For this Thanksgiving potluck, we found a large collection of frozen mashed potatoes, green beans and brussel sprouts all in the dumpster and waiting to be cooked up. We also found three boxes of cornbread stuffing, some yams, and many bags of butternut squash that my roommate turned into a soup. We decided rather than consuming all of it, we should be generous and share some of this bountiful dumpster harvest with our friends at no cost to ourselves other than taking the time to heat it all up.
There were also some dishes that were partially dumpstered. I made two types of pies (pumpking and apple-cherry) using a good number of dumpster ingredients (such as a pumpkin, butter, sugar, eggs, cherry preserves and a hell-of-a-lot of pumpkin pie spice). We even provided some eggplants for our friends' vegan eggplant parmesan that he prepared for the potluck.
Hell-of-a-lot of Pumpkin Pie Spice and leftover Pumpkin Pie
All in all it was a great amount of food, with little or no cost to provide.
But in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we tried to give as much of this bountiful dumpster harvest away as we could, while giving thanks to the dumpster for providing us with free wonderful food. While we acknowledge that we are pleased with acquiring food from the dumpster, including the fact that we have encouraged others to do so as well, we also realize every time we dumpster dive that the system that we are benefiting from is one that is completely abhorrent.
We take no pride in the fact that as members of a developed industrial nation, we are part of a larger system of consumer waste and that our meager dumpster-diving habits are a step in the right direction, but by no means a solution to the bigger problem. We realize that our activities are a fringe response to a larger socio-economic problem that prioritizes profit and ease over sustainability. The United States easily produces enough food to feed the entire world while keeping Americans completely fed, however it falls short because of how much it wastes. It is estimated that just recovering 25% of the food wasted per day in the United States could feed up to 20 million people.
Food waste in the United States has reached astonishing proportions: Americans on average generate approximately 30 million tons of food waste each year, and of the 356 billion pounds of food produced over a two year period, 96.4 billion pounds went uneaten- a full 27%.* Therefore it isn't surprising that our dumpster "challenge" wasn't really that big of a challenge after all.
So much potentially good food wasted
The effects of all this waste create a series of interrelated consequences . In terms of environmental costs it means that that much more food is being produced and then wasted, which means that all the inputs to this food production (fertilizers, pesticides, hormones, feed and water) are rising in costs and essentially contributing to nothing except waste and environmental degradation. Landfills, which are already filling up across the country, are receiving approximately 98% of food waste with the other 2% going to compost.
The social costs add another dimension to the dilemma of food waste. Food waste is contributing to the world's rising food prices which is pushing up the number of people who cannot feed themselves. The incidents of hunger and malnutrition across the world and in the United States can be greatly reduced with more efforts towards reclaiming/recovering wasted food. According to the US Department of Agriculture in 2008, food insecurity is felt by approximately 50 million people, a problem that could easily be solved with a food recovery program implemented in local restaurants and grocery stores.
Rising Food Prices
In light of reading my diatribe about the food waste problem in the United States, just remember this Thanksgiving that while it may be easier to throw out food, following the path of least resistance is not always the best approach. While we will be giving thanks to the dumpster for providing us with our food this Thanksgiving we will continue to undermine the system of food waste from which we benefit from.
*Facts taken from New York Times Article http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/18/weekinreview/18martin.html?_r=1