Our Zero-Waste Thanksgiving (November Recap)

In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, I started seeing a lot of posts on food waste. Some of the facts were just plain staggering: 204 million pounds of turkey wasted, $293 million in food tossed out on just this one day alone. We had already decided to skip the turkey and host a meal that we hoped would be consumed in its entirety on Thanksgiving Day – no leftovers – but reading these ridiculous stats gave us another idea.

Regardless of whether or not we clean our plates, the sad fact remains – the holidays are just one (albeit extreme) example of food waste. Every single day, grocery stores toss out perfectly good food because it looks bad, because one apple in the bag is rotten, because it’s close to expiration, or believe it or not, because they no longer have shelf space for that particular item! Living next to a grocery store, we see this all the time. If you’ve followed our blog for very long, you know that we are unashamed of the fact that we often rescue food from the dumpster. It’s our tiny contribution to saving the planet and feeding our neighbors in need.

So for Thanksgiving we decided to make our meal from rescued food. This included both dumpster finds and anything on the last chance/quick sale rack of our local grocer. In the week leading up to Thanksgiving, we visited the two grocery stores next door almost every day. From the dumpster,  we managed to score a 10# bag of Russet potatoes, 2 dozen eggs, a pound of carrots, 7 yellow onions, 2 red onions, a 3# bag of Granny Smith apples, a bag of brown ‘n serve rolls, an orange, and a 16 oz. bag of fresh cranberries. From the quick sale rack, we purchased an organic Spring Mix salad ($2.99) and a bag of flour ($1). We were able to rescue almost every item on our menu, with the exception of a chicken, fresh tomatoes, and a cucumber.

With these items, we created a delicious dinner consisting of 2 chicken pot pies, a garden salad, a cranberry-apple compote, deviled eggs, rolls, and an apple pie. (And breakfast the next day – fresh cranberry muffins!).

The dinner was a success and almost every bite was eaten that day (the exception was the salad, which we munched on for the next two days, and the deviled eggs, which became egg salad sandwiches). We feel really good about what we were able to rescue and the folks we served, they were more flabbergasted by the amount of food we found than they were about where it was found. In fact, I’ve even had 2 requests for another “Dumpster Apple Pie” LOL.

Thanksgiving may have been the highlight of our month, but along with our frugal food adventures, we were also able to make progress on our other goals.

  • We added 47.4 miles to our walking total. We stand at 845.2 miles for the year.
  • We enjoyed 14 completely meatless days (or 71 vegetarian meals) this month.
  • We earned $107.80 (cash) and $85.63 in Amazon gift cards through side hustles.
  • We decluttered 7 more items, mostly winter coats, which we donated to charity.

I have most of the month of December off from work and lots of ideas of how I want to spend that time. Reading, relaxing, and trying some new recipes (probably using rescued foods) tops the list. Spending time with loved ones and taking in some of the sights and sounds of the holidays comes in a close second. And of course, there’s one final round of decluttering left to do and a lot of walking, if we want to reach our goals for the year!

How will you spend your December?

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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.