Can’t Share a Sandwich

I learned something truly ridiculous this week. In cities across America, it is illegal to share food with the homeless.

More than 550,000 men, women, and children in America are homeless right now – 193,000 of whom will have no access to a safe shelter of any kind tonight. Not a tent, not a car, not a bed at the Rescue Mission. And for most, that also means no access to food.

Yet, 130+ billion pounds of food goes to waste every year.

Let that sink in for a minute.

On Sunday, when the grocery store next door was closed and the construction workers were home celebrating Easter, we snuck across the fence to visit “our dumpster”.  I wish I’d taken a camera. The waste was unbelievable. One clear 50-gallon garbage bag lay outside the dumpster, it’s contents spilling onto the ground – 6 packages of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, 2 salmon filets, and enough beef to feed a family of four for several months. Inside the dumpster was even worse – oranges, strawberries, grapes, cucumbers, coffee, and more – all spilled out and already starting to rot.

I can’t for the life of me figure out why an international grocery chain that has committed to reduce food waste by 50% in EUROPE by 2030, can’t do the same in it’s US stores. I love you ALDI, but when it comes to food waste, you suck!

Which brings me to the sandwich.

Hard to believe we can’t share this delicious ham!

About a month ago, we rescued 3 spiral-sliced hams from the dumpster. I gave two of them away and kept the third to bake for Easter. At the time, I was picturing a potluck lunch with several family members and friends. As it turned out, my family had their own plans, my mom got sick, and the friends I invited bailed, leaving us with an 11-pound ham to split between two people who barely eat meat. Not wanting to waste the ham (which was delicious, by the way), my first thought was to share with the homeless. Our plan was to make ham sandwiches and pack them in paper sacks with a bag of chips and an apple and hand them out in the park on Monday.

Since I couldn’t remember the name of the park where we saw the homeless gathered one day, I started Googling and lo and behold, what did I come upon?? Article upon article about how it’s illegal to feed the homeless. I still thought, not my city…after all, we’re the nicest place in America and we pride ourselves on taking care of our fellow man. So I made a few inquiries. Seems we can’t hand out food without a permit. The most affordable permit costs $100 BUT it can only be purchased by an actual non-profit.

It’s okay (and even encouraged and celebrated) to hand out blankets, sleeping bags, coats, and clothing to the homeless yet it’s not okay to share your lunch. I understand there’s a concern about food poisoning, but seriously, only 0.0009% of people die each year from a foodborne illness. And according to the National Coalition for the Homeless (January 2018), there has been no documented cases of food poisoning coming from food that is shared with hungry people in public places.

I suppose we could have broken the law and handed out lunches anyway. Technically, we broke the law all last summer when we routinely made lunches for a homeless family with 3 children who were living in the motel near our apartment. But I have no desire to go to court or pay a fine this week for trying to do something that shouldn’t be illegal in the first place.

This incident has left us with much to ponder. If we can’t legally share the food we rescue from the dumpster, should we even bother to take it? We’ve pretty much decided that when it comes to meats, the answer to that is no. We won’t eat the meat ourselves. We can’t donate it to a food bank (we tried that last year, only to be turned away). And we now know that we can’t share it with others either.

What we can share though is information. And perhaps the more we know, the more we can do to fight both food waste and hunger in our communities. This weekend, we’re volunteering with Compost Nashville to help educate folks at Nashville VegFest about food waste. This summer, we’ll be working with SOSA to collect unsold produce from the Farmer’s Market and get it to those in need. These small steps are just a few of the many ways that we can work towards changing the food waste vs. food-sharing narrative.

What are your thoughts on food-sharing? Should feeding the homeless be illegal? Are there organizations in your community that bridge the gap between food waste and food insecurity?

Food Waste Update

  • Wasted Food this week: 0 ounces
  • Total Wasted Food in 2018: 50 ounces
  • Rescued Food this week:   1.3 US pounds
  • Total Food Rescued this year:  185.69 US pounds

Keep up with our food finds in real time by viewing our Food Find Gallery.

Birthday Freebies – To Eat or Not To Eat

My birthday was last week and I got a less-than-delightful gift that I would love to return – a cold! I can pinpoint the exact moment that I got it, though I didn’t quite catch the lady’s name so I could thank her. My mom and I were sitting in the doctors’s office waiting for her to see the urologist. Apparently this particular office does not observe national holidays (MLK Day) so there I sat, on my birthday, for 3 hours. The room was filled with older folks, many of whom were sick, but one lady in particular was hacking her head off. I remember thinking, “I hope I don’t catch that!” Too late. My mom and I both spent the entire weekend in bed.

Being out of commission with a cold, along with the sub-zero temps and snow, put us behind on our dumpster visits for the week. It also made it nearly impossible to collect any of the birthday freebies that I received from area restaurants. Which actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Once upon a time (last year, to be exact), we were all about our birthday freebies. We planned lunch dates around them and we had a whole lot of fun cashing them in. Just scroll back through our Facebook and you’ll see some great pics of free chicken strips at Zaxby’s, a burger and fries from Steak ‘n Shake, a grilled fish dinner from Captain D’s, and an assortment of subs from Jersey Mike’s and Quizno’s that we shared while on one of our many Work Free Wednesday adventures.

I think, in my head at least, I had grand ideas that this year’s freebies would elicit the same kind of excitement. And some did. I was super excited to collect my free pastry at Panera. But the rest? I couldn’t even think about them without getting a scary reaction from my own stomach. Why? Because it really is true – once you cut meat from your diet, you just don’t crave it anymore. In fact, if you stick with a plant-based diet long enough, you’ll find that your cravings are actually for things like salads and veggie tacos (at least mine are).

When we resolved to cut back on our meat consumption in 2016, we never figured there would come a time when we’d be “all in” for a vegetarian or plant-based lifestyle. Even just a year ago we were pretty okay with having one or two meatless days every week. Then we got hooked on food documentaries on Netflix. Every single one we watched touted the virtues of a plant-based diet and all in different ways. Some talked about better health. Some talked about benefits to the environment. And then came the ones that talked about waste. Waste…it gets us every time!

In this case, we’re talking about wasted resources. You’ve probably seen this before but it’s a great illustration of all the resources used in the production of just one pound of beef. 

Thinking about my birthday freebies…I received the same freebies as last year. All fast food. All containing meat. At first, I entertained the idea of indulging just this once in a juicy steakburger, but even my frugal self couldn’t get on board with that. I just kept picturing a cartoon version of myself mixing 6.7 pounds of grain with 52.8 gallons of water and microwaving it for 18 minutes to get a hamburger. It was both hilarious and just plain silly.

Do we still eat meat? Yes, on occasion. My mom is not 100% convinced that she can live without it so from time to time, she makes dinner with meat. I’d rather die than hurt her feelings so we eat it without hesitation. (Because some things are simply more important than being right.) We aren’t buying meat at the grocery any more though. I’m not sure when that stopped. It was almost an unconscious effort.

So the final verdict on the birthday freebies? We opted out of the fast food freebies this year. I did stop by Panera and I’ll most likely cash in my Jason’s Deli discount for a trip to the salad bar but the rest will remain unused.

Food Waste Update

  • Wasted Food this week: 1 ounce
  • Total Wasted Food in 2018: 4 ounces
  • Found Food this week:  9.67 US pounds
  • Total Found Food this year:  53.42 US pounds

Keep up with our food finds in real time by viewing our Food Find Gallery.