Last Night on the Colbert Report

I am a fan of Stephen Colbert and the Colbert Report on Comedy Central. And I know that Stephen Colbert does not like to be pointed out as being wrong, but on Tuesday night's Tip of the Hat, Wag of the Finger segment, he definitely got it wrong (in my humble opinion).

And so I must wag my finger at Mr. Colbert. The issue that he was upset about was the new retail concept, Daily Table, which was founded by Doug Rauch, a former Trader Joe's executive. The mission of the the Daily Table is to bring affordable nutrition to the food insecure. How does it do that? It recovers unsold but still wholesome food from retail stores that are about to dispose of it because it has reached its food expiration date, or its sell by date or its use by date. Mr. Colbert sees this as an affront to the nation's poor because they are being offered lesser quality food.

But to start with, it's not lesser quality. And I personally would buy it because the nutritional value is still there but at a better price. And why is that? To put it bluntly, because the average middle class consumer has been hoodwinked into thinking that food has to be used by a certain arbitrary date or else it turns bad. And I do mean arbitrary. There are no standards, that I'm aware of, for establishing what those dates are. Before the 1970s, no one ever saw an expired or expiration date on food at all.

And when was the last time you ever heard of anybody dying from eating food with an expired sticker on it? For me, the answer to that is "never." The things that kill people, like e coli, happen at the source of the food long before the consumer buys it. It doesn't happen because the food has reached some magical date that makes it no longer look good on the grocer's shelf.

But besides bringing good quality food into existing food deserts, Daily Table is performing another important function. It's one that Doug Rauch recently talked about at the New York Times Food for Tomorrow conference in Pocantico Hills, New York last week. That is it's helping to solve the food waste issue.

And the food waste issue is a major, major issue. Figures that I've been given indicate that 40% of the food grown in this country never gets eaten as food. 20% of the water used for agriculture goes to grow food that is wasted instead of eaten. More fertilizer gets used and wasted because of all the food that is grown and then thrown out. More land usage is needed to accommodate food being grown only to be thrown out. More carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere because of wasted food.

There are numerous ways that food is wasted, but for purposes of this blog today, a big one is the whole idea of throwing food out because it has a sticker on it that says to sell by today or to use by today. Or there's an expiration date for today. Or the consumer believes the food is expired. Good quality food currently gets wasted. Daily Table will be doing a service to the planet, to agriculture, to the consumer and to the poor by offering expired foods at a reduced price as opposed to throwing out those foods.

And we, as consumers, can do our part by making sure that we don't throw out food simply because of a sticker with a date on it. As a new documentary says, Just Eat It.

Instead of lambasting Daily Table, Mr. Colbert should be having Doug Rauch on his show and giving Mr. Rauch the opportunity to educate Stephen Colbert's audience on the importance of reducing food waste. So, I tip my hat to Mr. Doug Rauch for tackling this important issue. And Mr. Colbert gets a finger wag for not thinking his opinion through more on this one.