Sunday, December 4, 2011

Dumpster Diving

Curious after hearing that a few Towson students have dumpster dived for groceries at the local Trader Joe’s, I thought this kind of activity must be pretty common in this economy and with rising food prices, so I did some research. First, I found a clever and entertaining documentary called “DIVE!” which confirmed that, yes, this is an increasingly common activity in the United States, but not just amongst college students. Jeremy Seifert, the creator of Dive!, and friends put food on the table by dumpster diving, and argue that doing so is helping to counteract the extreme amounts of food waste from grocery stores and by people who cling too tightly to expiration and sell-by dates. I also discovered through this assignment that our very own professor, James Manley, has dumpster dived for bread before.

Seifert is not the only one responding to rises in food prices that have lead to even more food waste. Pope Benedict XVI commented on food speculation in an address to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization that “poverty, underdevelopment and hunger are often the result of selfish attitudes which, coming from the heart of man, show themselves in social behavior and economic exchange.” According to The Wall Street Journal, the Pope’s views on food speculation are not aligned with the views of Ben Bernanke, who feels that increased demand in Asia is contributing more to the increase in food prices. For those who love data, corn prices have gone up by 61% in the past year. Coffee prices have risen by 46%. Investment in food has risen by 1900% in just five years (from $13 billion to $260 billion). I would argue that both the demand and heavy speculation can be attributed to rising prices; neither factor should be brushed off.

In preparation for World Food Day, 461 economists, according to National Public Radio, called for better regulation of speculation on food prices and other commodities, arguing that it has contributed to volatile price changes and global hunger. There is plenty of food out there, but the price is just too high, and the increasingly impoverished population of the United States and other nations are suffering because of the high prices. Who is benefiting? Obviously those making a profit from speculation, but some readers of NPR argued that speculation helps farmers feel more secure when producing and knowing that they will not be operating at a loss. Are the benefits to this small portion of the population worth the losses and hunger put upon the global population? Would you dumpster dive for food?
--Jade Clayton

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