Bill Clinton: I still believe in you

The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act needs your tooting, Mr. President.

Dear Former President William Jefferson Clinton,

Tickets to hear you speak on our campus are so highly desired, they have been compared to golden tickets hidden in Willy Wonka chocolate bars. It seems as though your mere persona, and the sound of your voice, is filled with an emotional power capable of unleashing energetic civic involvement.

So I am writing you this very public letter to explain how you, Mr. Bill Clinton, could feed millions of our nation’s hungry merely by promoting more effectively, a somewhat obscure accomplishment of your former administration, something which was signed into law October,1996.

First, Mr. Clinton, I should explain why I won’t be at your speech. Let me make it clear that I admire you and, in fact, every day I miss the peace and prosperity of your two presidential terms. My former spouse and I had a child in the summer of 1997, believing and hoping our nation would continue to enjoy the kind of life we had during your presidency. Now I allow my little son to play video games slightly above his age level so he will learn, among other survival tricks, how to scrounge the dead for ammunition and to get behind something solid after he throws a hand grenade. GOD I MISS THE GOOD LIFE UNDER YOUR ADMINISTRATION.

However, Mr. Clinton, I once laid eyes on you in Seattle as you passed in a motorcade and waved right at me. Yes, that was me, waving back. So I can add you to my lifelong list of notable people encountered.

So one of my precious speech tickets went to Ms. Lindsey Torkilsen, who scored highest on a test in the journalism class in which I’m a teaching assistant. Another ticket went to Mr. Brian Hokanson, winner of an essay contest announced in my previous column. Brian submitted an idea about neighborhood improvement which, he believes, would help students understand their privileged place in society and so refrain from vandalism or littering with empty beer bottles. Brian suggested Mandatory Lunch With a Homeless Person Day.

It is the hungry and the homeless which I want to bring up right now, Mr. Clinton. Prior to October 1996, many restaurants and grocery stores were afraid to donate food to soup kitchens, shelters and food banks. These businesses were afraid that if something went wrong with the food, they might face lawsuits. A bipartisan effort passed the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, a law which protects donors from liability as long as they practice “normal care.”

You did a great thing by signing that law. I write to you not merely as a public administration graduate student who is concerned about poverty and solid waste reduction, but as a recognized expert authority on this subject. Under the pen name John Hoffman, I am the author of “The Art and Science of Dumpster Diving” as well as “Dumpster Diving: The Advanced Course,” influential and seminal cult books on the subject.

When I heard about the passage of this law to salvage and utilize so much wasted food, I literally jumped up and down with delight. The name of the law (which is quite a mouthful) is written in my address book, so if the subject comes up during, for example, radio interviews about my books, I can tell listeners about the law and urge donations of leftover food to people in need. It’s an uphill battle, however, because sometimes a wacky radio interview about the “sport of proactive urban scavenging” is the first time conservative business people hear about this important law.

Yes, despite some admirable efforts to publicize the law, especially right after you signed it, many businesses continue to worry that giving away leftover food could turn into a lawsuit, and most have never heard of the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act. Millions of tons of perfectly useful food continue to be wasted. There is a constant need to inform young businesspeople about the law, rather than allowing it to slip into relative obscurity. I consider this bill you signed in October 1996 to be a crowning achievement of your administration, worthy of far more attention and praise than it currently receives.

Perhaps your private foundation could help distribute glossy brochures to businesspeople, so they will be aware of the law. Maybe you could really go out of your way to speak about the law, personally visiting soup kitchens and food banks even more than you currently do. You won’t have difficulty finding a soup kitchen under the Bush administration. OK, that was a cheap shot, but in order for it to sting, George W. Bush would have to be reading a newspaper.

Please, Mr. Clinton, toot your own horn like a saxophone and the sound of your voice promoting your presidential accomplishments will magically transform into boxes of fruits and vegetables, pans of leftover entrées, maybe even a few chocolate bars, not merely by the handful but by the trainload. I still believe in magic Willy Wonka chocolate bar tickets, Mr. Clinton. And, though I won’t be present at your speech, I still believe in you.

John Hoff welcomes comments at [email protected]