A Tally of February’s Food Finds

On February 1st, we went to a Lunch & Learn at the Nashville Public Library on the topic of food waste. Little did we know then just how “involved” we’d become in food recovery over the next 28 days.

When I wrote the post Did I See You in the Dumpster?, we had just learned that the grocery store next door was tossing hundreds of pounds of good food into the garbage each week. Despite our efforts to redirect them to better uses for their unsalable (though not inedible) food, nothing was done, and the dumpster continues to fill daily with slightly blemished or browning produce. And we continue to monitor – and glean – when we can.

To illustrate the problem of food waste in our community, I am posting a list of all the items we recovered in February. Remember, we are one couple, looking in one dumpster of one small grocery store, at a rate of 3-4 times per week, for a period of 28 days. We found:

  • 2 red onions
  • 1 bag green onions
  • 3 yellow onions
  • 3 zucchini squash
  • 3 yellow squash
  • 6 dozen + 3 individual eggs
  • 2 pineapples
  • 2 bags of celery
  • 6 ears of corn
  • 1 bag of baby lettuce (4 small heads)
  • 5 heads of iceberg lettuce
  • 12 oz. bag of organic kale
  • 14 blood oranges
  • 3 pounds of organic oranges + 13 individual oranges
  • 1 pint + 1 – 6 oz. container of blueberries
  • 2 – 6 oz. containers of blackberries
  • 5 pound bag of flour
  • 10 oz. bag of almonds
  • 2 bags + 1 head of broccoli
  • 1 bag of cauliflower
  • 1 loaf of 100% whole wheat bread
  • 6 pounds of Cuties (tangerines)
  • 2 – 10 oz. containers of organic grape tomatoes
  • 12 pounds of apples + 10 individual apples
  • 2 bell peppers
  • 5 cucumbers
  • 6 limes
  • 1/2 pound of asparagus
  • 8 1/2 pounds of bananas
  • 15 pounds of Russet potatoes
  • 5 pounds of yellow potatoes
  • 5 red potatoes
  • 1 1/2 pounds of mixed baby potatoes
  • 1 serving of organic red grapes
  • 5 1/2 quarts of strawberries
  • 2 pounds of organic baby carrots
  • 2 pounds of carrots
  • 6 Anjou pears
  • 4 red pears
  • 1 honeydew melon
  • 11 peaches
  • 1 unopened bottle of hand soap

Needless to say, we had a lot of salads this month!

All joking aside, this was just a fraction of what was sitting in the dumpster – good food going to waste because it’s not quite up to consumer standards. I just can’t for the life of me understand why this food isn’t marked down to quick sale or donated to our local food bank. God knows we have folks in need here! There’s always a line of people waiting outside the food bank every morning to receive a box of non-perishable goods. While that’s great, just think of how many lives could be changed for the better if they also had some of these fresh fruits and veggies in those boxes.

We fed 7 people (including ourselves) with our found foods in February – 3 of whom currently receive SNAP benefits and can’t always afford fresh produce. The highlight of this experiment was seeing a small child pick out a tangerine from the bag we handed her mother and immediately sit down on the sidewalk to eat it. Her face as she enjoyed this fruit that would otherwise have been forgotten was priceless.

I wasn’t sure when we started this adventure just how long we planned to dumpster dive but Angie says that she’ll keep going as long as there’s food; which has prompted to me to think a bit more about how we can help on a larger scale. We’re thinking about starting a food share network in our community – maybe a Facebook group or a Meetup group – where folks can share their found foods or foods they bought but can’t eat in time or extras from their gardens or orchards. I only have to think about my mom’s neighbor and his wasted garden or the hundreds of pounds of pears that he mulched last year to know that an abundance of food exists in our community. Someone just needs to connect it with people who will eat it…and maybe that’s us. At the very least, it is something to seriously think about.

Did I See You in the Dumpster?

You’re either going to think we’re super icky or super cool after reading this post. Whichever you choose, know this…everything I’m about to tell you could have easily been prevented or better yet, could have positively impacted a lot more than just the 6 people mentioned in the story.

First, a little background…

Angie and I have a huge issue with food waste. It’s probably the one thing we think about more than minimalism. Last year, watching my mom’s neighbor let his garden rot on the vine drove us so crazy that we jumped the fence nearly every day to rescue tomatoes. Finally, my mom asked them if we could just harvest the remaining crops ourselves.

And that’s just one episode of our vigilance against food waste. We’ve been known in the past to bring home bags of other people’s popcorn from a baseball game to feed the ducks. Several times we’ve driven 25+ miles to pick up leftover pizzas and party trays after an office party at my mom’s work. We’ve picked pears, apples, and peaches off the ground in our neighborhood (sometimes right out of people’s yards!). We even stopped to pick up an onion once that was rolling away from a produce store parking lot.

We had just never crossed the line into dumpster diving. Until now.

Last year we watched a documentary called Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story. It’s about a couple who spend 6 months living only on wasted food – a lot of which comes from dumpsters. At the time, I remember thinking to myself, “That’s all well and good but you’d be hard-pressed to find a dumpster worthy of diving into in this town.” Well, I was wrong…

potatoesonionsLast Friday, Angie walked over to Walmart to return a RedBox movie. There’s a short cut through the woods that spits you out behind a small grocery store in the strip mall next to Walmart. We’ve taken it dozens of times but never paid much attention to the dumpster. That day, Angie caught sight of a man in a van rummaging through a box on the ground by the dumpster. Curiosity got the better of her and she went over to have a look for herself (after he left, of course). Lo and behold, what did she find? A whole lot of really good produce! Since she didn’t have a bag (or a jacket with pockets), she grabbed a handful of potatoes and 2 red onions.

foundeggsThe next day, she took me to see what she’d found. It looked as if the dumpster had been recently dumped but we did manage to rescue 3 zucchinis. On our regular Sunday morning walk, we stopped by again – this time with a bag. We brought home 3 dozen eggs. Instead of reshuffling the cartons to replace the broken ones, the store simply tosses the entire carton. There were dozens more eggs remaining but we had only one bag. On Tuesday, again while taking our regular walk, we stopped by with 2 bags.

Up until this point, we had kind of thought of it as an adventure. We were rescuing a few little things from the dumpster – things that we would definitely make use of. But on Tuesday, what we found gave us great pause. The dumpster was filled with pineapples, corn, celery, broccoli, apples, and MEAT! There were no less than 4 banana boxes full of meat, including bacon and what had to be a 10 pound pork roast. It was sickening.

40% of the food produced in America goes uneaten. In fact, the amount of food wasted in just one day is more than enough to fill a football stadium. Yet, every day people starve to death right here in this great country of ours. It’s sad…and yet, largely preventable. Seeing this dumpster full of food made me want to walk in and shake the store manager.

There are too many organizations that will accept out-dated or blemished food donations- organizations like Nashville Food Project and Society of St. Andrews – and turn them into meals for the hungry. Grocers have a real opportunity to turn the tide on hunger in America by simply picking up the phone instead of tossing usable food into their dumpsters.

That day, we grabbed a few things we could share with some friends (who didn’t know until now where their gifts came from. Sorry, friends!). Sadly, we had to leave the meat. I’ve read a lot about dumpster safety and even though it was all of about 45 degrees that day, I still didn’t want to take any chances. Today, I wrote a nice letter to the store manager that included the names and phone numbers for every food rescue organization in our area. I hope he pays attention but just in case he doesn’t, we’re going to keep checking and keep rescuing what we can reasonably use or share with others.

If you’re wondering how you can help reduce food waste (without perhaps jumping in a dumpster), here’s a useful infographic that we saw at last week’s lunch and learn.