I'm puzzled by the mixed reactions to the announced opening of discount "expired" food store concept The Daily Table, spearheaded by former Trader Joe's president Doug Rauch, and slated to open in Dorchester, Massachusetts this spring. Could consumers' fears of sell-by dates really cause them to abandon slightly older food completely? Is it gross? By now you've read the stats: Americans waste an estimated 35 million tons of food a year, or about 40% of the food we buy. That's over a hundred billion dollars that could feed every hungry person in America, but doesn't.
As someone with precisely zero fear of food that doesn't display something very clearly wrong, I'm excited to make good use of that which would only nourish the bacteria decomposing it. Here are five points in unabashed favor of getting The Daily Table open ASAP, all over the place.
1. "This ____ expired two days ago" is significantly more of a First World problem than your scent coordinator and clutter specialist having clashing philosophies. You need food to have First World problems. One in four Americans doesn't (and the next round of SNAP cuts will make it worse), so I declare a moratorium on the First World Problem meme until we have better control over our food supply. In the meantime, nothing expired two days ago. Your eggs, cheese, milk, grains, canned, frozen, bottled, bagged stuff, it's all fine. Cook meat and fish the day you get it or the day after.
2. Along those lines: sell-by dates are suggestions, not commandments, and they're certainly not expiration dates. Look at the carton of eggs you bought recently. They're good for six weeks right? They're also good for seven weeks. Believe it or not, they're even good for 8. Apply that logic to other logical foods.
3. Leftovers are next to godliness. I know people with irrational fears of food that wasn't cooked the same day it was eaten. It's very hard to change their tune by convincing them their food isn't tainted. It's much easier to educate them (using a light touch, unless of course you travel with a fold-away podium) by earnestly mentioning that everyone's food waste contributes to everyone's food shortage. The less we buy — and statistically we're buying 1.4 times what we need — the faster the system will adjust to producing and selling the correct amount of food. Not like Hunger Games District 13 correct amount of food, just not so much that dozens of millions of tons return to whence it came.
4. Maybe this will actually work. Doug Rauch has a hunch but no proof that customers given the choice of guranateed safe but slightly older food and brand-new food will choose the former. "Well, we'll see, won't we?" says the former TJ's president. "I think that the issue here is how you talk about it."
5. What are you waiting for, anyway? Most of the world isn't on the "food shopping Sunday" schedule. They make trips to produce markets, butchers, fishmongers and bakers several times a week. Not only does this ensure their food is fresh and give purveyors an accurate idea of how much to stock, it instills a realistic sense of how long food actually lasts.
In summation, if it smells bad and/or is spawning new unrelated life, toss it. Otherwise, do the system a favor, join the clean plate club and check out The Daily Table, which could soon be revolutionizing a city near you.
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