Did you know that about 40 percent of the food in this country is completely wasted to the tune of $165 billion a year? After hearing that, does it make you wonder why 1 in 6 Americans don’t have enough money to put food on their table? Or why 46.2 million individuals rely on food stamps? Where does all this food even go?
The answers are multi-faceted (and you can read why here). But one reason why a mountain of waste piles up every day is because grocery stores dump perfectly edible food.
Environmental activist Rob Greenfield is trying to bring awareness to this troubling practice by biking across the country and solely eating out of the dumpsters of supermarkets and convenience stores. With a solar generator, his bamboo bike and $2,000 in cash that he earned through his marketing company, the 28-year-old started peddling from San Diego on June 2 and hopes to reach New York City by Sept. 26.
Trust us, even though he’s eating “trash,” the pickings aren’t slim. “The most surprising thing is the quantity of food I find,” Greenfield tells NationSwell, during a stopover in northern Baltimore. “Time and time again, it’s full to the brim of perfectly good bread, fruits and vegetables. [It’s food like] packaged rice and oatmeal — things that never go bad and don’t get people sick.” Recently at a local dumpster, he found unopened Sunchips and Oreo cookies along with meat that was still cold, including chicken breast and steak. He even found a pack of vitamin supplement Emergen-C with a Feb. 2015 expiration date.
He also shares an experience at a CVS drugstore in Mays Chapel where he found boxes of feminine pads, toothpaste and diapers. “That stuff women’s shelters could use,” he says. “There is no excuse to throw away diapers.” After confronting the drugstore chain on Twitter, the store responded, “We have a product donation policy that our stores follow for unsold products that are being removed from our stores,” adding, “Occasionally there are products that seem ‘perfectly good’ but are in a condition that wouldn’t allow them to be donated.”
MORE: How Much Food Could Be Rescued if College Dining Halls Saved Their Leftovers?
Following that exchange, Greenfield noted that the date of expiration for the products wasn’t for months.
It’s time this country gets smarter about food — and an easy way to do so is to start with where we shop. “The purpose of all of this is to motivate and encourage grocery stores to stop dumping food and start donating it [to] food rescue programs and food banks that exist already across America,” Greenfield writes on his blog. “There is a huge misconception among many people that grocery stores are either not allowed to donate excess food or would be liable for lawsuit but the law is actually on their side.”
Greenfield himself lives an extremely modest lifestyle. His 4,700-mile solo trip, dubbed “Off the Grid Across America,” is removed from all our modern comforts, including electricity and showers. That $2,000 he initially started out with dwindled down to $420, which he ended up donating to charity. (“I found that when you don’t have money you’re forced to be part of your community and you’re a problem solver and not a consumer,” he says) As for where he sleeps, Greenfield crashes at a friend’s home or sets up camp at a public park, the desert or the woods.
Greenfield has stayed remarkably positive throughout his journey, especially when he finds that so many people he’s met along the way support his mission: “It’s mind-blowing how many people care. No one thinks food should be in the dumpster in the first place.”
“It’s going to take a lot of changes to completely solve this, but definitely the most important is that everyone in America knows the problem,” he adds. “Awareness comes first.”
So how else can we help Greenfield’s cause? “Take out your smartphones, walk behind your grocery store, and open up the Dumpster,” he tells TakePart. “If you see food inside, take a picture or video and tweet it at the store, telling them to #DonateNotDump.” Greenfield also suggests asking store managers if they’re donating unwanted edible food to shelters or food banks (such as Feeding America).
Even if we don’t have the stomach to eat food out of a dumpster like Rob Greenfield, together we can help make sure this food doesn’t get there in the first place.
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