Happy Dumpster-versary!

I stopped by Walmart the other day to pick up some things for my mom. As I was crossing the parking lot, headed back to my car, I saw a lone orange that had come to rest just a few feet away. Or course, I picked it up. I have no idea how or why oranges (and sometimes apples) end up at the south end of the Walmart parking lot, mostly unaffected by their rather long journey across bumpy and grimy asphalt, but I find at least 1 or 2 a month. In the way that hobos mark the homes of people who are kind, Angie teases that fresh fruit escapes the waste bin and make its way to the area where I’m known to park so that I will give it a good home.

As I picked up the orange, it hit me…February was our food-rescue anniversary. We’ve been digging through the dumpster at ALDI (which is next door to Walmart) for two years now. While we make no secret of this fact, I also realized just how few people in our immediate family know that we do this. For a minute, I started feeling like a superhero – a plain-Jane writer by day who dons a cape and saves food from the landfill by night. Ok, I don’t own a cape…yet…

Imagining us as dumpster heroes was all well and good until I started thinking about why the world needs dumpster heroes in the first place – because we waste so much food! And by we, I mean everyone from the farmer who leaves crops in the field to the stores who throw out good food items to make room for newer ones every week, from the consumer who buys more than what he/she can eat to the restauranteurs that feed the garbage bin rather than their hungry neighbors. Picking up a single orange off the pavement is just a tiny droplet on the surface of a big, big pond of problems.

But…it only takes a droplet to cause a ripple, then ripples create waves, and waves create change.

We dig through the dumpster for many reasons, not the least of which is to raise awareness of the amount of food wasted by retailers like ALDI. Don’t get me wrong, I like ALDI. My sister even works for them (at a different location) and we shop there sometimes, but I hate their policy of tossing food that’s within 3 days of expiration. It’s stupid. It’s even stupider not to mark these items down and try to sell them, like Kroger and Walmart do. I can’t imagine preferring to take a total loss on a product rather than selling it for half-price.  From a business standpoint, that makes no sense to me.

In 2017, we rescued 330 pounds of food from the dumpster. In 2018, it was 348 pounds. And this year, we’re up to 50 pounds already. We eat this food. We share this food. We donate this food to places that can use it. And in the rare case that none of these things happen, we compost this food.

We don’t expect everyone reading this to run to the nearest dumpster and start pulling out produce…unless you really want to, then we certainly support you…but we do hope you will make your own waves of change toward reducing food waste. Here are a few ideas to help get you started:

2nd Quarter Progress to Goals

At the beginning of the year, we set two goals, which are featured in the post: Better Me, Better World. As the 2nd quarter draws to a close, we have had some successes in working toward these goals and some areas that are in definite need of improvement. Unplanned spending has been a hurdle in the Better Me area and food waste has been more of a problem than we imagined when we set our Better World goal. Here’s how things went:

Better Me

Goal: Live simply. Prove that we can live a happy, healthy, and prosperous life with less. 

Set a budget and stick to it. Strive for no unplanned spending.

So…this did not happen. The budget part, yes. We came up with a great budget at the beginning of the year and aside from a few minor tweaks, it’s been working well for us. The problem has been that the budget only accounts for my regular income, not our side hustles or proceeds from decluttering. We had $270 in sales on OfferUp and $1,833 in side hustle income this quarter. A large chunk of our extra income went to our travel fund. The rest to “unplanned spending”. We purchased a few items of clothing (mostly undergarments), a cork bulletin board, and two life vests for kayaking that were not on our list, along with a whole lot of food. We went kind of crazy at Sprouts. We also had to take our cat to the vet twice. Though we have a pet fund, the little guy has exhausted that this year, and then some.

Buy used when possible.

When the thrift store wants to charge $5 more for a used life vest than what a new one costs at Walmart, I’m sorry to say, Walmart wins. I know it’s not the best choice environmentally, but it was the best choice for our budget. We did opt to buy a couple of golf clubs at Goodwill (99 cents each) rather then renting them at the driving range.

Eat a mostly plant-based diet, with no more than 10% of meals containing meat.

Woo-hoo! YES! Finally, we did something right! We had 76 completely meatless days (out of 91) or 258 meatless meals. We prepared ZERO meals at home that contained meat. I’m really surprised that we made it through 2 weeks of separate visits with our parents (and Angie in Texas, no less) without eating more meats. My mom cooked several all veggie meals for me while Angie was gone and though her parents weren’t thrilled with the “no meat” plan, they only insisted on Angie eating the same dinner as them just once. In total, only 9% of our meals contained meat.

Do something active 3 times a week.

See, I told you we’d do better this quarter! We walked/hiked 74.7 miles. We hit golf balls at the driving range. Our summer chores – mowing, weeding, gardening – have ramped up and we’re spending at least 5-6 hours a week in the yard/garden. Angie did some woodworking with her mom and helped with the farm chores (feeding the chickens and horse) while she was away. My visit with my mom was a little less active though. We did some sewing projects and puttered around in the yard in the evenings.

Better World

Goal: Zero-food-waste. Prove that one couple can have an impact in reducing global food waste.

Plan meals.

As always, this is a work in progress. We’ve done fairly well with planning meals since CSA season started though.

Continue food rescue.

The grocery store next door is back open and we’re up to 279 pounds of rescued food so far this year. We’re also volunteering with Society of St. Andrew to glean the Nashville Farmer’s Market once a month and have gathered 90.25 pounds of produce for the Nashville Rescue Mission.

Shop reduced-to-clear/quick-sale items first when grocery shopping.

Angie almost got tackled by an old man when she reached for a bag of cherries in the reduced-to-clear bin last week. Aside from that, we’ve had much success in finding most of our potatoes, onions, fruits, and breads there.

Buy local foods.

Along with our CSA basket, we’ve been visiting our Saturday Farmer’s Market and a few farm stands throughout the week to source our fresh produce. Today, we’re off to the U-pick to get a few gallons of blackberries for the freezer.

Grow a garden.

Yep, we got that covered. We have tomatoes, peppers, black-eyed peas, green beans, squash, zucchini, sunflowers, blackberries, and a mystery plant (from compost) that may or may not be a cantaloupe.

Compost year-round.

So far so good! Angie even started a worm bin a few months ago with some pitiful looking fishing worms from Walmart. I had zero expectation of their survival but somehow, she has managed to turn them into thriving (and fat) worms.

When we set our goal to have zero food waste, we anticipated that it would be easy, since we are in control of our food choices, right? Turns out, that’s not always the case. In 6 months, we’ve wasted 7.15 pounds of food, a good bit of which was prepared for us by someone else. Since starting to eat more of a plant-based diet a few years ago, we’ve cut out a lot of sweets and God love them, both sets of our parents are sweet junkies! My mom bakes a mean cake and her cobblers are out of this world but after one piece, she usually gives the rest to us. There’s just no way we can eat all of them. I’ve tried freezing pieces for later but later never comes before the next cake appears. I’ve given some to the wildlife, but chocolate is not good for them so where do those cakes go? Sadly, to waste! It horrifies me every time I have to write down yet another ounce of wasted food but we’re at a loss on what else to do with them.

What were your goals for this quarter? Did you achieve them? We’re there any surprises or setbacks?

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