A case for Freeganism?

On a recent Saturday night, I found myself cozying up on the sofa with my boyfriend to a 53-minute documentary about dumpster diving. Romantic, no? :)

Once I got over the opening shots of the film maker perched on the filthy ledge of a grocery store dumpster, his skimpy speedo and swim goggles his sole protection against the trash that engulfed him upon diving in, I was pleasantly surprised to find the film extremely educational and alarming. I became less appalled by his willingness to rifle through food waste while scantily clad, and instead focused my bewilderment at the shocking behavior of these large corporations that are so quick to throw good food away instead of donating it. Here’s a breakdown of what I learned:

  • After paper products, food is America’s #1 source of waste, taking up about 20% of our landfills.
  • Every year, we throw away 96 billion pounds of food – that equates to 263 million lbs/day; 11 million lbs/hour; 3,000 lbs/second.
  • The cost of so much waste? An astounding $136 billion.
  • Each American throws away about 400 lbs of food a year, largely due to over buying.
  • 40% of the world’s annual grain yield is fed to animals to produce meat.
  • According to Michael Pollan, after cars, the food system uses more fossil fuel than any other sector of the economy – 19%

The film maker and his friends took to regularly rescuing food from L.A. grocery store dumpsters, turning corporate-deemed trash into gourmet meals. Dozens of packages organic chicken; quart after quart of strawberries; imported cheeses; pints of organic tomatoes; loaf after loaf of bread; dozens of eggs – enough food for his family and friends to eat for months.

What caused these groceries to meet their fate in the dumpster? One bad tomato in a package of four; chicken that’s reached it’s sell-by date; one cracked egg in a case of otherwise happy eggs; day old bread…and this was purely the film maker’s hypothesis because his attempts to get an interview – even off camera – with the grocery stores proved futile. No one would talk to him. No one wanted to address this heinous issue of excessive waste.

With so many people starving and going without, it’s criminal that perfectly good food is so easily cast to the landfills. Hunger is not just a third-world concern. It’s all around us. According the the film, at least 35 million Americans confront the uncertainty of where their next meal will come from. This, from the nation the boasts the greatest food surplus of any nation? Appalling.

Am I advocating for dumpster diving instead of traditional methods of procuring food (i.e. grocery shopping) to feed your family? No. But I do think our country needs to take a good hard look at our individual waste. Stop buying more than you need. And grocery stores need to step up their efforts to donate every possible usable food item they can to local food banks. 1 cracked egg means the entire dozen cannot be sold? Fine. Donate the remaining 11 eggs to a good cause. Every little bit helps.

Intrigued? Check out the film. It streams instantly on Netflix, and is well worth 53 minutes of your time.