Years ago, I used to spend certain Sunday mornings visiting a dilapidated cabin lovingly referred to as the "Food Church." For $2, visitors could have access to an array of recently expired Trader Joe's items—everything from frozen pizza and sushi to apples and kale. Unlike many places that proffer expired food, the Food Church wasn't just for the low-income and homeless. It was for anybody who wanted to grab perfectly good food items before they were thrown away.
Now the former president of Trader Joe's, Doug Rauch, is opening a brick-and-mortar store in Dorchester, Massachusetts, that sells only prepared items created with recently expired produce. Dubbed the Daily Table, the shop will focus on the 90% of food bought by Americans that's thrown away prematurely. And it will be cheap enough that some people might actually consider going there instead of less healthy fast food restaurants.
In an interview with NPR, Rauch describes the Daily Table as a "a hybrid between a grocery store and a restaurant" that takes recently expired food and whips it up into delicious meals that can compete in price with the burgers and fries sold at fast food chains like McDonald's.
Rauch explains to NPR:
It's the idea about how to bring affordable nutrition to the underserved in our cities. It basically tries to utilize this 40 percent of this food that is wasted. This is, to a large degree, either excess, overstocked, wholesome food that's thrown out by grocers, etc. ... at the end of the day because of the sell-by dates. Or [it's from] growers that have product that's nutritionally sound, perfectly good, but cosmetically blemished or not quite up for prime time. [So we] bring this food down into a retail environment where it can become affordable nutrition.
Convincing people that expired food is not going to make them sick will be a challenge; a recent NRDC report found that food labels like "use by," "best before," and "sell by" are confusing to consumers, and as a result, 160 billion pounds of food are wasted in the U.S. every year. But Rauch tells NPR that at least one big brand in the food industry uses recently expired items from its stores in hot food served to customers the next day. It's not a safety problem—it's a PR problem.