Walter Suza: America can afford higher minimum wage by reducing food waste
If it didn’t pass the smell test it would go to waste.
That’s what I learned as a child growing up in rural Tanzania. There was no electricity. There was no running water. There was no refrigeration. After buying a pound of beef at the butchery, one would walk several miles back home. The meat would be prepared and whatever was left over would be consumed, unless it smelled bad. And the best lesson was when eating something actually made me sick.
The region I was born in now has electricity and running water, and I guess many children are spared of my childhood experience.
Because of the lack of effective solutions to store food, food loss was real then. But that was a long time ago. Today I live in a country that doesn’t have problems with electricity or running water. Today I don’t have to worry about food getting spoiled and making me sick, unless a storm disrupts access to utilities.
Yet today I worry about my behavior and my children's behavior to waste food even when it is perfectly OK to eat. Bananas have been our worst struggle.
I swear, I have looked my children in the eye and asked for reasons why we always have overly ripe bananas that end up in the garbage. Each time I have this conversation with my kids, I promise that next time I would buy just enough for the three of us, yet I repeat the same mistake when replenishing fruit and vegetables.
And milk. I even tried to suggest the smell test, but my kid's response was like they had heard from a neanderthal, so the idea died a quick death. After such discussions with my kids, I sometimes look over my mom’s portrait and I could almost hear her voice chastising me for wasting food.
Often when I open the refrigerator I think of my mom and her struggle to keep me and my siblings safe despite the lack of all the technological advances I enjoy today. These thoughts take me to a sad place in my mind, a sadness from living in the land of plenty, yet a lot of food we produce goes to waste, such that on a per capita basis, the waste translates to almost a pound of food per day.
At the national scale, the United States Department of Agriculture estimates food waste is about 30-40 percent of the food supply. As a result, every year “52 billion pounds of food from manufacturers, grocery stores and restaurants end up in landfills rather than kitchen tables,” according to the organization Feeding America.
The economic impact of food waste is titanic. The USDA estimated the cost to be $161 billion almost a decade ago. If we factor in inflation, the cost might be much higher today. The last time the minimum wage was raised was also close to a decade ago, but inflation makes the $7.25 less helpful today. This is a sad reality for more than 80 million Americans.
In spite of this gloomy reality for many Americans, certain members of the Senate who are worth millions of dollars, have opposed raising the minimum wage. They do that even though according to the Congressional Budget Office, the effect of raising the minimum wage would increase the budget deficit to $54 billion over a 10-year period.
The deficit from raising the minimum wage is 3 times lower than the $161 billion lost to food waste.
Sadly, a larger proportion of the struggling Americans who would benefit from a wage increase are women, likely to be raising families on their own. But the lawmakers seem not to care about this.
Imagine, Senator, having to work two jobs and still live below the poverty line, meaning that there will not be enough to feed your family.
Imagine being poor in the land of plenty and hearing your leaders say that in spite of your hard work, we will not reward you for your effort to make it in this land of plenty. We will erect barriers that prevent you and your family from feeding your children and providing them access to healthcare and education.
Our decision to not raise the minimum wage would keep you and your family trapped in poverty. And if you should get sick or lose your job, we won't allow you the care you need. We will still make access to health care a herculean task for you, and we will still shame you for receiving unemployment benefits.
We are the land of plenty. We say we are the best country in the world. Yet we would discard billions of tons of food rather than “feed his lambs.”
This doesn’t pass the smell test. The Senate must discard this absurdity to the landfill of bad ideas.
America can afford to raise the minimum wage.
Walter Suza of Ames, Iowa, writes frequently on the intersections of spirituality, anti-racism and social justice. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.