I was surfing around on the internet the other day when I came across this story on the MSNBC site about a food bank's donations that were found rotting in the California desert. The story goes that these items were sent to a pig farm because the food items were unusable for human consumption (industry donations of pallets full of items that were out of date, for example). What doesn't really make sense are the items like toothpaste, teeth whiteners, bottled water, etc that are sitting there as well. Apparently the pig farmer left the land, but the food bank didn't know that when they dropped off the shipment. It's just been sitting there in the hot sun, rotting and stinking. I'm really glad that there's no such thing as smell-o-vision yet.
The part of the story that really gets me thinking though, is the statement made that almost 20% of donations received at this particular food bank (and I'm guessing this would be fairly equal at similar organizations in other parts of the country) are not usable. Companies donate food when it goes beyond the date it can be sold in the grocery store - some of it still usable and some of it not. They sort it out and if it's not usable, they were passing it on to the hog farms (which makes me kind of glad I don't live near a pig farm or eat pork products anymore). Referring to a piece by Christine Ahn, the article then talks about practices of donations and whether it's really about solving a hunger problem or solving a corporate problem. Ahn proposes that the system is really about corporate tax breaks - they can donate things that would otherwise lose them money and claim a tax deduction for it. Hmmmm.
I admit that I'm almost automatically skeptical of the big corporations and institutions in general, but this seem too obvious. What is someone who is hungry going to do with teeth whiteners? I guess if they have a nice white smile when they starve to death, perhaps they have a better shot at getting their picture in the paper or on tv to raise awareness of the problem?! Come on! And according to the article, about 1/4 of the donations received are things like snack foods, cookies, soda, and coffee - not things that are nutritionally valuable. Granted, someone who is hungry may not care if they're eating cookies or vegetables, as long as they get something in their bellies, but how long can someone survive on bread and soda? Are we really helping them or just prolonging their deaths? Is this charity or torture? or both?
I claim to be a follower of Jesus, who taught that we're supposed to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, etc. but how often do we actually DO those things? How many of us feel that when we clean out our pantry shelves and donate it to the local food bank, that we're doing our part? Are we really? Does this system really do what we think it does - what we want it to? Or is it another way for big companies to help their bottom lines?