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Can a Non-Profit Urban Food Initiative Alleviate Food Insecurity?



Doug Rauch, former President of Trader Joe's

Doug Rauch, former President of Trader Joe’s

Healthy eating (especially produce) is well out of reach for many who have hungry mouths to feed (despite ivory tower experts who proclaim that you can eat healthy for under $2 a day if you only follow their “tips”).

As food insecurity is certainly one of the key drivers of obesity especially within the lower socioeconomic strata, I was very interested in a paper by Deepak Palakshappa and colleagues, who describe a non-profit initiative to address food insecurity, in a paper published in JAMA Pediatrics.

This initiative, that has yet to open its first store, is to be launched by Doug Rauch, former president of Trader Joe’s grocery chain, who believes that nonprofit supermarkets in low-income neighborhoods can help provide nutritious low-cost foods by selling food gathered from the fresh produce and perishables that are discarded from other supermarkets. (The first store, named the Daily Table, has been proposed to open in Dorchester, a low-income neighborhood in Boston, Massachusetts.)

Indeed, there is an incredible amount of food that goes waste because it either does not meet the high standards of appearance of supermarket chains or is close to or past its “best-before” date.

As the authors point out,

“While most people believe these dates are based on safety, manufacturers and retailers focus on a product’s shelf life, which is based on peak freshness, which is a function of how the food looks and smells. Many manufacturers date their products earlier because of concerns about protecting their brand image. The US Department of Agriculture states the labels are not safety dates and if food is handled and stored properly, it should be safe to consume even if it is past the date. The confusion specifically regarding date labeling is estimated to lead to 32 billion pounds of avoidable food waste a year.”

The paper also discusses whether such an approach would be deemed ethical. As the authors are quick to point out, the first store has yet to be opened so exactly how things will play out in real life awaits to be seen. 

However, there are good reasons to assume that this initiative has the potential to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables and offers option of purchasing low-cost healthy foods rather than mandating their consumption of healthy foods. The location of these stores in low-income neighbourhoods should help addresses the disparity in access to healthy foods by providing a convenient place for individuals who otherwise may not have healthy foods readily available.

The stores will also offer cooking and health eating classes to promote the autonomy of clients to determine with items to purchase.

The authors also hope that this approach, rather than blaming the individual, will provide an environment conducive to healthier eating while also respecting local social and cultural values.

Of course, whether all of this will work and whether or not such an initiative can be economically viable in the long term remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the initiators of this idea should at least be commended on giving this a shot.

@DrSharma
Edmonton, AB 

Hat tip to Geoff and Ximena for bringing this article to my attention

2 Comments

  1. Hi Dr. Sharma

    Fantastic idea – thank you for sharing. They should simply market it to everyone, not just “poor people”. The real ethical issue here is that we throw this food out in the first place – not that anyone would want to sell it. We should all be eating this ugly produce.

    Check out how this has been done in France. The video is clever and cheeky. My favourite line is “the failed lemon – from the creator of the lemon”. http://www.treehugger.com/corporate-responsibility/how-one-grocery-store-fighting-food-waste-ugly-produce.html

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  2. Thank you for this post Dr. Sharma. I came across an article written by Ellyn Satter entitled Family Meals Focus-Practicing Nutritional Judo, certainly an interesting article. I’m wondering if you’ve had a chance to read that article and if so, what your take on the subject is.

    Thanks again for all your post!

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