At this week’s Wednesday audience, Pope Francis reflected on a “culture of waste” that becomes common in wealthy societies. He offered probing insights on the connections between consumerism and wastefulness, and how we can easily forget about people in need. Rocco Palmo has the translated text of the Pope’s remarks here:
I’d like to zero in on his thoughts about wasting food. In his prepared remarks, he says:
Consumerism has led us to become used to an excess and daily waste of food, to which, at times, we are no longer able to give a just value, which goes well beyond mere economic parameters. We should all remember, however, that the food we throw away is as if stolen from the table of the poor, the hungry! I encourage everyone to reflect on the problem of thrown away and wasted food to identify ways and means that, by seriously addressing this issue, are a vehicle of solidarity and sharing with the needy.
He repeated the same sentiment in a tweet today:
Consumerism has accustomed us to waste. But throwing food away is like stealing it from the poor and hungry.
I’m really uneasy about the moral implications of these statements. Overall, I think his general reflections on waste are insightful and worth thinking about, but I have serious reservations about comparing food waste to stealing from the hungry.
I think the Holy Father’s words could be rephrased like this: Food is necessary for life. Without sufficient nutrition, nothing else is possible. Therefore, food has an intrinsic value that is much higher than the monetary price we pay in the United States, for example. Since we can pay a low price, we tend to treat food as a disposable commodity, rather than recognize its greater value.
At first glance, this strikes me as a legitimate point. Maybe I should be more aware of the value of food, and what a blessing it is to have food readily available at the nearest grocery store. On the other hand, though, I think it’s important to not over-sentimentalize or over-inflate the value of food. Also, as someone interested in economics, I can’t overlook the fact that food supply is governed by economic factors, not by whether individuals waste food. There’s no causal connection between me throwing away a rotten peach and a starving person in Africa.
In any event, I’m still pondering this question. I’d love to hear if anyone else has been thinking about the same issues.