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.

Spring Fever & Feeding the Fam on Found Foods

Yesterday I looked outside to see my neighbor in the building next door curled up on her chaise lounge beneath a blanket. She was taking a nap right on her deck. In the few seconds that I stood there watching her, I could feel my body relaxing and my mind going into “sleepy” mode. I wanted to grab my own blanket and take a nap outside too.

Almost every morning when I open the window of my bedroom/office, I see this neighbor on her deck with a cup of coffee (or maybe tea), reading a book. She’s one of the few folks that live here that actually uses the deck for more than just a staging area for patio furniture. Come to think of it, she’s one of the few folks in this entire town that uses her outdoor space. We drive by all of these beautifully decorated patios and decks all the time – spring, summer, fall and winter – and no one is ever out there using them.

Inspired by my napping neighbor, we spent several hours cleaning up our patio and getting our planters ready for the container garden we’re planning to start this spring. We had been on the lookout for large flower pots for a while…and by on the lookout, I mean we were trying to find ones that people had discarded. We succeeded in scoring 2 good size ones from recycling and 2 really huge ones (quite by accident) for a dime at Lowe’s. The 2 pots from Lowe’s were marked down to $1 each due to some minor damage. Because they wouldn’t ring up properly (and because the associate-in-training was not that nice about it), the manager gave us one for a dime and the other for free. When we get back from our vacation in March, I plan to start some seedlings inside and transfer some to the pots and some to our 8′ x 8′ garden spot at my mom’s house.

Inside our apartment, we’re prepping for spring as well by trying to finish off last year’s veggies from the freezer. We have 3 quarts of tomatoes, 2 quarts of blackberries, a handful of peppers, some pears, and a bag of pecans left. In recent weeks we’ve added a couple packs of apples and 6 cups of pureed bananas to the freezer from our “food finding” walks. (I thought that moniker sounded a little less icky than dumpster diving). The pureed bananas make a great substitute for oil in baking dense cakes, muffins, or as Angie found out this weekend, oatmeal cookies.

Speaking of food finding walks, we continue to be in shock and awe at the amount of food our neighboring grocer is still tossing out. It’s been a little more than 2 weeks since we discovered this secret and here’s just a sample of the good food we’ve rescued.

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We’re still sharing our bounty with friends but we also hosted our first “dumpster dinner” on Valentine’s Day. While not all of the ingredients were free, the majority were rescued from becoming food waste. The few items we purchased were all from the “last chance” rack at various grocery stores. We prepared a 2 pound Nature’s Place pork roast (marked down to $2.90); a succotash made with rescued corn, broccoli, and asparagus; rice; yeast rolls (marked down to $1); and miniature cheesecakes for dessert (marked down from $5.99 to $1.50). The dinner was a smashing success. My uncle, who is visiting with my mom from NC, ate like he was starving – even after saying that he didn’t really like broccoli.

veggiecrateA few days later, Angie was sitting outside painting a veggie crate that we’re going to use as storage for our garden shoes, gloves, etc., when my uncle asked her where we got the crate. “Dumpster,” she answered; to which he replied by telling us a story about a time in his life when he and his then-girlfriend used to salvage furniture and household goods from the dumpster and sell them to pay the rent. This particular uncle now owns several businesses and touts his wealth almost as much as our current President so I was completely surprised at this admission. He ended his story by saying, “but I’ve never eaten out of the dumpster”. Angie and I looked at each other and almost burst out laughing. It was all I could do not to say, “oh but yes you have!”.

I figure, a little humor at my uncle’s expense is okay. He’s been picking on me most of my life. In fact, he still calls me Egghead – a name he tagged me with when I was a child because my head was buried in a book all the time. Which doesn’t sound like such a bad idea right now. It’s 75 degrees outside so perhaps it’s time to grab a cup of tea, a blanket, and the great book I just bought about food and foraging (called The Feast Nearby) and head to the patio. I might also grab a handful of Angie’s sugar-free oatmeal raisin cookies on the way out – the ones made with 50% found ingredients.

Weekly Progress to Happiness Goals Report (week ending 2/18)

    • No Spend Days = 4
      YTD = 27/200
    • Meatless Days = 3
      YTD = 21.5/144
    • Miles Walked/Hiked = 0/0
      YTD = 87.4/1,000 and 3.6/100
    • Decluttered Items = 0
      YTD = 217/2017
    • Side Hustle Income = $10.95
      YTD = $189.08/$1,825