Smarter ideas for feeding the world


One of the most maddening aspects of modern life is the way we deal with food. Too many of our neighbors don’t have enough of it. The rest of us waste too much of it.

Our mindlessly discarded food ends up in landfills, where it decomposes and releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is more potent than carbon dioxide.

For the second straight year, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is targeting food waste in his proposed budget. And this plan is even better than last year’s version. It’s time for the New York state legislature — in particular, the state senate — to join the campaign.

The numbers make a compelling argument for action in New York and across the country. In America, we waste an estimated 40 percent of the food we produce, about $218 billion worth. Saving one-third of that would yield enough food to feed all 42 million Americans who suffer from hunger.

Cuomo’s plan would require any organization generating more than 2 tons of excess food per week to donate edible items to a hunger-relief organization such as a food bank, and to recycle the rest through composting or anaerobic digestion. The tonnage mandate is smart; it applies to about 1,700 large generators statewide, including hospitals, supermarkets, colleges, hotels and prisons that collectively waste about 400,000 tons per year, while exempting, for example, small restaurants and groceries.

The proposed law would boost funding by $8 million over the earlier plan to help generators, food banks and municipalities with new equipment and other preparations. Other improvements: hardship waivers for entities that, for example, make good-faith efforts but can’t find carters to haul their scraps, and mileage waivers to those more than 40 miles from a facility that can accept their food.

Some large food users and producers already are helping. Long Island’s farmers, many supermarkets, NYU Winthrop Hospital and Olive Garden restaurants are among those donating excess food. But the state’s 10 regional food banks recover only a fraction of excess edible food.

There’s room for improvement. And not only for businesses. All of us have an obligation to cut down on what we waste in our own homes by eating what we buy, or buying less.

More food for the hungry, less space taken in landfills, reduced methane emissions, fewer trucks carting garbage, less air pollution, more energy — that’s a recipe for success.