- The Washington Times - Friday, December 24, 1999

President Clinton wants more restaurants, hotels, and other organizations and businesses to gather up leftovers to feed the hungry, but the White House throws out its own leftovers.
"With this administration, there's a lot of 'Do as I say, not as I do.' On the face of it, this is hypocritical," said John Doyle, spokesman for the Guest Choice Network, a coalition of more than 30,000 restaurants and taverns.
Mr. Clinton is urging Americans to stop the "appalling" habit of throwing out 96 billion pounds of food each year an amount he says is more than enough to feed all of the nation's hungry people.
"In every community, civic-minded people ought to take an inventory of how much food is being wasted, where it is, how to gather it up, how to give it to the churches, the synagogues, the mosques, whoever else has a homeless mission that will take care of that food and get it out," Mr. Clinton said Wednesday during a visit to the D.C. Central Kitchen, which prepares 3,000 meals daily for those in need.
Wasted food ranges from slightly bruised fruit to uneaten trays of lasagna at restaurants, the president said.
But calls to the White House found no such food-gathering or "gleaning" going on there. A man who answered the phone at the White House Mess said its excess food is discarded. He insisted the amount of food thrown out is not large but provided no specifics.
White House spokesman Jim Kennedy said the mess is a military operation, and he assumed the Pentagon sets policy for it. A Navy spokesman, however, denied that, saying the mess is staffed by Navy personnel, but its policies are set by the White House. Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood confirmed that.
As for state dinners, a spokeswoman in the first lady's office said leftover food is not an issue because there's very little of it from those functions. She said the chef knows how many people have been invited to a state dinner and prepares for that number.
A staffer reached at the White House catering office said the former policy of donating unused prepared food from catered affairs to the poor had been scrapped.
"We stopped that after lawyers told us we'd be liable if someone got sick. And there's a chance that could happen, because we wouldn't know if the food was kept at a safe, cool temperature," the employee said.
That argument doesn't hold too much water. In October 1996, Mr. Clinton signed legislation that exempts those who donate apparently fit food and groceries from criminal or civil liability arising from those activities.
A month later, Mr. Clinton announced a new executive order that enabled food charities access to surplus food from cafeterias, federal commissaries and other food service facilities operated by federal agencies, following the lead of the U.S. Department of Agriculture commissary.
Cynthia Rowland, general manager of the D.C. Central Kitchen, where the president visited Wednesday and made his plea, says that organization "would love to have" access to White House leftovers.
"We recycle food donated by restaurants and hotels, and we prepare 3,000 meals per day to support mostly nonprofit social service agencies" that feed the homeless and poor, Ms. Rowland said. "But I'm sure a [food donation] policy has been examined at their end," meaning the White House, she added.
Likewise, Crystal Hair, director of development for the Capital Area Food Bank, which works with 700 agencies in the Washington area, said that network, too, would be thrilled to get excess White House food.
While the D.C. Central Kitchen accepts both perishable and nonperishable foods that are "safe for consumption," the Capital Area Food Bank needs mostly nonperishable products.
"We're always in need of canned goods and food staples. Maybe there are things in the White House pantry that the chef knows will never be used," said Ms. Hair. If so, she said, the Capital Area Food Bank could find a use for them.
Asked if she believes it's hypocritical for the president to urge everyone else to collect leftovers for the poor when the White House isn't doing that, Ms. Hair said, "Yeah."
The Agriculture Department yesterday announced a new program to help people and restaurants get into the habit of donating, rather than dumping, extra food. As part of the program, the department will seek 2,000 commitments from businesses and nonprofits to help get extra food to hungry people.
But Mr. Doyle of the restaurant coalition says he sees the new campaign "as more of a gimmick than a solution."


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