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Posted: Jul 13, 2018 3:36 PM
Updated: Jul 13, 2018 3:54 PM

Most of the time when you hear me talking about food, I am talking about the food we eat. But a few years ago, I realized I needed to talk more about the food we DON'T eat.

Far too often, food is thrown in the trash and dumped in landfills instead of filling hungry bellies. You have probably heard the statistics: Nearly 40% of our food goes to waste in the United States -- either in the fields, on the docks, in grocery stores or in people's homes. That's 165 billion pounds of food every year. It is an astonishing number and one that sadly reflects both the extravagance and the waste seen in one of the richest countries in the world.

I promise you that our children and grandchildren will rightly hold us accountable for this tragic misuse of food that has led to a plundering of our land, an accumulation of greenhouse gases and the loss of precious water used to grow and produce that wasted food.

What boggled my mind, though, is the unacceptable disconnect between food waste and hunger. How is it possible that we trash this ridiculous amount of food while one in six children (one in eight people of all ages) in the United States is food-insecure, unsure when or if they will receive another meal? This is why I chose to focus on the charity Feeding America for CNN's Champions for Change series.

I didn't get into journalism to become an advocate for anything. In fact, the more I learn, the more I realize I still don't know. So it is not my nature to be so certain that I become dogmatic and categorically convinced that I am right. Yet after 17 years of traveling the world reporting on both natural and manmade disasters, this particular issue has haunted me more than most. And I now know it is one we can absolutely solve.

The most emotional story I have ever covered

Witnessing mass hunger and starvation during the 2011 famine in Somalia was the most emotional story I have ever covered. To this day, to speak about it, my chest tightens, my eyes redden, and I can't hold back the tears. It gets to me because it was senseless and so unceasingly brutal to watch. Also, I hate to feel helpless, which has gotten me into trouble at times as I dive headfirst into situations wanting to do something, anything, to try to help. During that famine, the UN estimates that more than a quarter of a million people died for lack of food, and there was nothing meaningful I could do about it.

What is happening in the United States is not a famine by any means, but it is a lot worse than people tend to realize. Despite gains in employment and economic growth, many people you probably know have never really recovered after the recent recession. They are your friends, neighbors and colleagues, and a significant percentage of them are staring down empty cupboards and refrigerators.

I recently spent time with a woman named Charity Mills in Colorado Springs and saw just how much the face of hunger has changed in America. Charity is educated, eloquent and employed. She also waits in a food bank line most days of the week just to feed her family. Charity described her situation to me as "the tyranny of the moment." At the time, I wasn't entirely sure what she meant, but I was reminded of artist Willem de Kooning, who once said, "being poor takes up all your time." It's true. Today, 41 million Americans aren't sure where their next meal is coming from, and for them, it is all they can think about.

In the past, Charity and her family qualified for food stamps, now known as SNAP, the supplemental nutrition assistance program. They used to get $963 a month for a family of seven, which is about $4.58 a day per person. But nowadays, Charity and millions of other Americans find themselves in an unforgiving middle ground, not benefiting from the recent improvements in the economy but having their benefits slashed nonetheless. With her husband back in school and Charity back at work, her family is still food-insecure but no longer able to qualify for food stamps. The reality: They are now dependent on the generosity of others to eat.

How we can fix this problem

Luckily, Americans are among the most generous people on Earth. As a result, organizations like Feeding America are able to create a web of 200 food banks across the country and help make sure more than 40 million Americans like Charity have a good shot at securing their next meal. Formerly called Second Harvest, Feeding America works under the philosophy that America already has enough food to feed everyone if we can just connect the food that is being wasted with the people who so desperately need it.

As with most things, this is trickier than it appears. First off, for big businesses to simply donate food, they have to spend money. They have to package it, ship it and store it or refrigerate it properly. Without organizations like Feeding America, it is often easier and cheaper for companies to throw out the extra food. Second, many organizations worry about the legal risks of donating food, even though they shouldn't. The Good Samaritan Food Donation Act protects good-faith food donors from liability if the recipient should become ill.

Finally, most of us consumers often trash our food much earlier than we should because of somewhat arbitrary "use by" and "sell by" dates. These dates aren't even required by federal law, except for infant formula, and have nothing to do with safety of the food. You can eat your eggs more than a month after purchase, even though the "use by" date is much earlier. Unless your produce is clearly spoiled, it is still fine to consume. The expiration dates in this case are more an indication of freshness. And even I was surprised to learn that canned meat can last five years past the date stamped on the container.

It is time for all of us to start thinking more about the food we don't eat, because when it comes to hunger and food insecurity, we all have a role to play. We don't need to be so picky when it comes to our food. Resolve to eat uglier but perfectly edible fruit. At the grocery store, buy only what you need instead of what you want, and don't worry so much about the dates stamped on your food.

And when you think of throwing food in the trash, remember Charity Mills and the tyranny of her moment. I am not asking you to turn your world upside-down or even to make tough sacrifices. Simply cut down your food waste, and I am convinced we can successfully feed Charity and the rest of America.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 295675

Reported Deaths: 6743
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19690230
Hinds18812389
Harrison16722280
Rankin12725265
Jackson12603228
Lee9691160
Madison9466203
Jones7978147
Forrest7217138
Lauderdale6836226
Lowndes6031140
Lamar588480
Lafayette5736113
Washington5218130
Bolivar4612123
Oktibbeha441493
Panola430894
Pearl River4174130
Warren4130115
Pontotoc409771
Marshall403392
Monroe3990126
Union395674
Neshoba3817169
Lincoln3544103
Hancock347975
Leflore3376118
Sunflower318986
Tate302974
Pike300796
Scott293970
Alcorn291862
Itawamba290075
Yazoo289963
Tippah278965
Coahoma278668
Copiah278158
Simpson275879
Prentiss269858
Wayne254241
Marion252778
Leake252671
Covington248980
Grenada247578
Adams234678
George231845
Newton229952
Winston221777
Jasper213445
Tishomingo212365
Attala206569
Chickasaw201152
Holmes182370
Clay179251
Stone172429
Tallahatchie170939
Clarke169371
Calhoun157928
Smith152832
Yalobusha144836
Greene127733
Walthall124240
Noxubee122831
Montgomery122639
Perry121734
Lawrence120421
Carroll118425
Amite111734
Webster110631
Jefferson Davis101931
Tunica99023
Claiborne98429
Benton93524
Humphreys92827
Kemper90223
Quitman77214
Franklin76119
Choctaw69617
Jefferson62727
Wilkinson62426
Sharkey48917
Issaquena1676
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 494421

Reported Deaths: 9991
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson711451374
Mobile36184735
Madison32457458
Tuscaloosa24213412
Montgomery22636517
Shelby22020214
Baldwin19790284
Lee14980154
Morgan13693251
Calhoun13307287
Etowah13192320
Marshall11269209
Houston10102261
Elmore9408185
Limestone9376134
Cullman8903181
St. Clair8839224
Lauderdale8601212
DeKalb8465175
Talladega7552164
Walker6538258
Jackson6503103
Autauga630391
Blount6106127
Colbert5993119
Coffee5254102
Dale4648107
Russell405233
Franklin399478
Covington3970106
Chilton3883100
Escambia378172
Tallapoosa3596143
Clarke343753
Chambers3421111
Dallas3412141
Pike293372
Lawrence283684
Marion283495
Winston247368
Bibb245460
Geneva240270
Marengo236557
Pickens224555
Barbour212451
Hale210668
Fayette200957
Butler197566
Henry182641
Cherokee177139
Monroe166339
Randolph163840
Washington156635
Crenshaw145254
Clay145054
Macon142343
Cleburne137841
Lamar133133
Lowndes131251
Wilcox122525
Bullock117136
Conecuh106724
Perry105827
Sumter98632
Coosa89224
Greene88232
Choctaw55123
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