Media Analysis: Food Waste in the CA Central Valley

By Alex Zielinski

I’m currently very interested in environmental journalism.  It’s clear that this beat is on the rise as our society becomes more away of their long-term impact on the globe, and helping raise that awareness and investigate issues further feels natural to me.

Today, I looked into the online “Green” section of the San Fransisco Chronicle‘s online publication. I was drawn to a collaboration story by USC graduates students at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, “Vast amounts of food trashed despite incentives“. The article shared appalling statistics about  the amount of ripe yet perishable food wasted in both the farmlands of California’s Central Valley and grocery stores state-wide. I’ve heard a lot of talk lately about the increasing water problems in the Central Valley forced farmlands, so was curious as to how the area could spare any food waste at all.

The shock factor of this story was probably the key factor that kept me interested. Right of the bat, the lede aims to astound by drawing a desperate scene:

“Farmers, restaurants and supermarkets throw away millions of tons of edible food each year at a time when a growing number of Californians struggle to put food on the table.”

This is shortly followed by the hard facts: 6 million tons of food products dumped annually enough to fill the Staples Center 35 times, food being 15.5 percent of the state’s waste, a vast majority of the state’s 90,000 restaurants do not donate edible but discarded food to others. Statistics fuel the story, followed by supporting personal stories by farmers, restaurant owners, and food recovery groups.

The reporters covered both sides of the food waste issue, adding a necessary balance to the problem. I really enjoyed how the story focused on specific people’s stories and then zoomed out the larger problem impacting the entire state, let alone country (reminded me of the upcoming enterprise story). This technique connected me, the reader, to the people involved and affected on a more personal level.

Further into the article, the authors mention major chains that have begun food donation programs in collaboration with hunger-relief and homeless agencies. Ending with a positive note, by explaining how this problem can be changed in the future, was a good choice. It’s hard to be inspired to take action if a story dumps negative and disheartening facts on the reader without suggesting ways these issues could be changed.

A woman loads discarded grocery store food into a Alameda County Food Bank truck

With a variety of personal stories and interesting quotes, as well as shocking hard facts, this article proved to be engrossing and thought-provoking, leading me to look further into the issue.

However, I was surprised by the three stories intended to be related articles that all focused on immigration topics. While it’s obvious that a majority of farm workers are immigrants, I felt like this was a stretch.

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