In a press release, Publix CEO Todd Jones shared: “We have the unique opportunity to bridge the gap between the needs of families and farmers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. In this time of uncertainty, we are grateful to be able to help Florida’s produce farmers, southeastern dairies and families in our communities.” Last month, Publix Charities pledged to donate $1 million to be divided among Feeding America food bank locations.
Why are farmers and producers dumping excess goods? They’re in a tough spot with few easy answers. While the obvious solution is to funnel the food that ordinarily went to now-shuttered restaurants, colleges, or schools into grocers and food banks, reorganizing the food’s supply chain is difficult. Rerouting from restaurant distribution to grocery store distribution, for example, can be a challenge if the farmer suddenly needs specialized equipment or materials, or is uneasy burning bridges in established business relationships.
Agricultural economist Roland Fumasi put the common struggle in simple terms in an interview with Wired, saying: “For foods that are perishable, you either have to find it another home, another buyer, immediately, or you walk away from the crop.”
And farmers know better than anyone, that process is far from easy.
“They’re cutting their squash every day and throwing it on the ground, hoping the market will turn around,” Jim Alderman, a farmer in Florida, said in reference to his fellow local farmers as reported by Politico. He told the outlet that he, too, has started tossing his excess tomatoes, as major buyers in the area, including Disney, have ceased.
Alongside all of this food waste: hungry people. As Daily Kos has covered, school closures make sense amid the pandemic, but children who rely on free or reduced breakfast and lunch are especially vulnerable to shutdowns. This is another reason it’s good to look out for WIC-eligible items when you stock up at the grocery store; if you don’t need WIC assistance and can find another option, leaving those items on the shelf can be the difference between a low-income family bringing home food or not.
Estimates that more than 22 million people have filed for unemployment since Donald Trump finally declared the virus a national emergency are concerning in themselves. This number is on top of, of course, the nation’s ongoing hunger crisis. Publix is leading by example and, quite literally, helping people get food on their tables. Imagine if the GOP took that approach?