Vegetables rescued from partisan bias make for good eating
By Martin Morse Wooster
Senior Fellow, Capital Research Center
(originally posted at Philanthropy Daily)
I’ve been spending too much time staring at screens lately, so I feel I ought to go out and do some reporting. But this post is on a meal I didn’t get to eat.
I read in the online version of the Washington Post that a British nonprofit called Feedback was going to have an event in downtown Washington that promised to give away 5,000 free meals made from food that would have otherwise been thrown away because it would go to waste. The meals, I was told, would be made from “rescued vegetables.”
Rescued vegetables! Did the environmentalists unlock the gates to allow the carrots to frolic in the fields? Nor was I excited about the “disco food party” the night before where volunteers chopped the food. If I was going to chop veggies for two hours, I’d prefer a string quartet as background music, thank you.
What intrigued me was that the list of sponsors, besides various District of Columbia government agencies, was the Rockefeller Foundation. Now I know the Rockefeller Foundation cares nothing about their founders’ intentions, but I also know that John D. Rockefeller knew the value of a dollar, and there is more than one story about his children and grandchildren complaining about their mingy allowances. This may be a rare case where the Rockefeller Foundation, perhaps inadvertently, was doing something of which their founder would approve.
Moreover, I probably should be eating more vegetables. So I was looking forward to the event. But the day before, I learned of the funeral of an old friend with whom I had once worked. The funeral was at 1 and the “Feeding the 5000” event started at 11, so I thought I could make it. However, the event didn’t actually start until noon, by which time I had to get back on the subway.
Feedback is a British nonprofit created by Tristram Stuart. Stuart, who was present in Washington, has led “Feeding the 5000” events all over the world, including one in New York City last week. The one in London featured “Free Hugs from the Love Banana” and some guy wearing cloves of garlic around his neck for some weirdo hippie reason. I didn’t see any of them at the Washington event, although there were people dressed in vegetable costumes to keep people in line.
I stayed long enough to see the meals, which included lots of tomatoes and red peppers, being cooked in huge paella pans. I heard José Andres, a famous chef whose restaurants are enjoyed by people much more powerful and important than I am, explain how the food (which he pronounced “fud”) was delicious. I finally heard a guy from the Rockefeller Foundation announce that the foundation would donate $130 million to fight food waste. I’m sure the meals served at Pocantico and Bellagio in the conferences sponsored by these grants will be delicious, nutritious, and not use any rescued vegetables.
I looked at Feedback’s website, and found that none of the activities they called for violated my free-market principles. They want stores to be able to sell funny-shaped fruits and vegetables that are good to eat but peculiarly shaped, allow gleaners to go to farms and gather crops, that would otherwise be thrown away, to be donated for meals for the poor, and rationalize sell-by dates so that consumers actually know when the food they buy goes bad. All of these actions make good sense to me.
Two other actions of Feedback are worth noting. One, called “The Pig Idea,” would allow British farmers to feed pigs slop made from rotting fruits and vegetables that would be otherwise thrown away. Feedback held an event in 2014 where they fed 4,000 people pork that came from pigs that had been fed vegetarian slop. I gather this is only a British campaign that deals with restrictions the British imposed after the foot-and-mouth-disease epidemic of 2001.
In January, Feedback partnered with Britain’s Hackney Brewery to come out with Toast Ale whose makers, according to Rebecca Smithers in the Guardian, actually claim it’s the greatest beer since sliced bread. The idea is that the ale is made from bread that would otherwise be thrown away. A portion of the sales goes to support Feedback.
Finally, it should be noted that Stuart, according to this 2014 interview by David Derbyshire sees a role for genetically modified food. While he is opposed to genetically modified crops that are “increasing the profits of large agribusiness monopolies,” Stuart says that “that’s very different from saying that GM should be avoided.”
Derbyshire, summarizing Stuart’s views, says “blight-resistant potatoes, for instance, could be a viable option because Europe has no wild population of potatoes with which a GM variety could accidentally cross-fertilize. Built-in resistance to blight could reduce the need for fungicides and cut the risk of farmers losing entire crops, he said.”
Finally, it should be noted that, although the meal served was vegetarian, I did not see any animal rights activists in Washington, or anyone telling me that “meat is murder” and I had to repent. This was a good idea on Feedback’s part.
I learned two things from Feedback’s event. First, conservatives should realize that not all ideas promoted by environmentalists are reflexively bad. Sometimes the greens are right, and we should admit this.
Greens should learn that screaming is not persuasion. We have too much screaming in our politics, be it Sanders supporters fighting the cops, trolls defaming women on the Internet, or students melting down in front of conservative lecturers.
If environmentalists want to persuade people like me, tell me how being green will help me save money. Don’t tell me my life in a wealthy country is immoral or that eating meat is evil. Tell me that a mostly plant-based diet is a healthy and thrifty one and I’ll take you seriously.
I wish I could have had the meal Feeding the 5000 served. I’m sure it was delicious.
 John D. Rockefeller, however, wasn’t as frugal as John D. MacArthur, who once famously ordered his son Rod to use the pay phone in a hotel lobby because the pay phone would cost a dime, whereas the hotel phone would cost 20 cents.