Structural rot symbolized by Portland dumpster

Ryan Ehrhart, Staff Writer

Portland police guarding a dumpster full of rotting food is a perfect image of the structural rot our country faces

Sometimes, a single image can represent so much more than what it depicts—such is the case for the scene in Portland on Feb. 17. A Fred Meyer in Portland lost power during the ice storm and responded by filling a dumpster with all of their perishables. Soon, hungry residents and activists came to the scene to take the food or redistribute it to people who could still use it. Portland Police were called to guard the dumpster, ensuring that the food inside would rot. Fred Meyer released a statement explaining their intent to prevent people from eating food that could have become unsafe.                    

Rather than donate the abundance of food as soon as it became clear that power was not a guarantee, the procedure was to dispose of it. The next logical thing was apparently to rely on armed intervention to ensure that hungry people in desperate conditions could not access the food, no matter what.

In so many ways, the rotting food in that dumpster represents the rot that is central to the heart of American politics today. The philosophy of placing profit margins over people corrupts nearly every aspect of our politics. Furthermore, many of the areas in which this belief affects our society have been made worse by the pandemic.

Despite there being an estimated 37 million people who are food insecure, 30-40 percent of the US food supply is wasted, according to the US Department Of Agriculture. Aside from cultural issues that consumers perpetuate, much of the blame for this disparity lies in the food industry.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the demand for certain foods plummeted. The immediate reaction from industrial food producers was to destroy products. Milk was dumped, livestock euthanized and crops left to wilt, all to no end. The fact that our society prioritizes the maintenance of profits over the feeding of our immense hungry population  – expected to increase by 17 million as fallout from COVID-19 – exposes the selfishness at the heart of how we treat our citizens.

Now that we finally have vaccine rollout beginning, the rot at the core of our healthcare system is once again placing profits over people. The US healthcare system is characterized by producing the worst outcomes and having the highest costs of any developed nation. The vaccine rollout is no exception to this history of failure, as it is at the mercy of a few corporations.

Rather than allow non-operational factories to work on vaccine production, Pfizer and Moderna are the only entities producing their vaccines. The message is clear ensuring that these corporations get their profit margins met is of higher priority than a speedy rollout.

The recent crisis in Texas also shows how corporate greed endangers the lives of our people. There are three electrical grids in the US: the Western, Eastern and Texas Interconnections. Texas has an isolated electrical grid, does not reward companies for providing reserve capacity and stacks the deck against wind and solar tech. The greed runs so deep in this system that the grid becomes more profitable when it is put under strain, so producers have an incentive to allow shortages to happen at the expense of peoples’ safety.

In this country, food is discarded despite a hunger crisis, COVID vaccine production prioritizes profit over efficiency and the desire to profit results in lethal disaster. It’s important to stress that this is not a hopeless issue! This country is wealthy and has an abundance of all the resources necessary to ensure quality standards of livelihood for all. The problem, put simply, is what we do with them.

If we are to heal the rot which has poisoned our society, we must work to reorient our thinking to be more empathetic to others. We will need to reduce the impact that the profit motive has on our country’s most vulnerable.