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Why rule breakers rule

Why is it important to take risks? CNN anchors reflect on how breaking the rules can yield new insight.

Posted: Jun 25, 2018 7:52 PM
Updated: Jun 25, 2018 7:54 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.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 703345

Reported Deaths: 13194
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion959691716
Lake51222940
Allen38926670
Hamilton34288404
St. Joseph33770539
Elkhart27117431
Vanderburgh22034393
Tippecanoe21671212
Johnson17451374
Porter17206297
Hendricks16735310
Clark12657190
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Vigo12155244
Monroe11385166
LaPorte10800204
Delaware10312184
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Hancock7939139
Bartholomew7854153
Warrick7675155
Floyd7542176
Wayne6880198
Grant6773170
Boone6524100
Morgan6370138
Dubois6071117
Marshall5753108
Dearborn568075
Cass5671102
Henry5563100
Noble537983
Jackson492369
Shelby477795
Lawrence4332118
Gibson427389
Harrison426570
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DeKalb406684
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Ohio55511
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Ohio Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 1048109

Reported Deaths: 18917
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1217031352
Cuyahoga1063982060
Hamilton779451165
Montgomery49883989
Summit45144907
Lucas39826760
Butler37638568
Stark31348894
Lorain24090472
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Lake19915362
Clermont19397228
Delaware17972130
Licking16089206
Fairfield15646196
Trumbull15521459
Medina14815259
Greene14613236
Clark13576288
Wood12709184
Portage12313194
Allen11303229
Richland11017198
Miami10511212
Muskingum8688127
Wayne8543209
Columbiana8527226
Pickaway8421120
Marion8360135
Tuscarawas8359239
Erie7540153
Ross6692145
Hancock6683123
Geauga6527146
Ashtabula6458164
Scioto6280100
Belmont5591158
Union556247
Lawrence5458102
Jefferson5283147
Huron5270113
Darke5264121
Sandusky5164119
Seneca5093118
Washington5074107
Athens499454
Auglaize474884
Mercer470384
Shelby455089
Knox4371108
Madison421058
Putnam420298
Ashland412086
Fulton407966
Defiance399996
Crawford3858100
Brown385555
Logan372276
Preble369598
Clinton359659
Ottawa355478
Highland346059
Williams323274
Champaign318556
Jackson306951
Guernsey305848
Perry289349
Fayette276948
Morrow274439
Hardin263563
Henry263166
Coshocton258257
Holmes252699
Van Wert238662
Gallia233246
Pike232431
Adams227552
Wyandot226353
Hocking208958
Carroll188947
Paulding168538
Meigs141438
Noble132737
Monroe128841
Morgan106423
Harrison105336
Vinton81414
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