Regulating Surplus: Charity and the Legal Geographies of Food Waste Enclosure

Authors: Joshua Lohnes*, West Virginia University
Topics: Legal Geography
Keywords: Food, Charity, Law, Surplus, Waste, Governance
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: 8223, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In 2016, 4.5 billion pounds of food waste was diverted through a network of 200 food banks, a fivefold increase in just 20 years. Two institutions provide access to most of this food. First, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) purchases surplus agricultural commodities for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and allocates a portion to each state. Second, large food corporations donate their food waste to Feeding America (FA) who works with its member food banks to processes tax deductible receipts on their behalf. Geographers argue that food charity revalues food waste and surplus labor in the capitalist food system (Henderson, 2004; Lindenbaum, 2016; Lohnes and Wilson, 2018). However, the political-legal framework undergirding this revaluation process is still poorly understood. Drawing on a five year institutional ethnography of charitable food networks in West Virginia, I argue that an assemblage of government agencies, food businesses and nonprofit organizations regulate and enclose food waste through a governance structure that ensures food surpluses do not disrupt profitability along primary food markets. I do so by analyzing how charitable food supply chains are organized through national and state laws, technocratic food insecurity models and management contracts that set forth the rules determining how food waste is distributed to the poor and whom may access it.

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