about getting a giftcard from a food store.  Or make it fresh produce.  I gave someone an apple the other day (freshly picked!) and he was so grateful it almost made me cry.  His cart was filled to the hilt with a life’s possessions, and here an apple was an uncommon delicacy.

To answer the original inquiry, though, about replating in low-income communities…  It’s probably clear that we wouldn’t advocate it.  People who are housed probably won’t be out searching drop off sites for replated food.  And, for the reasons already mentioned, it feels a step backward from humanity.  So what to do?  Yup, food does get wasted.  But if someone is really concerned about the issue, we encourage them to start from the front end – limit waste and provide food access for all – or give directly, not organizing and planning where to set out half-eaten meals. Let’s not further remove ourselves from being a community of human beings that are aware of and care about the welfare of one another.

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