When Good Food Gets Wasted

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Have you ever wondered what kind of stuff people find in dumpster bins? Think it’s all rot, filth and mold? Better think again! I thought I was in the know about all the different lifestyle choices out there but I learned a new word the other day – Freegan. Perhaps you know of one?

The term Freegan is coined by combining the two words, vegan and free. According to one Freegan site “Freegans are people who employ alternative strategies for living based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources.”

In order to free themselves as much as possible from the ethical issues that come along with participating in the conventional economy, a Freegan opts for only eco friendly transportation such as bikes, train hopping and veggie oil vehicles, squatting or low cost housing, community gardening and reclaiming green spaces, and minimal to no employment. In addition, Freegans also  participate in waste reclamation through “dumpster diving” or “urban foraging.” Freegans by choice, reclaim near perfect food and other goods that have been discarded by retailers, offices, schools, homes, hotels and more.

The statistics say that approximately 1/3 of food in America ends up in the landfill each year. A staggering 96+ billion pounds are estimated to be lost. While we don`t know the exact percentage of food waste that is recoverable or still edible, the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) estimates that if even 5% of this food waste was reclaimed before finding it’s way to a landfill it would be enough to feed 4 million people an entire day’s worth of food. Now imagine the benefits if the number of reclaimed food was doubled or even tripled?

I was not only struck by the statistics of food waste in America, but also by the sheer number of resources used to produce this food only to have it discarded in the landfill. Freegans continuously show that massive amounts of perfectly edible food is finding it’s way into dumpsters each day.

While dumpster foraging for your family’s daily bread may seem pretty extreme, there are some valuable things to take from a Freegans experience with reclaiming waste. Since our household preferences also contribute to these staggering statistics, here are a few suggestions to help keep  food waste in your own home to a minimum:

Buy directly from local growers – Much of the produce waste is due to big grocery retailers sifting and sorting to display only the most prized pieces. Supporting a local farm community sends your dollars to those who take pride in the entire growing process and are less likely to discard their fruits of labor.

Accept imperfection – Keep your own food expectations in check. Do little spots or holes disgust you? Do you expect to eat a shiny waxy apple or do you regard it’s imperfections as part of nature? Locally grown food may occasionally have some dirt or spots on it, but the benefits of having fresh produce with greater nutrients due to less handling and transportation far exceeds aesthetic imperfections.

Plan your meals – If you find that you have to throw out veggies and fruit each week, give meal planning a whirl. Once you get your family plan organized, you’ll be amazed at how efficient and stress free mealtime can be, not to mention how little food waste there will be.

Grow your own – Any gardener knows the time and love that goes into a family garden. You’ll be more likely to find a use for every bit of goodness that comes out of your own garden.

Share and donate – If you have more food than you can handle, pack it up and give it away. Neighbors, friends and local food groups will be more than happy to use it up.

Operation rescue! – Participate in a food rescue program. Connect with local cafe’s and markets. See if they are willing to link up with local food banks and food box programs so that good food lands on the plates of those who need it most.

Hats off to Freegans for enlightening me on the amount of good food that goes to waste every day. While I’d love to help them out by continuing to provide a free lunch, I for one am opting to monitor my food choices more closely.

There are so may ways to reduce our food waste. What are some additional ways you help to keep good food from being tossed?

Original 5 Minutes For Going Green Post. For more on living a healthy and happy life, check out Monica’s blog Healthy Green Moms. You can subscribe to her blog here.

5 Responses to When Good Food Gets Wasted
  1. Mimi
    October 20, 2008 | 12:50 pm

    So freegans are pretty much choosing to be transients? Interesting. I like knowing how much food is wasted though. Considering so many go to bed hungry every night, it sort of puts things into perspective.

  2. Beth (Coming Up For Air)
    October 20, 2008 | 5:24 pm

    Hmmm….seems a lovely name for something gross. My inlaws used to do this. Grossed me out. They would go to places like Costco and dumpster dive. When we lived with them, they tried to tell me it was perfectly fine. I refused to eat it. I recognize the value of not wasting food, but foraging in dumpsters is not my idea of good hygiene. But I have to say, I really like your alternate ideas! It’s a great post!! :)

    p.s. nice to see you Twitter again too!! :)

  3. crunchy domestic goddess (amy)
    October 22, 2008 | 12:04 am

    i wrote about freeganism after seeing it on oprah a while back. it certainly opened my eyes as to how much good food is thrown out. i thought about going dumpster diving once just to see for myself but i haven’t done it yet. ;)

  4. Friendship Donations Network FDN).
    April 8, 2010 | 9:39 am

    FDN is an Ithaca, NY, food rescue and distribution program. Daily,Volunteers from 26 pantries, soup kitchens and non-profits pick up mostly fresh perishable good food on their designated day and program. This food is donated by 15 food outlets; 1200 to 1500 lbs p/day; 2200 persons are served weekly; annually, 600,000 of nutritious food is saved from the landfill.
    Cost of operation is .07 p/lb. mostly for two p/t employees.
    FDN’s goal is to model and help other communities save this wonderful available free food. Each market gathers the day-old and excess food daily; they put it in a designated location in the store for the programs to pick it up daily.Its a win-win situation: good food is saved and diverted thru a structured daily program to feed our neighbors in need. The stores reduce their “garbage” fees by thousands of dollars annually; FDN is the most sustainable program with little impact on hurting the environment and a big impact on feeding the hungry. Our biggest problem is raising the funds needed to pay the p/t Operations Coordinator and p/t Director.

  5. jordan
    February 1, 2011 | 6:59 pm

    stop the wasting n the world will come a better place to live at