It turns out that what happens in my household is not atypical: My wife insists upon discarding products promptly upon reaching the date stamped on the packaging, against my arguments that such action is premature.
This common scene is actually part of a larger problem of food waste, according to Rep. Chellie Pingree of southern Maine. Pingree introduced the Food Recovery Act last week, the latest and perhaps most ambitious of her attempts to address the issue—a crusade she somewhat immodestly compares, wishfully, to the days of recycling.
"Nobody really thought anything of throwing everything in the trash” before that movement, Pingree tells me; today, people think nothing of separating and sorting.
Now, Pingree wants them to focus on the 40 percent of all food that goes to waste in the U.S. That, she argues, will save money and landfill space, and possibly even reduce hunger.
"There’s a real cost to this,” Pingree says. “Municipal landfills are overwhelmed by organic waste.”
So, for example, Pingree’s bill would clarify for consumers like my wife and I what those sell-by dates mean. In most cases (other than baby food), they are voluntary and defined by the manufacturer; they often indicate the end of peak taste rather than likelihood of spoiling.
Other pieces of the bill target farms, schools, grocery stores, and restaurants. It would also start within the federal government itself, by creating an Office of Food Recovery and requiring companies with federal food-service contracts to donate surplus food.
Encouraging donation of surplus food to food pantries and soup kitchens is a big part of Pingree’s approach. A big part of the bill consists of tax breaks for farmers, retailers, and restaurants making those donations.
Just as Pingree was announcing the Food Recovery Act in Portland last week, the Maine town of Brunswick was hit with news that the local supermarket was discontinuing its food donations to the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program—part of a new corporate policy through which Shaw’s Supermarkets is ending such donation programs, her office learned.
After she raised a stink about it, Shaw’s agreed to reconsider its new policy.
A tax incentive would presumably help Shaw’s, and others, decide to expand such programs, rather than scale them back. Pingree even hoped, as of this writing, to get that portion of the bill included in a large annual “tax extension” package expected to be passed by Congress before its winter recess.
Look For Books From Your Pediatrician
When the big education reauthorization bill was finally signed into law last week, the focus was understandably on the replacement of No Child Left Behind with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
But, as is often the case, interesting tidbits were tucked inside that bill on its way to becoming law.
For instance, as Education Week discovered more than 900 pages into the bill, the ESSA posthumously pardons Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion, who was convicted of violating the Mann Act. (Former Massachusetts Sen. Mo Cowan had been part of the congressional effort to pardon Johnson.)
A more relevant example came courtesy of New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. Grants for after-school programs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), taken from bills Shaheen had introduced earlier this year, were included in the ESSA.
And two New Englanders were behind the “Prescribe a Book Act,” which was also part of the final law. That measure was originally introduced in the House by Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, and in the Senate by Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island.
It provides matching grants for pediatricians to send children home with a free book at their regular checkups, from the age of six months until age 5. It was included in ESSA’s Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL) grant program, according to McGovern’s office. IAL and the LEARN Act are authorized for $160 million under ESSA, although it’s uncertain how much will actually be spent in the yet-to-pass appropriations bill.
And One To Keep An Eye On…
Maine Sen. Angus King has teamed up with senators from lake-heavy states in the northern Midwest, to produce the Waterfront Community Revitalization and Resiliency Act. It made a key leap forward last week, coming out of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
Waterfronts in many places have been changing dramatically, from industrial ports to commercial and tourism meccas—as is obvious in Portland, Maine; Lowell, Mass.; and dozens of smaller towns in New England. The same is true in Michigan, Wisconsin, and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, new challenges, particularly from global warming, are facing those same changing spaces. Coasts are eroding, storms are worsening, and sea levels are rising.
The legislation is modest—a realistic approach, given the current fiscal realities in Congress, King’s office argues. It would create a voluntary Resilient Waterfront Community designation within the Department of Commerce, and establish a network through which those cities and towns could share best practices and attract investment.
Social Media Picture Of The Week
Ayotte took the occasion of passing the ESSA education bill to Tweet this picture of herself in first grade, which she claimed to have serendipitously come across.