joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
So, there's this thing I've seen. Well meaning people talk about and share FB memes about giving our leftover food that restaurants and businesses are going to throw away to the homeless. I want to first qualify my following rant by saying that I absolutely agree that we waste too much food and if something perfectly edible is going to be thrown away, it should instead be given to those who can't afford to purchase it. I work backstage. I watch enormous amounts of food go to waste when the hotels throw away their leftover catering and refuse to allow the stagehands and hotel workers to eat it or take it home to feed our families. So keep that in mind when I go off here for a minute.

There is a reason why we throw perfectly good food away instead of giving it to homeless people. It has been tried before but it turned out to be expensive. Remember, I'm still in favor of it. I do not believe the expense justifies the throw-away policy. But I don't think a lot of people who share these memes or complain in their living rooms with like-minded friends understand the framework involved in making the shift towards sharing food.

Here's why it's expensive. It has to be done safely. See, when a society sees a group of people who "deserve" to be fed table scraps, that society, collectively (at least, our selfish, independent, bootstraps society does) thinks less of that group. When that society thinks less of that group, the society, collectively, is willing to do all kinds of awful things to that group even while it's in the midst of supposedly caring for that group. This means that it becomes practice to give them substandard products. They're *table scraps*. It's the shit that we were going to *throw away*. Yes, lots of it is totally good, good enough to sell but for whatever reason, it just didn't sell. But usually, by the time we are ready to throw it away, it's because it's no *longer* "good enough to sell".

There is a window in which the food is still safe to eat, between those "good enough to sell" and "rotten" states. But in order to make sure the food is safely within that window, we need some kind of quality control system in place. That takes money. It takes money to research, to design, and to implement. Either the restaurants have to bear the brunt of those costs (which they will then pass onto the consumers who have a history of complaining whenever costs rise), or the citizens will have to support it through taxes.

Now, I am not anti-taxes. I believe a healthy civilization requires its citizens to contribute to its well-being, which means that it's our civic duty to pay taxes. But I, along with everyone else I know, think that I already pay more than my "fair share" and I don't agree with all the places my money is going. So, threaten to raise taxes, and the society rejects the proposal. Of course we can re-work out current budget so that other things get less money so that we can pay for public works, that's not the point. The point is that everyone has their own opinions about taxes and there will be an outcry and a process (which costs money) to implement this particular solution.

In order to protect the health, safety, and even dignity of the recipients of this particular form of charity, it will take money and it will take *oversight* to institute it on a wide scale. That's something that a lot of the people who believe in this food-sharing idea disagree with. There needs to be *some kind* of regulatory body that can come up with safety standards in the best interest of the recipients and that has the teeth to do something about it when the businesses fail to maintain those standards. Sure, there are some businesses out there that are run by caring, compassionate individuals who will do the right thing. These are the businesses who are already trying to find solutions to this problem around the legal consequences currently in place. This is that one business who put a refrigerator outside for food that anyone can just come up and take something. This is that one pizza joint that just gives away slices to anyone who can't pay.

But *businesses* are not people. They are run by people, but contrary to our current legal opinion, corporations are not people. Businesses, by their very nature, are sociopathic. Good people often run businesses and compensate for the sociopathic nature of these entities, but that is still their nature, and not all of the are run by people with the same value systems.

When considering policies to help the downtrodden, we have to actually consider what's in the best interest of that specific group. In this case, we have to think about how this particular system of giving away dumpster food can harm them and what we can build into the system to protect them.

Most of the people I know who are in favor of this idea but who haven't really thought out the logistics of how it can be done are also opposed to the FDA because it's a governmental agency. But that agency is responsible for why you can go to the grocery store and reasonably expect to not get sick from the food you buy. It's not perfect, but if you got the emails that I get from their warning systems and if you know people who work behind the scenes like I do, you'd be shocked at how much the FDA actually does successfully to protect people. They're kinda like stagehands - if someone notices you at your job, then you're not doing your job well. Precisely because the FDA is so good at protecting people, we have the luxury of not being aware of how good they are at protecting us.

We can't just "give" food away to homeless people. You, as an individual, who goes to the store, buys something with your own money that was intended to be sold to someone like you (a person who has the money to pay for it) and was filtered through a protection agency like the FDA, YOU can just give food away to homeless people because you, personally, are taking your own privileges and extending them like an umbrella to someone who doesn't have those privileges.

To make this a society-wide policy, though, we have to give the homeless people their own umbrellas of protection. We have to include in the system safety checks and quality control. That's actually more complicated than it sounds because it's not as simple as just a guy standing in front of a dumpster looking and sniffing at food to make sure it's still good. Judging food safety is actually a complex technical process, and besides the mechanics of the job, we also have the psychology of the job to fight against.

As I said above, we, collectively, view the homeless as a certain Other group. I know lots of people who argue about giving food to the homeless or making more shelters, but who refuse to utilize certain government services because they might have to sit shoulder to shoulder with one of those smelly, crazy homeless people in the waiting room. We have to "do something" to make the problem of homelessness go away, but we don't want to actually, y'know, MINGLE with them.

Oh, but wait! I was homeless for a while! Oh, but wait again, I'm somehow "different" from all those homeless people, so it's totes cool to loan *me* money or give *me* a couch to sleep on, but not one of those icky gross people on the street - wouldn't let one of *them* in my house because they might steal something. Wouldn't give one of *them* money because they might just buy booze or drugs with it. Wouldn't want to sit next to one of them in a waiting room because they might smell or talk to us with their crazy talk. No, I was homeless because of circumstances, but *they* are homeless because they're lazy or crazy and don't want to work or help themselves. (this whole paragraph was sarcasm, btw)

Even when we really and truly believe that it's our duty to help those who are less fortunate than we are, we still see those people as Other. Even when we *know* someone in that group as an individual, we tend to see that person as an individual and somehow apart from their group. Do you know how many times I've been told "you're pretty cool, for a chick" or "but you don't *act* like a Mexican" or "but you're so ethical, what do you mean you're an atheist?" or "yeah, but you don't really 'count' as one of those homeless"? Let's just say that if I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say that I was somehow an exception to my demographic, I would no longer be in one of those demographics (low income, in case that was unclear, I would have a lot of money then).

I'm not at all doubting the good intentions of anyone who says that we ought to give all our leftover food to homeless people. I absolutely believe that you believe that your intentions are pure and out of the goodness of your heart because you care about people. But I am not naive to the nature of the human brain's ability to compartmentalize and Other people. We can't just "give food away", we have to ensure that it's safe to give, both physically safe and psychologically safe.

Food stamps, welfare programs, handouts, shelter cafeterias - these are places and programs that instill shame. They inspire humiliation. They lower people's self-worth. They shouldn't, but they do, because we all still think of people who need assistance as "taking handouts" and not being good enough. Look at all the efforts made to restrict food stamps to only certain foods? Look at how appalled everyone got when they thought a poor person might actually get a decent cut of meat with their food stamps? And then look at how many people sneer at poor people for eating junk food, because *we took away their ability to eat healthy food*. Poor people don't "deserve" luxuries. They don't "deserve" steak or organic kale (unless they grow it themselves, of course, which they *ought* to do, y'know, in that plot of land they can't afford to own). They don't "deserve" to drink alcohol or carry their EBT card in a designer purse they found at a thrift store or to drive to that store in their Mercedes Benz that they bought before they lost their jobs and homes and dignity.

When we institute programs that promote feeding poor people table scraps, it has to be done very carefully. It has to be done in a way that doesn't further the resentment that people are somehow "getting away" with something. It has to be done in a way that preserves their dignity and treats them as equal human beings, not the pet dog that we're "spoiling" by giving our leftovers to.

And because we have to fight against those conflicting mindsets - that they are something lower than us that we deign to offer our scraps and think we're doing them a favor vs. that they are cheats and sneaks trying to get the better of us - because we have to fight both those contradictory cultural ideas, we have to be super vigilant that policies like this are done *safely*.

*If* we think that they are dogs that we are magnanimously treating with our table scraps, we will be less inclined to make sure those scraps are set to the same standards as what we would eat ourselves. We feed our pets the gristle that we wouldn't eat. We feed our pets the food that isn't cooked to our satisfaction. We do this because our pets are not human and have different digestive standards, and for our pets, it's a luxury that they get the food that we don't think is good enough for ourselves, because they're not human. But homeless people are human.

*If* we think that they are somehow gaming the system and "getting away" with free stuff that we had to pay for, we will be less inclined to make sure that what they "get away with" is the same quality of product that we pay for. All our really expensive stuff is locked up, but the cheapo products aren't behind glass or tagged with RFID chips. Some stores even have certain products placed in certain areas for the purpose of tempting thieves so that they're less likely to try for the expensive products. It's sort of like an insurance policy, a write-off, the cost of doing business. We'll save the good stuff for our paying customers, but this cheap shit, well, if it makes them sick, that's what they get for trying to get stuff for free. If they want quality, they can pay for it like the rest of us.

Again, I am *in favor* of programs that make more things available to more people. One of the things that I love about my job is being able to eat off the carts in the back hallway, because that's one meal I don't have to pay for so I have a better chance of making rent this month. But eating off the cart in the back hallway means eating food that has been sitting out, unrefrigerated, all day long. We very quickly learn in my business not to eat things with mayo in them (no potato salad and no sandwiches with the condiments already on them!). We watch the food to see if flies have been settling, and how long. These foods are destined for the dumpster *for a reason*.

I am in favor of these food-sharing programs. But I understand the logistics involved. At least, I understand that the logistics are complicated and will take a lot of very smart people to figure out. It will cost money. It needs to be done carefully. It will require oversight and regulation. In order to accomplish this humanitarian goal, we will have to institute several things that many of my caring friends are opposed to - regulation, bureaucracy, oversight, money. That is *why* we aren't already doing these things. We can't have it both ways. We are too populous to behave as though we are still a small tribal society that will look out for its own because our survival depends on looking out for others. There are trade-offs to be had. Personally, I think those trade-offs are worth it, or at least acceptable and doable. But many of the people who have noble goals don't like those trade-offs and that's how we got to where we are today.


April 2017

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