A while ago I made a throw away reply to a tweet.
On Sunday afternoon I was interested to see a follow up post to the original tweet on theCultureVulture.
I felt inclined to respond.
The article ponders if eventually food banks will cease to exist due to a decision by supermarkets to use of out of date food as the ultimate loss leader for supermarket food sales. Rather than donate non saleable food, the food would be available for free, direct from the supermarket to anyone.
While the idea offers significant beneficial efficiencies by identifying and potential removing costs I would contend that it fails to deal with the most significant, perhaps fundamental, construct of the food market.
Some must starve so others will pay.
This core construct of the current global food systems informs its operation. In the proposed system described in the article, the smartest consumer response is to stop purchasing food and wait for it to be free. Undeniably many consumers may act in sub optimal way, either purchasing in respect to ‘tiers of status’ or perhaps just because their hungry!
Of course the article contends it is unlikely that a complete meal will be available through only the free food and that the free food will actual function as a loss leader. I suspect this would work and would perhaps even offer the ability to direct sales through correctly straggered distribution. Once can imagine a situation were a significant supply of free sausages is partnered with a promotion on, for purchase, Yorkshire puddings and mash.
However, such a change in distribution is likely to refocus suppliers as well. Under the current model over supply does not canabalise future sales. However, under the proposed model it would. (I think it is safe to assume products would only be purchased once the free supply is exhausted.) Consequently, I suspect that some manufactures would seek to reduce the supply of goods rather than risk this canablisiation effect. This could lead to a reduction in overall supply and a corresponding reduction in food waste (good) but at the cost of a reduce supply to food banks (bad).
Evidence of this kind of effect is perhaps forthcomming in other aspects of our present economy. One of the effects of income inequality is the creation of a small number of hyper-able consumers, rather than the broader base consumer market of the recent past.
There is significant value in imagining productivity ways to cut down on food waste. Either by increasing the efficiency of food use and/or facilitating access to adequate food for all. I fear that placing it on the good will of retailers is unlikely to work as there primary responsibility is still to make profit, not feed people.
The urgency of such discussions has perhaps never been greater. The possible near future of post work may create a majority who can’t pay who, under the present system, should starve. A future of mass starvation is not acceptable to me.