When it comes to feeding the world's population, it literally is feast or famine. According to the United Nations, a third of all food produced around the world for human consumption (about 1.3 billion tons) is lost or wasted, even as nearly a billion people worldwide lack enough food to lead a healthy active life.
In Copenhagen, one supermarket is looking to reduce waste while helping to feed the poor by selling food with past due sell-by dates and damaged packaging for as much as half the price posted at regular stores. Known as WeFood, the store is Denmark's first surplus food supermarket.
The nonprofit behind the concept, Folkekirkens Nodhjaelp, wants to appeal to both low-income consumers with tight budgets and environmentally conscious shoppers.
To round out its offerings, WeFood has made agreements with suppliers of citrus fruits, meat, and organic fruit and nut bars. It also struck a deal with one of the biggest supermarket chains in Denmark for bread and other products.
Annually, Denmark wastes about 770,000 tons of food, though the country today throws away about 25 percent less food than it did five years, an effort aided in part by reduced prices for nearly expired food at many supermarkets.
In France, a law passed this month requires supermarkets to donate unsold food to charities and food banks and prohibits retailers from pouring bleach on items tossed in the garbage, a tactic used to thwart foragers. The senator who introduced the legislation is now looking to establish a similar ban across the entire European Union.
For many U.S. consumers, the thought of buying food that is expired (or nearly so) is incomprehensible, though efforts are being made to help shoppers better understand what the dates printed on packages mean.
The confusion is one reason Americans throw away about $640 worth of food every year, according to a recent survey from the American Chemistry Council. (The U.S. also is tops among nations in the amount of food wasted each year, with as much as 40 percent of all food produced in the country getting thrown out.)
To make better use of food that would otherwise go wasted, former Trader Joe's executive Doug Rauch opened an "expired" food market in Boston last summer.
Known as Daily Table, the membership-only supermarket offers steep discounts (much like WeFood) on fresh food and pantry staples. Daily Table is aided in its effort to sell food at such cheap prices through donations and by purchasing food that other supermarkets aren't willing to buy.
And despite what the labels may suggest, the food is safe. The date printed on packaging clues consumers into when the product is at its best, peak flavor, said Rauch.
The flavor or quality may start to degrade over time, but food safety isn't an issue, said Rauch.
For now, Daily Table has just one location -- in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood -- but the nonprofit business hopes to grow the concept across Massachusetts and the nation.
After opening last summer, the store was greeted by crowds eager to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables that aren't easy to find in the low-income area. But the concept also met with some resistance from local activists, who said Rauch was peddling "hand-me-down" food.