Pope Francis on the Morality of Wasting Food

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.

I’m in te same boat as you. Something about what he said has been bothering me, or rather, the way people are interpreting what he said is bothering me. I think it’s partially because someone else had posted about this same thing the other day and said something along the lines of, “Now I can tell my kids if they dont clean their plate, they’ll go to hell.” From what I could tell, this person was being serious. That statement really bothered me. For many reasons, one being that I have very young children as food waste just goes hand in hand with them. Food smashed on the floor, dropping it in the dirt, etc. by this persons interpretation, my kids, but more likely I (since they are too young to know better) will go to hell because I didn’t pick up their smashed or dirt covered door and eat it instead of throwing it away.

Something that I think you have to read about his statement is he said its “like” stealing. He didnt say it is stealing.

I completely understand where you are coming from in your post. I agree we should all be much more aware of our waste, especially in things a simple yet necessary as food. However there is no way that it is as simple as making sure we eat all of our leftovers.

The pope I dont think was referring to individuals thrwoing away rotten peaches.

I think he was reminding us of the need for austerity in our lives when millions lack basic needs in their lives

The parable of Lazarus and rich man can be a good pointer in this regrad.The rich man was not said to have done any sin which condemned him to hell.His sin was that neglecting the poor Lazarus.Similarly in our lives when we eat out from expensive places and indulge in unnecessary luxuries we are becoming like the rich man.Our indulgences however little that may be can mean a lot to many people.We need to be concerned about the sufferings of others(in this case lack of basic necessities of life)

This is how I would interpret Pope’s words

One needs to create awareness in children from an early age.Then only they will realize the importance of it when they are grown up.I think habits are cultivated easily during childhood

But telling your kids they’ll go to hell becaus they isn’t finish their Mac and cheese is not the way to do this.

I did not mean to say that one should tell kids they’ll go to hell if they waste food. Rather they should be made aware that there are people who donot have anything to eat and hence avoid wasting

The connection with the rich man and Lazarus is very pertinent! Thank you for sharing. The overall idea you’re expressing strikes me as very similar to what Francis has been saying, so I suspect you’re right. He’s probably talking about solidarity with people who are suffering, more than anything else. In that sense, he’s warning us about turning a blind eye to the needs of others. When we treat food as a simple commodity and waste it with abandon, maybe it’s time to examine our conscience and see if we’ve lost a sense of how valuable food is, and how blessed we are to have it.

That said, I still have reservations about extending that line of thinking. Solidarity and concern for the needs of others is important, but how strictly should we apply that thinking? You mention exquisite restaurants as an example of “unnecessary luxury”. Does that mean that fine dining is sinful? Every time a person eats at an expensive restaurant, he/she could have eaten at home, saved the money, and given it to the poor. Therefore, should we conclude that fine dining is “like stealing from the poor and hungry”?

I don’t think that’s a valid inference. If it is, it opens the door to a whole host of similar conundrums. In a way, you could say that fine dining involves a lot of art (colorful presentation of the food, etc). Art certainly isn’t necessary for nourishment, and it only adds extra expense. This quickly leads to the question: what about art in general? How can people justify spending hundreds of dollars on fine art (paintings, sculpture, etc), when there are so many people in the world who lack basic human essentials? By that argument, couldn’t we conclude that buying art is an even worse offense than fine dining, since it doesn’t even attempt to serve basic human needs?

Considerations like that make me very cautious about this kind of reasoning. Clearly, if we’re constantly engaging in self-indulgence with no regard for those who are hungry, there’s something wrong, but I think some balance of the two is where we should be. We’re not called to a life of complete austerity with no enjoyment.

I feel to the extend to which it is possible.That might mean we do not eat from expensive places at all which may be impossible for most of us.Imagine the situation where a saint comes down to earth and he is invited for a dinner by the faithful at an expensive hotel.I am sure the Saint the decline the invitation knowing the fact that there are lots in the world with out any food at all.But if one thinks a bit more practical what I can think of this at least reduce the frequency of eating expensive food and donate to poor.If some one have expensive food X times, any reduction in X, even if it is just 1 is a step in the positive direction

I seriously feel that it is a sin if it is for the purpose of lets say “to make the home look beautiful” (assuming the person knows that he has the responsibility to be considerate of others)

Having some enjoyment is not wrong but God always gives us the option to choose b/w those two.There is no harm in being austere.Why do priests and nuns have poverty as one of their vows?

80% of world’s wealth is enjoyed by 20% of the rich."**Stealings" **must have happened at some point of time in history and if I or you belong to that 20% we may be enjoying the fruits of those sins some one else must have committed.In that sense
“Stealing from the poor” makes some sense to me

It all boils down to how much we love God."And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded."I think if we are able to Jesus in everyone there won’t be any luxuries or wastage in our lives

PS:All are my personal views and I am not trying to enforce them on any one


There are many people in the 3rd world countries(where i live) that are unable to provide for their basic necessities of feeding…clothing and shelter.Thats our reality here!
I relate 100% with the Pope when he talks of “stealing from the hungary” because he has worked in the slumps of Buenos Aires and has seen first hand real suffering…real frustration…real injustice…If you have not lived with these people you will never truely understand what the pope means.
So…we are all called to leave our comfort zones and try to provide our time…resources to those underpriviledged and waste nothing of what God has so graciously given some of us.

When I think of food wastage I don’t think of kids throwing food on the floor. That is a waste of food, but it isn’t intentional waste of food by the adults.

I think more of the food we buy, put in our fridge and then throw out a week later because we didn’t bother to use it. We ate out, or went to the supermarket and bought something else that we ‘felt’ like. That is a waste of food because it is as good as throwing the money down the drain.

Just think if everyone stopped this type of wastage - buying only what they will use and using what they buy - how much we could give to the poor of the world without even changing our lifestyle!

I did a quick google search and this was at the top of the list.


I have become more conscious of my extremely good fortune in being an American. By the nation’s standards I am one of the “working poor”, but to tell you the truth, I’ve never lived a day that I didn’t have food to eat. I eat just fine, in fact I am 20-35 pounds overweight.

I think the problem is less about plate waste. My awareness of my good fortune and knowledge that so many others in the world suffer from constant hunger has automatically prompted me to be aware of plate waste. Even though I try hard not to throw out any food, I know that it doesn’t do the hungry any good. What would I say to them? “I know you are hungry, so I have eaten all of my food.”

What I do is set aside a small portion of my income to go to a charity that supports the hungry or needy. It comes out of my account monthly. I just learn to live without that part of my income. Even though I do this, I don’t think it amounts to much. It’s about $35 dollars. I on the other hand drink many cokes, eat at fast food restaurants 4 or 5 times a week. I eat well. I have a small entertainment expense each month. I smoke. Truthfully, I am only throwing some scraps to the poor.

I find it difficult to change. To consume less, spend less, and give more to those that are really hungry. Out of sight, out of mind? In today’s world, because of the speed of transportation, internet, and mass media it’s clear that there is not one Lazarus, but millions of Lazarus outside each and every door. It’s not the old days, when the guy had to actually physically be at your gate to help him. I am deeply concerned. I prefer Lazarus eat well like I do yet I know I’m not a man of deep love and passion. I give a little not a lot. That troubles me about myself. What also troubles me is the Lord. I am fully aware that we have been given fair warning.

I may not have the richest heart, which would make giving easier, but I can use my brain. I intend to curb my frivolous spending even further and give more to the poor. That way the Lord may still accept me because I acted wisely. But it is still just an intention. It’s difficult. My heart is poor.

Poverty is caused by over-population, as is pollution and nearly every other problem in modern society. Get over your hypocritical stance on birth control and the whole world will be better off. Birth control also reduces abortion.

I posted this on another thread but I think it applies here:

"*"POVERTY is easy to spot but hard to define. America sets its poverty line at $11,490 of income per year for a one-person household, or just over $30 a day. Any income below that amount is judged inadequate for the provision of fundamental wants. Other rich countries set their poverty lines in relative terms, so an increase in the incomes of top earners results in more poverty if everything else is held constant. The threshold for dire poverty in developing countries is set much lower, at $1.25 a day of consumption (rather than income). This figure is arrived at by averaging the poverty lines in the 15 poorest countries, not because $1.26 spells comfort. This is the yardstick by which poverty reduction in poor countries is measured. Remarkably, this poverty rate has halved worldwide, from 43% in 1990 to 21% in 2010. …

Almost all of the fall in the poverty rate should be attributed to economic growth. Fast-growing economies in the developing world have done most of the work."*

The vast majority of abortions occur because birth control fails.

Also, the theory that “poverty is caused by overpopulation” has been shown to be false many times.

What I think is hypocritical is someone who joins a Catholic forum and proceeds to insult the Church and the people who hold it dear.

You sound rather angry. Tell me, for what do you blame God?

I think it was G.K. Chesterton who said that food that is not needed is just as wasted if it is eaten as if it is thrown out.

The solution in most cases isn’t to eat more but to buy less. Obviously, saving them as leftovers is exempt, as they are eaten at separate times.

Yes, I agree. Furthermore, I think there are simple economic reasons to not buy more food than necessary. If I buy too much food, and some of it goes to waste, I’m wasting money. That’s a very practical reality. I question the importance of going beyond that practical argument and treating food as a sacred thing that should not be wasted. It seems far more convincing to say “Don’t waste food - it’s a waste of money” than it is to say “Don’t waste food - children are starving”.

Also if you are buying more food than you really need then you are artificially increasing demand. Given that America and much of the west buys a lot more food than it needs that mean that demand is higher than it needs to be and thus prices are higher than they should be. When you factor in the farm subsidies that many western nations have. It just gets worse.

I guess I agree overall. My original reaction was: why would it be impossible for most of us to avoid expensive restaurants? I suppose many of us are invited to fine restaurants at least a few times in our lives, but it would certainly be possible to avoid going as individuals. And of course, reducing the number of gourmet meals could allow someone to save money and give the additional savings to the poor. Does that mean no one should ever eat at a gourmet restaurant, though? I’d be hard pressed to say that.

I don’t think I can agree. I have a family member who has done a large amount of philanthropic work and donated money to a wide variety of causes. She also loves art, and her home is very tastefully decorated. I would be hard pressed to say that she has not done enough to help others, or that she is selfish with her possessions.

I’m not quite sure where the balance is, but my instinct is that it’s overly strict to dismiss all art purchases as frivolous and vain. If we follow that thinking, doesn’t it lead to the conclusion that artists are guilty of a worse sin than those who buy their work? Artists spend their working hours creating things that usually have no practical benefit for the hungry. Are they committing a sin, since they are spending their time on other pursuits, when they could be working full time to help the poor? I don’t think so.

It seems like a question of balance to me. If I realize that I’m spending most of my money on myself, and not putting enough aside to support the church and to help those in need, I should examine myself and make some adjustments. On the other hand, I don’t think we need to live an utterly austere existence in order to be faithful Christians.

I don’t think this logically follows. Of course, people have committed all kinds of injustices throughout history, and the story of money and power is also very often a story of grievous sin. At the same time, wealth ultimately comes from real value being created by people in the marketplace. If more people engage in trade, the total amount of wealth increases. Thus, wealth inequality doesn’t imply that some people stole from others. It’s not a zero-sum game.

As I understand it, the farm subsidies have counteracted any kind of price increase we might see from increased demand. Anecdotally, I’ve heard that farmers in developing countries sometimes cannot make a living on their produce, because food from America and Europe is too cheap.

I also remember reading that after hurricane Katrina, France sent a shipment of food to the United States to help with relief efforts, and it was turned back because we already had more than enough food of our own.

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